Some people argue that the oldest pub in London is the White Hart on Drury Lane; others that it is the Angel on Bermondsey Wall, or the Lamb and Flag on Rose Street. All of these people are Muggles, and all of them are wrong. The oldest pub in London, as any wizard will tell you, is the Leaky Cauldron on Charing Cross Road.
The Leaky Cauldron was there long before Charing Cross Road was even planned; its true address is number one, Diagon Alley, and it is believed to have been built some time in the early 1500s, along with the rest of the wizarding street. Created some two centuries before the imposition of the International Statute of Secrecy, the Leaky Cauldron was initially visible to Muggle eyes. While the pub was, from the first, a place for witches and wizards to congregate – whether Londoners or out-of-towners up for the day to shop for the latest magical ingredients or devices – Muggles were not turned away or made to feel unwelcome, even though some of the conversations, not to mention pets, caused many an unwary drinker to leave without finishing his mead.
When the Statute of Secrecy was imposed, the Leaky Cauldron, great British wizarding institution that it had become, was granted special dispensation to continue its existence as a safe haven and refuge for wizardkind in the capital. Though insistent on many powerful spells of concealment, and good behaviour from all who used it, the Minister for Magic, Ulick Gamp, was sympathetic to the need of wizards to let off steam under the difficult new conditions. He further agreed to give the landlord of the day responsibility for letting people into Diagon Alley from his back yard, for the shops beyond the pub were now also in need of magical protection.
To honour Gamp’s protection of the pub, the landlord created a new brand of beer, Gamp’s Old Gregarious, which tasted so disgusting that nobody has ever been known to finish a pint (there is a one-hundred-Galleon prize to anyone prepared to do so, but nobody has yet succeeded in claiming the gold).
The Leaky Cauldron faced one of its most difficult challenges in the late nineteenth century, with the creation of Charing Cross Road, which ought to have flattened it completely. The Minister for Magic of the day, the tediously long-winded Faris Spavin, gave a melancholy speech in the Wizengamot explaining why the Leaky Cauldron could not, this time, be saved. When Spavin sat down seven hours later, having finished his speech, he was presented with a note from his secretary explaining that the wizarding community had rallied, performed a mass of Memory Charms (some say, to this day, that the Imperius Curse was used on several Muggle town planners, though this has never been proven) and that the Leaky Cauldron had been accommodated in the revised plans for the new road. Certainly, the Muggle architects involved never did understand why they had left a gap in their plans for buildings, nor why that gap was not visible to the naked eye.
The Leaky Cauldron has changed little over the years; it is small, dingy and welcoming, with a few bedrooms above the public bar for travellers who live a long way from London. It is the ideal spot to catch up with wizarding gossip if you happen to live a long way from the nearest magical neighbour.
Charing Cross Road is famous for its bookshops, both modern and antiquarian. This is why I wanted it to be the place where those in the know go to enter a different world.