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Hunting for ‘Sherlock’ at Speedy’s, a London cafe

lori rackl for the boston globe

LONDON — A woman gingerly opens the door to this unassuming cafe at 187 North Gower St., scanning the room for clues.

A dozen wooden tables fill the tiny space. A young couple sit at one of them, sharing a plate of pasta and snapping selfies on their phone. The day’s specials are scrawled on a blackboard hanging on a pale green wall.

The woman takes a few tentative steps inside.

“Is this where ‘Sherlock’ is filmed?” she asks.

It’s a question Chris Georgiou gets at least 10 times a day. He has owned Speedy’s Sandwich Bar & Cafe for 13 years, but it’s only since 2010 that people started coming for reasons other than a quick meal and cup of tea.

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Speedy’s happens to be next door to the fictional 221B Baker St. flat featured in the hit TV series “Sherlock,” from Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as the sleuth and Martin Freeman as his put-upon sidekick, Dr. John Watson.

Located about a 25-minute walk from the real Baker Street, the cafe has made numerous cameos in all three seasons of the beloved co-production from the BBC and PBS flagship station WGBH Boston. Speedy’s will pop up again in the much-anticipated standalone episode, “Sherlock: The Abominable Bride,” premiering Jan. 1 at 9 p.m. on PBS.

Unlike the rest of this Emmy award-winning series set in the modern day, the 90-minute special takes place in the Victorian era, when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original pipe-smoking consulting detective roamed the streets of London.

“They changed the whole of the road to make it look Victorian,” Georgiou said about the filming, which happened in February. “They even put in bay windows so it would be more authentic.”

They also cast Georgiou as an extra, so he went through some transformation of his own. Dressed in a black bowler hat and sporting a fake gray mustache and super-sized sideburns, he can be seen in his small-screen debut riding a horse-drawn carriage in front of his cafe, whose name on the red awning was changed to Speedwell’s for the late-19th-century episode.

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Martin Freeman, left, and Benedict Cumberbatch (as Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes) star in the PBS series “Sherlock.”
Martin Freeman, left, and Benedict Cumberbatch (as Dr. Watson and Sherlock Holmes) star in the PBS series “Sherlock.”Robert Viglasky/Hartswood Films and BBC Wales for BBC One and Masterpiece

Season four of “Sherlock” — whose hiatuses are notoriously long — goes into production this spring. Much of the series is filmed on soundstages in Wales. But since the show’s launch more than five years ago, fans have been flocking to quiet North Gower Street and other spots around London for an up-close look at some of the locations showcased on TV.

“Sherlock” pilgrimages often include a stop at historic St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in West Smithfield, where the clever crime-solver took an infamous swan dive off the roof in season two’s “The Reichenbach Fall.” (Don’t be alarmed if you see someone splayed on the ground, Sherlock-style; it’s a popular spot to take photos.)

Plenty of folks have requested a window seat at Tapas Brindisa, 46 Broadwick St., the Soho outpost of this Spanish-style restaurant chain where Sherlock and Watson waited for a cab in the series premiere, “A Study in Pink.”

And while “Sherlock” hasn’t filmed inside the Tower of London, you can make like Moriarity and get close to the Crown Jewels. Just don’t try to wear them.

Brit Movie Tours is one of several operators offering guided excursions to “Sherlock”-related filming locations, including Irene Adler’s swanky digs in Belgravia and the architectural oddity of Leinster Gardens, whose empty facades doubled as a giant projection screen in a memorable Mary Watson scene in “His Last Vow.” The nearly 4-hour tours cost roughly $42.

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For a more DIY approach, a host of “Sherlock” sites are detailed on the exhaustive website sherlockology.com. Not surprisingly, one of them is Speedy’s.

“We have a lot of fans coming here — I’d say at least 25 percent of the customers,” Georgiou said about the cafe, open most days from 6:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (Limited hours on Saturdays, closed Sundays.)

The disparate assortment of menu items includes a Sherlock chicken wrap with cheddar cheese (“for Sherlock’s sharp tongue,” the description reads) and veggies full of vitamin A (“hence Sherlock’s keen eyes”).

Scenes for “Sherlock” have been shot inside Speedy’s, but more often the cast uses it as a hangout between filming exterior shots of Sherlock’s eccentric crib.

“Normally they’ll sit in here, going through their lines,” Georgiou said.

Speedy’s walls are blanketed with “Sherlock” fan art and photos of the actors mugging for the camera with their arms around a smiling Georgiou. His daughter runs their Twitter account, which has nearly 23,000 followers @SpeedysCafe.

“We’re the little cafe that’s come from nowhere to become world-famous,” Georgiou said. “The reason, as they say, is elementary.”


Lori Rackl can be reached at lorilynrackl@gmail.com.