Hidden away within the walls of Tower of London is a private drinking hole for the 37 Beefeaters who live with their families in the fortified complex that houses the Crown Jewels. After the hordes of tourists leave for the day, London's most exclusive pub comes to life.
While living in a castle on the bank of the Thames has a certain cachet, Her Majesty's's ceremonial guardians – officially known as Yeoman Warders – share their home with close to three million visitors a year and spend much of their time conducting tours, answering questions and posing for selfies. After the daily hubbub fades, they can head for a quiet drink at the Yeoman Warders' Club, their own private bar in a discreet corner of the sprawling fortress.
"When we are looking after the general public, we're very much in the public domain, very, very busy answering lots of questions. And then come 6 o'clock it becomes our own little village again, where as a community we can relax and enjoy ourselves," club chairman John Donald, who has been a Beefeater for three-and-a-half years, told Reuters.
The bar has a couple of exclusive beers on tap: Beefeater Bitter, made by Marston's Brewery in Staffordshire and a craft lager called Yeoman 1485. Of course, they also serve Beefeaters Gin, distilled across the river in Kennington.
The club is decorated with objects that reflect the history of the Tower of London, which has served many purposes over the centuries from royal residence to the prison where two of King Henry VIII's wives were beheaded. Among them is a plaque that was removed from the site where executions took place. For good measure, the Yeoman Gaoler's axe hangs just above it, a ghoulish reminder of the Tower's gruesome past.
Other memorabilia includes a framed document bearing the signature of Rudolf Hess. The Nazi politician briefly imprisoned at the Tower in 1941 after being caught in Scotland during a failed secret peace mission. He was one of the last prominent people to be held prisoner at the Tower.
The bar also has glass cases displaying objects linked to the Beefeaters' traditions. There are silver goblets used by new Yeomen to have a drink of port after their formal swearing-in ceremonies while their colleagues proffer the toast: "May you never die a Yeoman Warder". The toast dates back to a time when Beefeaters who retired could sell the job on to someone else, but if they died while in office the Constable of the Tower would pocket the money instead.
Another glass case displays figurines wearing the Beefeaters' scarlet state dress uniforms, now worn only on special occasions such as the Queen's birthday. In their day-to-day duties, Beefeaters now wear a dark blue and red "undress" uniform, but while at the private club they can relax in everyday clothes.
The club chairman is happy for the elaborate state dress uniform, with its heavy tunic, knee-breeches and tight white neck ruff, to remain in a glass case. "The state dress, we only wear for a couple of days a year and only for a couple of hours at a time, so we kind of grin and bear it," Donald said.