The Water Rats Hotel, Kings Cross, London
With a rich musical history, and fabulous breakfasts, the Water Rats pub in London reminds me to not to make the mistake of judging a book by it’s cover.
Sometimes things really aren’t quite what they seem – high hopes are often dashed but, less frequently, modest expectations are delightfully exceeded, resulting in surprising experiences. Such was the case at breakfast time in The Water Rats, a fairly unpretentious-looking pub in Kings Cross, London.
On a recent one-night stop-over in London we opted to stay in a budget hotel. We had dinner plans for the evening and were catching a train from Kings Cross to Perth, in Scotland, the next morning so figured that all we needed was a clean room close to the station.
The hotel was certainly adequate, meeting the above requirements commendably, but was definitely in the ‘no-frills’ category. The room and bathroom were minute, but spotlessly clean, the bed was comfortable and the view was fabulous, but there was no café, restaurant or bar – a situation which caused this food blogger some disquiet when her thoughts turned towards breakfast.
The receptionist cheerfully informed us that guests were given a special breakfast rate at the pub next door, The Water Rats. The offer didn’t fill me with confidence – I’d already passed silent judgment on the pub, based entirely on the selection of crusty looking chaps swilling lager out the front. But next morning the absence of a kettle, cups or teabags in the budget room meant I was in no mood to comb the streets looking for other options, and in we trooped.
Of course it was too early for the crusty chaps and once inside we were pleasantly surprised by the fresh, modern décor – but far more thrilled by the history of this pub.
There’s been a public house on this site for 500 years, and the present house was built in 1878. It was a regular haunt of Karl Marx and Lenin (a discovery that fired up the old lefty in me, but left The Bloke quite unmoved) and for many years it was a popular old-time music hall venue, however it’s more current musical history intrigued the both of us.
The Grand Order of Water Rats, who bought the pub in 1986, is a show business charity organisation whose membership in the past has included Charlie Chaplin, and now includes Rick Wakeman. The pub was the venue for Bob Dylan’s first ever UK gig, back in the 1960’s, and since then has seen the London debut of the likes of The Pogues and Oasis. In a tiny back room it hosts live music featuring huge international acts, including mega-star Katy Perry.
The walls are lined with pictures of famous acts who have played there, and images of the Grand Order of Water Rats. The whole place oozes history – old and more recent. While waiting for our breakfast, we mooched around checking it all out, thinking about swings and roundabouts and quietly delighted at the happy chance that landed us in such a fascinating spot.
Oh – and breakfast was totally brilliant too!