December 11, 2013
Before a recent trip to the United Kingdom, I checked on the status of a favorite stop, the Spitalfields pub Ten Bells.
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 pretense 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 supposedly is where Jack picked up two victims.
Does that subject still come up? "All the time," bartender Wanderson Fernandez said, especially because of a Ripper movie showing the bar.
Though Spitalfields recently has 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 center 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 said. "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."
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC