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Mermaid Tavern (Bread Street)

The Mermaid Tavern was a drinking and dining establishment located between lower Bread Street and Friday Street, with entrances to both. Its location corresponds to the place between these two streets on current day London’s Cannon Street (Glinert). John Stow records in his Survey of London that Bread Street was a location of diuers faire Innes and that the area was wholely inhabited by rich Marchants (Stow 1598, sig. T5r). The Mermaid Tavern was not far from Old Fish Street and the Blackfriars Theatre (Chalfant). The first possible mention of a tavern with that name on Bread Street is in the will of an early fifteenth-century vintner named John Toker, who writes of his mancion that is cleped the Mermaid in Bredstreete (Ackroyd). The first confirmed mention of the establishment during the Elizabethan period is in pamphlets associated with the Christmas revels of the Middle Temple in 1597-1598 (O’Callaghan). The tavern was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666. It was the home of a number of secret societies and drinking clubs, such as the Sireniacal Fraternity and the Friday Street Club among others (Raylor). It was also the site from which the Damned Crew, a group of disaffected young nobleman known for intimidation and assault, set out before being arrested and permanently disbanded in 1600 (O’Callaghan).
The tavern is particularly associated with a number of important Elizabethan and Jacobean literary figures, most prominently Ben Jonson. He mentions the Mermaid in his poem Inviting a Friend to Supper. Utilizing the anacreontic conventions that would come to mark much Cavalier poetry, Jonson as narrator speaks to his patron William Herbert, declaring But that, which most doth take my Muse, and mee, / Is a pure cup of rich Canary-wine, / Which is the Mermaids, now, but shall be mine (Jonson ll.28-30). Student and devoted member of the School of Ben, playwright Francis Beaumont wrote in a poem to Jonson: The Sun Which doth the Greatest Comfort Bring: Gap in transcription. Reason: (ES)[…] what things have we seen / Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been / So nimble, and so full of subtile flame (Beaumont). Jonson’s experimental 1614 city comedy Bartholomew Faire has the character John Littlewit condemn those who would spend their time at the taverns, including the Three Cranes, Miter, and Mermaid (Jonson).
Jonson and Beaumont were not the only literary personages associated with the Mermaid. Beaumont’s frequent dramatic collaborator John Fletcher is believed often to have drunk at the tavern, alongside the academic and Hebraist John Selden, the writer and explorer William Strachey, and the metaphysical poet John Donne. Jonson’s Victorian editor William Gifford claimed that Walter Raleigh instituted a drinking society at the Mermaid which included Donne, Fletcher, Beaumont and most notably William Shakespeare. There are two reasons that Shakespeare is often associated with the tavern. The first is that a business associate of Shakespeare’s, William Johnson, was the Mermaid’s landlord (O’Callaghan). The second is that Thomas Fuller’s 1662 History of the Worthies of England claimed that Jonson and Shakespeare engaged in games of literary one-upmanship at the Mermaid. That being said, there is no concrete evidence that Shakespeare was ever a customer of the Mermaid. Indeed the accuracy of Gifford’s account of the Mermaid’s patrons is questionable since it was based on sources from the late seventeenth century which were composed many decades after the events they purport to describe.
The Mermaid has come to be synonymous with writers and their propensity to drink, and as a location it has stood in as a convenient marker for the literary brilliance of late sixteenth- and early seventeenth-century literature. As the supposed site of conversation, argument, and fraternity amongst Jonson, Shakespeare, Donne, and Raleigh, the tavern looms large in the imagination. For instance, Alfred Noyes in his 1913 Tales of the Mermaid Tavern imagines what it would have been like to share a drink with the greats of early modern drama and poetry. For Noyes, the tavern was synonymous with English Renaissance genius. He writes: An host may gather in dark St. Paul’s / To salve their souls from sin; / But the Light may be where two or three / Drink Wine in the Mermaid Inn (Noyes).


Cite this page

MLA citation

Simon, Edward. Mermaid Tavern (Bread Street). The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 05 May 2022,

Chicago citation

Simon, Edward. Mermaid Tavern (Bread Street). The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed May 05, 2022.

APA citation

Simon, E. 2022. Mermaid Tavern (Bread Street). In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London (Edition 7.0). Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from

RIS file (for RefMan, RefWorks, EndNote etc.)

Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
Content: text/plain; charset="utf-8"

A1  - Simon, Edward
ED  - Jenstad, Janelle
T1  - Mermaid Tavern (Bread Street)
T2  - The Map of Early Modern London
ET  - 7.0
PY  - 2022
DA  - 2022/05/05
CY  - Victoria
PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
UR  -
UR  -
ER  - 

TEI citation

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