It’s a midweek lunchtime on an unassuming residential street in Vauxhall, south London. There aren’t many people about – the occasional dog walker, a few runners, a couple of delivery drivers. It’s pretty much what you’d expect on a drizzly work day.

But turning the corner, it’s a different story. A redbrick Victorian pub, draped in hanging flower baskets and mosaic tiling, is an unexpected hive of activity.

Despite the drizzle, people are sitting outside, nursing pints of beer and cups of coffee. Circling them are a handful of journalists – holding microphones, cameras, notepads. Passersby stop, point and pose for photos. Every few minutes, excited customers pour out of black cabs and head inside, where every table is taken.

Welcome to The Black Dog. A local London pub that’s been thrust into an unexpected spotlight and onto the tourist map, thanks to musician Taylor Swift.

Unexpected fame

Last Friday, Swift released her latest album, “The Tortured Poets Department,” along with a surprise additional 15 songs that make up “The Tortured Poets Department: The Anthology.”

On Instagram, Swift described the music as chronicling a “fleeting and fatalistic moment in time - one that was both sensational and sorrowful in equal measure.” The record appears to be inspired by the aftermath of Swift’s break-up with her long term partner, British actor Joe Alwyn, which saw her dive into a short lived but intense relationship with another Londoner – 1975 singer Matty Healy.

Amid the 31 tracks – which range from upbeat synth pop masking heartbreak, to slower, folk-inspired songs that lean into the sadness – is a reflective, moody track called “The Black Dog,” in which Swift sings about an ex who left his cell phone location settings on after the break-up:

“And so I watch as you walk

Into some bar called The Black Dog

And pierce new holes in my heart”

As soon as these lyrics hit the internet, Swifties started sleuthing. Was The Black Dog a real London spot, or just a fictional name chosen for its symbolic significance?

Maddie Essig, an American college student studying abroad in London, was among the fans who immediately started Googling.

“Joe and Taylor spent a lot of time in London,” says Essig. “I figured it would be around here somewhere.”

Essig is sitting inside The Black Dog at a table by the window, opposite her friend – fellow American abroad and Swift fan – Jenna Spackey. When the two start chatting with CNN Travel, they’ve just finished up their pub lunch (Spackey had a caesar salad, Essig had British pub classic fish and chips).

The two friends had never been to Vauxhall before. But once they realized The Black Dog was real, they hopped on a tube train – partly as a Swiftie pilgrimage and partly to celebrate finishing up their college semester. The two only have a couple of weeks left in the UK before they return to the US – Essig to Baltimore, Maryland and Spackey to Houston, Texas. They’re calling this period their “So Long, London” era, an homage to another song on “The Tortured Poets Department” which references the UK capital.

This new record isn’t the first time Swift’s namechecked London locations in her music. In her 2019 track “London Boy” – believed to be about Alwyn – Swift describes enjoying “nights out in Brixton” and “Shoreditch in the afternoon,” as well as “walking Camden Market” and heading to Highgate, the West End and even finding joy in “gray sky, a rainy cab ride.”

“People will go to all the places that she lists in the song,” says Spackey of “London Boy.” “I feel like The Black Dog will definitely be added to the hit list.”

Pub perspective

While no one – least of all Swift – has actually confirmed the Vauxhall Black Dog is the inspiration for her song (there is another London-based Black Dog, for one, a beerhouse further out of the city in suburban Brentford – while some fans have pointed to a bar in Cork, Ireland with the same name) the south London Black Dog has leaned into its unexpected fame.

There’s now a sign in the window quoting the lyrics. On Instagram, the pub’s added “home to tortured poets” into its bio. Inside The Black Dog, the cocktail list on the blackboard has the addendum “Taylor’s Version” – a reference to the way Swift delineates her recent rerecorded tracks from the originals.

Lily Bottomley, events and social media manager for SC Soho, the small hospitality group that owns The Black Dog, tells CNN Travel she first heard about the song through her own personal social media channels.

“I saw ‘Black Dog,’ and I was like, ‘Oh…’ And then it just spiraled. And within half a day – even before the album release, we had people showing up,” Bottomley says.

Taylor Swift Black Dog

Over the weekend, the pub hired extra security – “just a precaution, nothing crazy happened.”

Then followed “a really busy Monday” and a slew of bookings for the end of June and mid-August, when Swift will play eight sold-out shows at Wembley Stadium. The Black Dog plans to open early and close later on those days. When Bottomley chats to CNN Travel, she gestures at the already-packed pub: “We’re expecting a busy Tuesday too.”

There’s been press coverage across the world, and as Bottomley speaks to CNN Travel, other news outlets are setting up lives and filming TikToks outside the pub.

