Why I love one of Kentish Town’s last traditional boozers

Karrie Kehoe failed to find any of her fellow countrymen or women in O’Reilly’s, but it’s still one of the friendliest joints around, she says

It was known as the Star & Garter until rebuilt into its present form with striking Victorian red brick exterior.
Photos: Karrie Kehoe
On the corner of Holmes and Kentish Town Roads is O’Reilly’s public house, holding pride of place among the bustle of the high street. Huddled outside the entrance you’ll observe some of its more dedicated patrons clustered together, smoking cigarettes and discussing the woes of the world.

O’Reilly’s is the modern day incarnation of a long line of notable alehouses which have stood on the same site over the centuries – and but one example of Kentish Town’s rich tradition of alcohol consumption. Its history is imprinted into the architecture, not simply in its Victorian façade but also in the two prominent plaques on its exterior walls – one marking its previous history as The Old Farm House and another noting that it was rebuilt in 1885.

In its nascence O’Reilly’s was known as the Star & Garter, until rebuilt into its present form with striking Victorian red brick exterior; as The Old Farm House it enjoyed a reign of a century or so before finally being renamed O’Reilly’s in 2001.

Kentish Town has, of course, been long known for its plentiful supply and long tradition of alehouses – however (believe it or not) they’re probably not as rowdy today as they have been in the past.


Rewind, for example, to the 17th century when, in 1634, seven Justice of the Peace certificates were issued to alehouses in the area. We don’t know exactly what the offences were – but it was something of an achievement for the capital. Later in the 18th century, when gin shops were highly fashionable, Kentish Town boasted a none-too-shabby eleven public houses in the licensing records.

O'Reilly's: The Old Farm House original signage
O’Reilly’s: The Old Farm House original signage

Let’s now step inside. What’s immediately noticeable to my Irish ears is the lack of fellow accents; rather the air is filled with the chatter and voices of its regulars. Kentish Town has long played host to a robust Irish population (the 2011 census confirming nearly 8,000 Irish people living around the Camden Borough).

As a recent arrival I was hoping to find some of my fellow Muintir na hÉireann – but am disappointed. The single plastic tricolour taped askew to a supporting beam confirms to me that this bar is – drum roll – English through and through.

Inside the bar is a little dusty, its exquisite-yet-worn Victorian interior nudging the trappings of modernity. Gorgeous high ornate ceilings with black finishings are exposed to the glare of flashing multi-coloured lights from the slot machines below. There’s a certain charm in the grooves on the dark wooden bar, creaking under the weight of pints and elbows. Yet I can’t tell whether the furniture is itself vintage or just worn from decades of use by inebriated customers. And pinned high on a wall behind the bar is the immortal handwritten sign: Cash Only.

A strong sense of community exists within the premises – young and old gathered together, enjoying a drink throughout the day. When I showed up in the manor, the word on the street was that O’Reilly’s is a good spot for a nice pint and full of life at the weekend – and the rumours seem to be true.

Exterior from other side of street. Photo: Karrie Kehoe
Exterior from other side of street. Photo: Karrie Kehoe

Patrons are glued to the screen of a television, while the cheery barmaid serves up two frothy pints of ale to a couple of middle aged men chatting in a corner. And the Guinness isn’t bad, either.

O’Reilly’s may not be the favourite of the gastro-pub elite but that doesn’t stop it from being a beloved haunt of its regulars and weekend revellers.

If you’re looking for a totally authentic Irish bar, then as an Irish person I’d say O’Reilly’s disappoints a little. I failed to find any of my countrymen there, but perhaps it was bad luck; I may be more successful on another night.

However, it’s a special kinda place, for sure, and – to those who’ve never ventured inside – it’s far friendlier than you might expect.

This is box title
Find O’Reilly’s at 289-291 Kentish Town Road, London NW5 2JS

Sources: Camden And Kentish Town Past and Present (John Richardson) and Streets of Kentish Town (Camden History Society).

  • Show Comments

  • Conrad

    I once ordered a pint of orange juice and soda there which was – dare i say – undrinkable; I realised in retrospect that I deserved it: O’Reilly’s is a proper old school boozer, and deserves the respect of being treated as such.

    PS: I’m reliably informed by an Irish friend that the Boston in Tufnell Park is an authentic slice of Ireland.

  • JH

    Hope you don’t mind me making a correction………but, you stated that “as The Old Farm House it enjoyed a reign of a whopping 116 years before finally being renamed O’Reilly’s in 2001.” However, this pub was called “Dolly Fossetts” in the 1990’s – not sure of the exact years, but it was definitely called this between 1994-1998 (I worked there part time and drank there for a while). Although it had an Irish name, it wasn’t really an Irish pub then – it had a fairly mixed clientele; students/office workers/media types/builders and a few older locals. Musically, we played indie/pop CDs of the time and a few bands had end of tour/after gig parties in the upstairs function room after playing at the Forum. There was also an occasional comedy club upstairs where Harry Hill and Al Murray played before becoming mainstream. Mercury Taverns sold the pub in summer 1998 and it was renovated and became O’Reillys a few months later.

  • dh

    What are the rumours about O’Reilly’s?

  • mona

    I have step into O’Reilly’s while looking for a pub which still reminds of a pub rather than a mix of a big kitchen counter with a posh cafe. And I loved it. With only one exception- the only ale was the ‘Newcastle’ one in the bottle…

  • Peter McCarney

    Well, Ms Kehoe, you’re a little late to the Ball. I can tell you that Camden Town had a high number of Irish Men and Women in the 1950s; many of whom married and migrated to Kentish Town…not far was it? Almost everyone I knew was born of both parents Irish. So, during the 1960s and early 1970s many were 1st generation English/2nd generation Irish and it was easy for many of us to identify parochial Irish accents having heard the voice of our friends’ parents. Kentish Town was never ‘conspicuously Irish’ in the way that Kilburn emerged in the later 1960s. In the 70s-80s, the newer arrivals from Ireland popped up in Cricklewood. Returning to the 1960s, Our Lady Help of Christians was in Fortess Road. The queue would reach far down toward KT Road and there were many Masses and Evening Mass to accommodate the Irish and their children. The Church swapped with the CofE church in Lady Margaret Road owing to its dwindling congregation. This occured about 1970 and, again, Our Lady was packed and everyone was 1st/2nd Gen Irish. Also at that time, the ABC Forum was bought by Murphy’s and was converted into an Irish Dancehall and ran for many years before it became the Town & Country etc. Things and Times change. 😉