Brown’s Hotel (www.brownshotel.com), conveniently located on Albemarle Street in the Mayfair neighborhood, is steeped in history. In the 1860s (when it was known as St. George’s hotel), it was the meeting place of the X Club, whose members included T. H. Huxley and others who lobbied for Darwinian ideas. Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book there, and Winston Churchill came frequently to drink lunch.
Bentley’s Oyster Bar & Grill (www.bentleys.org), a few minutes away on Swallow Street, is a comfortable spot to get dinner after a meeting at the Linnean Society (www.linnean.org). The Wolseley (www.thewolseley.com), at 160 Piccadilly, is a fashionable lunch place for spotting celebrities (or overhearing 20-something Internet millionaires lament the dissipated nightlife in Shanghai), in a handsome setting of high vaulted ceilings, black lacquered walls with gold detailing, and bright light from the huge front windows.
It’s a short walk to Maggs Bros. Ltd. bookshop (www.maggs.com), in an unrestored Georgian town house on Berkeley Square. If you’re lucky, you might pick up a Darwin first edition (On the Origin of Species goes for about £30,000) or vintage anti-Darwin propaganda (his face on a monkey’s body recently sold for £350). Sotheran’s of Sackville Street (www.sotherans.co.uk) also sells Darwiniana.
In Downe Village, at the foot of the street where Darwin lived, stands the handsome Queen’s Head pub. The story passed down in one local family is that Darwin used to nip into the “snug” bar on the right, where he could enjoy a beer without being observed by the general public. Along with decent food and drink, the pub has a rich history as the World War II local for American Eagle Squadron volunteers flying with the RAF out of nearby Biggin Hill airfield. Darwin certainly spent time across the street at the George and Dragon, but mainly in the course of fulfilling his duties as a village father. (Among other things, he was treasurer of the local Coal and Clothing Club.)
The standard biography is Darwin, by Adrian Desmond and James Moore. And to sample Darwin’s words at firsthand, consult the Darwin Correspondence Project’s excellent Web site, www.darwinproject.ac.uk. Finally, events will be taking place throughout Britain in 2009 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth and the 150th anniversary of On the Origin of Species. For details, check www.darwin200.org.