Visit haunts of Sherlock Holmes, a Victorian superhero

LONDON

People who see the movie Sherlock Holmes, which opens Christmas Day, may feel they've stumbled into the Twilight Zone. Sherlock Homes, as portrayed by Robert Downey Jr., is more muscles than mystery — certainly not your grandparents' supreme mental detective.

The movie, directed by Guy Ritchie, sends Downey (and Jude Law as Dr. Watson) on a quest to defeat a crackerjack criminal. That sounds like Arthur Conan Doyle's detective, but this Holmes is patterned after a new graphic novel in which the detective is a Victorian era superhero, a buff master of martial arts and sword play, not the stuffy but brilliant misanthrope we know so well. Not much in Sherlock Holmes will be recognizable from any of Doyle's writings.

However, fans of Doyle's four novels and 53 short stories that feature Holmes can still find their traditional, flawed hero at two popular London venues. Or take an organized walking tour through some Holmesian sites.

Just a few paces from busy Marylebone Road, a major London thoroughfare, is the Sherlock Holmes Museum at, yes, 221b Baker St., the fictitious Holmes' London address. The museum and adjacent souvenir shop overflow with all things Holmes and Watson.

There's even a guide named Holmes — Stewart Quentin Holmes, that is — who is often on hand to answer questions. He quotes from Doyle's works, too. This Holmes has been on duty here since the museum opened in 1990 and calls his literary namesake "the first modern great hero . . . a Victorian superhero."

The museum is filled with period furniture. There are books, newspapers, posters, letters and other memorabilia from the Holmes and Watson era, 1881-1904.

The second floor sitting room, though, is the mecca for tourists. They come to sit in a Victorian era-style chair by the fire in the fireplace. There, they can put on a deer stalker cap, just as Holmes wore, and an Ulsterman cape and hold a calabash pipe and ask a friend, or even a perfect stranger, to take their photo.

The guest book has names and notes from people around the globe, attesting to the power of Doyle's pen.

Often, a museum staffer counts heads at the entrance to the four-story building. The spaces inside are small and, though the maximum occupancy isn't fixed, sometimes visitors have to wait for others to clear the rooms and narrow passageway before they can enter.

No problem, because the Sherlock Holmes gift shop is right next door and it is a treasure trove of souvenirs, from Holmes' adventures in books and on DVD to typical British tourist draws like miniature red double-decker buses and small silver trays for business cards.

After a museum visit, refreshments are in order. Though it's not nearby, the Sherlock Holmes Public House & Restaurant is just down Graven Passage to Northumberland Street. London is famous for its quick, tasty pub food, and this venue proves why. The restaurant and pub are on the site of the Victorian Northumberland Hotel, a venue familiar to Doyle's readers as Sir Henry Baskerville's London haunt and the place where he met Holmes and Watson in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The pub is filled with Sherlock Holmes tributes, including a replica of Holmes' and Watson's Victorian sitting room. This study, though, has a glass wall that allows visitors to look but not touch. The pub is on the street level, and the restaurant upstairs. Take some time to read the walls and study the study.

For visitors who are willing to brave the often rainy and chilly London weather, there are a couple of tables outside, but the cozy restaurant is a much better location.

Virtually all of the menu items come with Sherlockian references (although not all are literally taken from the stories). For example, "The Three Gables" appetizer, which consists of slices of smoked salmon, a lemon wedge and buttered brown bread baked on-site, and "The Sign of Four," which is the chef's soup of the day served with bread, both refer to Doyle's work.

After a visit to the museum and a plate of pub grub, it's back to your hotel room for a quiet read — or reread — of Arthur Conan Doyle's deft writing. Sherlock Holmes, for real.

Fred. W. Wright Jr. is a freelance writer based in Florida.

.fast facts

Sherlock Holmes

in London

For general information, go to VisitBritain.com. There are several walking tours of Sherlock Holmes' haunts. Go to walks.com or

londonhorrortours.co.uk.

The Sherlock Holmes Museum, 221b Baker St., London NW1; sherlock-

holmes.co.uk.

The Sherlock Holmes Public House & Restaurant, Northumberland Street, London WC2N 5DB; www.sherlockholmespub.com.

Visit haunts of Sherlock Holmes, a Victorian superhero 12/19/09 [Last modified: Saturday, December 19, 2009 3:30am]

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