For London’s beer drinkers, it’s a case of “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” On the positive side, London’s brewing scene has exploded in the last five years, a huge improvement from the not-so-distant past, 2006, when London was down to two breweries. In fact, until recently many pubs in London didn’t do traditional English beer at all, or would only offer the ubiquitous London Pride (not that I don’t like a pint of Pride). Now we are spoiled for choice, with access to a range of excellent local beers, as well as exotic choices from America and Belgium. But it’s a double-edged sword. Despite the newfound wealth of choices, people in London simply don’t drink as much beer as they used to. Britain has become a nation of wine drinkers, and much drinking now goes on in the home, too. For many landlords, it makes more sense to turn their premises into apartments than to lease to pub-owners—so pubs are shutting down. Consequently, unscrupulous developers have destroyed some beautiful buildings, like the Arts and Crafts Carlton Tavern in Kilburn, which was demolished last year. In order to survive, many pubs have become more like restaurants. Sometimes the food is excellent—but they’re not always nice places to have a leisurely drink. In a good pub everyone, not just affluent diners, should be welcome, and lingering over a drink at the bar shouldn’t be a luxury. Happily, there are still plenty of places in London that fit this criteria. My top 21 pubs aren’t necessarily the oldest, or the quaintest, or the ones with the best food—or any food at all—or even the best beer selection. But these are all places that preserve some sense of what makes the pub such a special institution. In the very best of them, you can feel the personality of the landlord or landlady the moment you walk in, and you understand that the word pub is short for public house. For as long as you’re a customer, you are an honored guest there. —Henry Jeffreys

Food & Wine

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