Down the narrow Wine Office Court alley off of Fleet Street is one of the oldest pubs in London, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese, which advertises itself as rebuilt in 1667. It's easy to miss if you haven't been there before, and possibly even if you have. A tiny sign points out the correct alley to turn down, and under a black and white glass sign further in, next to a board listing the fifteen monarchs who have sat on the English throne since the pub opened, is the unassuming entrance.
A building on this site was originally turned into a pub in 1538, though the cellars have been preserved from a Carmelite monastery dating from the thirteenth century. Except for the cellars, the building burned down in the Great Fire of 1666 and was rebuilt the following year.
The pub has been well-known even from the seventeenth century. Around the corner from Dr. Johnson's house, the pub was patronized not only by Johnson but also but other literary luminaries, including Mark Twain, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Voltaire, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Charles Dickens. The pub is even alluded to in Dickens' novel A Tale of Two Cities.
Today Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese is a labyrinth of narrow corridors and staircases, dining rooms and fireplaces, and small stone rooms tucked into corners. There are several bars scattered around the building. For a first visit, it is worth it to follow the (admittedly narrow, difficult to navigate) staircases down to the bar in the cellars, where tables and chairs are tucked under the archways and low ceilings of the old and dark monastery vaults. There is no natural lighting inside, giving it a gloominess that easily makes it one of the most atmospheric bars in London.
The pub is currently tied to and operated by the Samuel Smith brewery. There is a chophouse and restaurant on the first floor, and staff can direct you, if you wish, to sit in the booth used by Dickens, or show you the portrait of Samuel Johnson, and his chair.