Although the bar was called York Minster until quite recently most had known it as The French House and it’s had a Gallic feel since it opened in 1914. In the Second World War it became the favoured watering hole of General de Gaulle while he was organising the Free French forces. It was while using the bar as a homely headquarters de Gaulle wrote his famous speech ‘À tous les Français’ urging his countrymen to keep alive ‘the flame of French resistance’. Ironically its frontage was blown out in an air raid.
After the war the Soho bar gained its reputation as a haunt for the heavy drinking, louche bohemian, with regulars a celebrated roster of artists, writers, wits and eccentrics including Aleister Crowley.
In 1984 it became clear the York Minster’s fame had spread worldwide when the real Minster (the cathedral in York) suffered a catastrophic fire and donations for repairs destined for York Minster began arriving at the bar from around the globe.
When the landlord redirected the funds north to Yorkshire he discovered the Bishop of York had for many years been quietly receiving unsolicited cases of claret intended for Gaston Berlemond a Belgian who had bought the pub in 1914.
The French House sells more Ricard than anywhere else in Britain and only serves beer in half-pints, except for on April the first, when a recent custom has been that Suggs serves the first pint of the day.
Picture from Tired of London
Information gleaned with more than a little help from my favourite London app Black Plaques: Memorials to Misadvanture: