19 of London’s Best Pubs
The Red Lion
Since the 17th century, this part of London, St James’s, has specialized in separating the rich from their money. On St. James Street there’s Davidoff cigars, Berry Bros & Rudd wine merchants, and John Lobb the Bootmaker. Simpler pleasures can be found in the nearby Red Lion. It’s a basic pub that offers cheap sandwiches and good beer in a room that looks untouched by the 20th century. It doesn’t do any one thing outstandingly; it’s the commitment to just being a good honest pub in this area that makes it stand out.
23 Crown Passage, London SW1Y 6PP; +44 20 7930 4141
A contender for the best pub in central London. They offer one of the best selections of beers in London, with at least eight on tap at once as well as lethally strong Irish salt & vinegar crisps from Tayto’s. It’s always crowded with office workers and people having a swift couple before catching the train at nearby Charing Cross station. It can get very busy in the narrow downstairs bar, but there’s a quieter room upstairs. It seems incongruous that there’s a pub this nice near the tourist horrors of Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden.
Covent Garden, 47 Chandos Place, London WC2N 4HS
The Nag’s Head
One of the best things about London’s pubs is that sometimes you’ll find the simplest, least pretentious ones in the most unlikely of places. Just round the corner from those temples of consumerism, Harrods and Harvey Nichols, is a quiet slice of old England. Entering the Nag’s Head is like being in a better, older world of wood paneling and quiet burbling conversation. To preserve the tranquility, the landlord has banned the use of mobiles in his pub. The other pub on Kinnerton Street, the Wilton Arms, is good too.
53 Kinnerton Street, London SW1X 8ED
The Seven Stars
You might not expect a pub mainly frequented by lawyers to be quite so much fun. That it is is largely down to the landlady Roxy Beaujolais (not the name she was given at birth), who was formerly front of house at the jazz club Ronnie Scott’s. This is an old ramshackle place full of nooks and crannies, and precariously steep stairs to the toilets. The food from a short menu tastes like it was cooked by your favourite aunt: there might be a curry, a fish pie, sausages or a casserole. They offer a good range of beers and wine, too. I can’t think of any way this pub could be improved.
53 Carey St, London WC2A 2JB
Ye Olde Mitre
Located just on the edge of the City of London, Ely Court belongs to the Bishop of Ely—so technically you’re not in London at all, but in Norfolk. There’s been a pub here since the 17th century, although the present building is more recent, dating back to 1782. It’s been beautifully preserved but does not feel like a tourist attraction. Like many good pubs it’s owned by Fuller's, London’s oldest and arguably best brewery, but it also does beers from other breweries, alongside simple pub food such as toasted sandwiches and the ubiquitous scotch egg.
1 Ely Pl, London EC1N 6SJ; yeoldemitreholborn.com
The Jerusalem Tavern
A Clerkenwell institution, it’s named after the nearby Priory of St. John of Jerusalem. The religious theme continues with the beer, as the pub is owned by Suffolk brewery St Peter’s and serves its full range of beers at reasonable (for central London) prices. There are also good cheap pub snacks such as sausage rolls. The building was built in 1720 and really gives you a feel for how pubs used to be: Full of dark corners and low ceilings, it’s all the better for conspiratorial conversation and romantic assignations. Word to the wise: It gets very crowded outside in the summer.
55 Britton Street, London, EC1M 5UQ; stpetersbrewery.co.uk
The Dacre Arms
I didn’t know whether to put this in because it’s my local and I don’t want it spoiled. It’s a great example of a 1930s boozer, with the interior still divided into snug little compartments. Nothing has changed here since the 30s, when the pub was built—not even the customers, who are a mix of local tradesmen and residents. There’s a sign saying sandwiches £1.50, though I’ve never actually seen anyone order one. They normally have four beers on tap, including Harvey’s Best, one of England’s truly great beers. Dogs and well-behaved children are welcome, but it’s really a place for the older generation to talk. And while it’s not really a sports pub, they will put the television on when England or Ireland are playing rugby.
11 Kingswood Pl, London SE13 5BU
The Royal Oak
A little bit of Sussex in South London just a short walk from Borough Market. Owned by Sussex brewer Harvey’s of Lewes, whose Best Bitter is probably my second favorite beer in the world after Timothy Taylor’s Landlord. The Royal Oak is divided into two bars—a lively public one round the front and a quieter snug one round the back. Both have different entrances but if you’re nice they will let you walk through the bar. It attracts a nice mix of office workers, locals and shoppers from the market. The meat pies are justifiably famous.
44 Tabard St, London SE1 4JU; harveys.org.uk
The Dog and Bell
The average price of a pint of beer in London is touching £5, so it’s refreshing to visit a pub such as the Dog and Bell and be charged £3.20 for a good pint of beer. Food is cheap too, with sandwiches starting at £4. With its roaring fire and friendly Irish landlord, Charlie, it’s worth making a special journey to come here. This part of London by the Thames is steeped in history; playwright Christopher Marlowe was stabbed to death in a pub round here—though I hasten to add that that kind of thing wouldn’t happen at the Dog & Bell.
Deptford, 116 Prince St, SE8 3JD
The Blythe Hill Tavern
Another pub with a great Irish landlord. This is very much a sporting pub. Horse racing and hurling (a dangerous Irish take on field hockey) memorabilia decorates the walls, and the place shows all the big football games. It looks a bit forbidding from the outside, but inside it’s welcoming and child friendly. With an ever changing lineup of English beers, The Blythe Hill Tavern was the deserved winner of the CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) best South East London pub in 2015.
319 Stanstead Road, SE23 1JB; blythehilltavern.org.uk
The Charles Lamb
A backstreet boozer behind Angel Tube station, The Charles Lamb is famous for its Sunday lunches. It’s named after the Victorian writer Charles Lamb, who was an enthusiastic drinker. You get a nice mix of locals, hipsters and office workers. The staff is young and very enthusiastic about their great beer selection and impressive wine list. A pub that steers a good line between being a bit trendy without putting off the old locals, it’s a good place to stop off if you’re walking along the Regent’s Canal.
16 Elia St, Islington, London N1 8DE; thecharleslambpub.com
The Wenlock Arms
For years this pub has been legendary for its amazing beer selection. It’s in a rather peculiar place among warehouses—some of which have been converted to expensive flats and council housing. As befits the area, you get some amazing characters in here. For awhile, however, it was getting a bit down at heel; the carpet looked like it had things living in it. Now under new management, it’s been cleaned up—and while that carpet has gone, the pub itself hasn’t gone upmarket. The beer selection is still excellent and you still get a broad cross section of society coming in for a pint and a chat.
26 Wenlock Rd, London N1 7TA; wenlockarms.com
In 2002, after a long battle, this backstreet pub was saved from being turned into apartments, the fate of so many such establishments in London. It’s now owned by a consortium of locals, and the building is listed by English Heritage so it can’t be demolished. The front is a cozy bar with stunning etched mirrors that list the good range of beers on tap. Out the back it is more like a restaurant. The kitchen offers good quality Thai food (like many pubs in London). As you’d expect from its history, this place is a real hub for the community. It shows what can be done when people come together.
51 Leverton St, London NW5 2NX
This was one of the first of a new style of pub, with its stripped-back aesthetic and a wide selection of beers from smaller breweries. It seemed almost revolutionary when it opened in 2009. The look, white tiles and reclaimed furniture, has been much imitated since then, but the Southampton still stands out; the people who run it aren’t just cultivating a certain aesthetic, hiring some beards and charging £5 a pint—they’re clearly motivated by a love of beer. The food is just the sort of thing that pubs should do, pork-based and cold. All the better to build up the appetite for another beer.
139 Highgate Rd, London NW5 1LE; thesouthhamptonarms.co.uk
The Pride of Spitalfields
In the last 20 years, the East End has gone from being one of the most rundown parts of London to its nightlife capital. Pubs, clubs, bars and restaurants have come and gone—and yet in that time, I doubt the Pride has even changed its carpet. What’s its secret? Well, it just does all the simple stuff really well. It’s a welcoming backstreet pub offering a small selection of well-kept beers at reasonable prices. That’s it. The only problem is that it’s tiny and something of a victim of its success, so it gets very crowded after work.
3 Heage Street, Brick Lane, London E1 5LJ
That increasingly rare thing in London, a pub that serves the entire community—from old Cockneys to Polish builders to middle-aged couples and trendy types from the nearby art galleries on Vyner street. It offers something for everyone: the big football games on TV, excellent beer, cheap single malt whiskies and jazz nights on a Sunday. There’s no food, but if you’re nice the landlord Julian will let you eat a kebab from the takeaway next door. After a couple of visits, you will feel like a regular. A few years ago they had a refit and put a sign in the window saying, “don’t worry we haven’t gone bistro!”
Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9BU
Some people are a bit sniffy about this place because, with its Churchill memorabilia and outside floral displays, it’s very much on the tourist trail. But it also attracts a good amount of local residents and workers. It’s one of those pubs where you can really feel the personality of the landlord, Terry. I find the cluttered interior is a welcome change from the current minimalism fashionable in pubs. It’s owned by Fullers, so the beer is always good, and it also offers unusually authentic Thai food.
119 Kensington Church St, Kensington, London W8 7LN; churchillarmskensington.co.uk
The Andover Arms
Another Fuller’s pub, this is only a couple of miles from their brewery in Chiswick. They dominate the west London pub scene, which isn’t a bad thing. Their beers—such as London Pride, ESB and Bengal Lancer IPA—are world class, and their pubs are usually nice places to enjoy them. The Andover Arms has been given a very sympathetic makeover recently, with well-chosen bric-a-brac and artfully mismatched furniture. The food is good (if not exactly cheap), but what I most liked about it is that it manages to be smart without losing the atmosphere of a local’s pub. Sitting by the open wood fire and sipping a pint of Seafarers Ale, it was difficult to imagine ever wanting to leave.
57 Aldensley Rd, Hammersmith, London W6 0DL; theandoverarms.com
So many pubs have had their hearts ripped out and are now cavernous places where you can't hear yourself think. The Windsor Castle is how pubs used to be. It’s divided into lots of tiny little enclaves, some so small that you have to duck your head to get in. It’s custom made for conversation. There’s also a massive beer garden out the back, which is great in the summer. My only criticisms are that it isn’t cheap and it does get very busy. Also, if you’re allergic to loud young men in red trousers then the Windsor isn’t for you.
114 Campden Hill Rd, Kensington, London W8 7AR; thewindsorcastlekensington.co.uk