London: Have a ripping time at Jack's pub

By William Hageman

William Hageman revisits a favourite haunt and is relieved to find its character has endured a recent spruce-up.

Inside The Ten Bells in Spitalfields, London. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Jen SFO-BCN
Inside The Ten Bells in Spitalfields, London. Photo / Creative Commons image by Flickr user Jen SFO-BCN

Before a recent trip to Britain, I checked on the status of a favourite stop, The Ten Bells, at Spitalfields, in London's East End.

The Ten Bells has always been on my London itineraries, originally because of its link to Jack the Ripper but more recently because of its charm, lack of pretence and cheap beer. It was a welcoming dive bar.

During my pre-trip research, however, a red flag popped up. A story referred to The Ten Bells as "trendy".

Trendy. The kiss of death. Seldom compatible with charming, unpretentious and cheap.

A little history: The Ten Bells has been around for 250 years in some form, the last 160 or so at its current location on Commercial Street. The place became a draw because that's supposedly where Jack picked up two victims.

Does that subject still come up?

"All the time," bartender Wanderson Fernandez says, especially because of a Ripper movie showing the bar.

Though Spitalfields has recently undergone a stunning rebirth, The Ten Bells, thankfully, has been upgraded only slightly.

The ripped sofas are gone, the bathrooms are far less frightening, and the bar has been moved to the centre of the room. But its character endures. And beer's still cheap.

Fernandez has been tending bar there for four years, before the pub put on a fresh face and the upscale restaurant Upstairs At The Ten Bells opened one floor above.

"This is one of the most traditional streets in London," he says.

"Some people still live the life of Victorian times, like it's 200 years ago.

"Working in this bar is really special. There's a lot of history, and just being part of it is great."

The Ten Bells is at 84 Commercial Street, London E1.

- MCT

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