The Red Lion: a potted history from 1670 to now

We salute a local architectural classic
It's been through more name-changes than P Diddy: a splendid Lion in the 1930s. Photo: CC
A scrubbed-up Lion in the 1930s, very similar to its current appearance. Photo: Twitter

You might well take it for granted if you’ve moved to the neighbourhood within the last decade, but The Red Lion, that landmark High Road watering hole, has had something of a chequered past.

So what’s the story? Well, established way back in 1670 as The Robin Hood, it had metamorphosed into the Red Lion by the mid-18th century, a stopping place for stage coaches and, in the absence of a town hall, a bit of a rowdy social hotspot to boot.

Fast forward a century or so and it was rebuilt in 1891 into the fine Gothic pile unveiled a while back by current owners Antic. And hark: look closely at those leaded windows! That elegant cupola! The way it catches the evening sun!

Note-perfect restoration, May 2020. Photo: SE

Until the present incarnation, its previous most popular era, after the 1930s (see main pic above), was arguably the ’70s, when it was a live music venue, even hosting an early Led Zeppelin London gig. Other bands to have graced its stage include Yes, Genesis and Roxy Music. Not a bad pedigree, eh?


There have been low points too, its popularity taking a nosedive in the 1980s as the oddly-named Luthers; and by 2001 it had become Cuba Bella, a salsa bar, before a revamp as Zulu’s a year later, a late night spot aimed at the area’s South African community.

As Zulus in the early 2000s. Photo: Stephen Harris/
As Zulus in the early 2000s. Photo: Stephen Harris/

And so it ticked over until finally closing in 2010 – before being swiftly reborn in 2011 courtesy of Antic, the pub group which started life as the seminal Dog Star in Brixton.

Its latest trick was the launch late last year of its shiny new boutique hotel, a few months before lockdown. And, as readers know, there’s always a schedule of top gigs and DJs in the first-floor Ballroom, as well as the usual pub shenanigans on the ground floor, with its simple gastropub menu, quieter dining room area and decent range of beers and wines.

In short? One day, we hope, this majestic E11 beast will roar again.

Find The Red Lion at 640 High Road E11 and follow them on Twitter @redlione11. More info here. Main image: Stephen Emms. History source:

UPDATE AUGUST 2020: as readers will know, the pub is now back open once again. 

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