The Black Dog was already active on Instagram pre-Swift-fame but Bottomley and her team set up a TikTok account over the weekend.

“Our TikTok, within 72 hours, got over 200,000 likes and a million views after its creation,” says Bottomley. “It’s immense.”

Meanwhile, the pub’s Instagram following has “tripled, nearly quadrupled now,” says Bottomley. People are following and commenting from all over the world.

The Black Dog is “a local pub,” says Bottomley – it’s generally known for its “quiet, cozy kind of atmosphere most of the time.”

Its interior is inviting, chic – and more gastropub than loud bar.

But the influx of enthusiastic Swift fans has been a joy, says Bottomley.

“We’ve had singalongs,” she says, adding the team are “working on” the idea of a Swift-themed karaoke night.

So far, the fans who’ve come by have all brought a positive, infectious good vibe.

“Last night we had loads of Swifties come in who didn’t know each other, and they were pulling chairs together, pulling their tables together, such a great atmosphere,” says Bottmley. “It’s predominantly women and it’s really positive to have that community come together in a pub.”

While many fans – like Essig and Spackey – believe “The Black Dog” is about Joe Alwyn, others think Matty Healy could be the subject (the references to smoking and the ex’s penchant for an “esoteric joke” seem more Healy-coded).

Bottomley won’t confirm or deny anything, but she does hint that the pub has “a certain blond regular,” seemingly a reference to Alwyn’s fair hair color.

As for Swift herself, Bottomley says she’s “never seen her” in the The Black Dog (which, again, fits with the lyrics of the song, which suggest Swift’s narrator is unfamiliar with the bar).

“You never know though,” says Bottomley. “We’d love to have her.”

Scene-setting song writing

When CNN Travel visits, there’s no time to sample The Black Dog’s inviting looking food menu, but this writer opts for a Swift-approved glass of Sauvignon Blanc (in another new track, “The Alchemy,” Swift compares the rush of a new love affair to a glass of wine: “This happens once every few lifetimes/These chemicals hit me like white wine,” she sings).

Meanwhile my companion tries The Black Dog’s signature stout and gives it the seal of approval. The two drinks come to £14.65 (around $18) which is about what you’d expect for London in 2024.

The stout is served up in a pint glass printed with the pub’s name, and accompanying black dog logo. Bottomley says no one’s stolen any of these glasses yet – much to her relief – but the pub is in the process of making merchandise, so visitors may be able to take a glass home before too long.

“If The Black Dog sold merch, I would buy something from their store,” says Swift fan Avangeline Strasburg. “Having something from a place I got to visit, that is also mentioned in a song of my favorite artist, would be a really neat souvenir.”

Florida-based Strasburg and her friend and fellow Floridian Katie Hageman are currently in London on vacation, in celebration of Strasburg’s 29th birthday.

“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, Taylor’s releasing an album, right for my birthday, right for our trip!’” says Strasburg.

When the two friends realized The Black Dog was a real pub, they knew they had to squeeze in a visit into their London itinerary.

“We wanted to see it for ourselves,” says Hageman.

Taylor Swift Black Dog

The two friends describe the pub as “quaint” – adding it’s not really what they were expecting based on the song lyrics.

“Hearing those lyrics I think we assumed that it would be more of a dive bar with loud music,” says Hageman.

As they pore over The Black Dog’s food menu, deciding what to have for lunch, Hageman and Strasburg chat with CNN Travel about whether or not Swift’s “The Black Dog” song is really about this pub – and whether the song is about Matty Healy or Joe Alwyn, or both.

It’s fun to speculate, they agree, but “maybe it’s not even about a certain person.”

Ultimately, it doesn’t really matter, the two friends decide. What excites Strasburg and Hageman most of all is “The Black Dog”’s evocative, scene-setting lyrics, which are a staple of Swift’s song-writing.

This kind of writing is key to Swift’s success. The specificity of the imagery – such as the scarf in “All Too Well” which her ex still has in a “drawer even now” – allows listeners to put themselves in Swift’s shoes. Sure, she’s a Grammy-winning billionaire leading a life worlds away from what most of us view as ordinary, but Swift has a knack for drawing emotion from everyday, relatable details.

And when Swift describes locations – whether the rented apartment on “Cornelia Street” or the “saltbox house on the coast” in “The Last Great American Dynasty” she does so with a particularity and fervor that allows listeners to draw an image in their minds’ eyes.

“She always includes little details, sometimes they’re vague, sometimes they’re specific – but they’re always parts of her life,” says Strasburg.

Hageman compares “The Black Dog” song to a “fable” – it’s probably not based entirely in reality. It may not be a real place. It may not be about a real person.

“This made the song even more relatable to us,” she says. “And I think to all who have created stories based on the glittering filtered details we perceive of each others’ lives from the outside.”