For a taste of true London life, step into a pub. Neither bars nor cafés, these “public houses” are lively and sociable hangouts, often kitted out in old-fashioned style harking back to Victorian days. Londoners can spend hours chewing the fat over a few pints. But it pays to choose wisely: not all pubs are made equal. A pretty façade or a polished bar do not a good pub make, and many locals have strong opinions on the matter.
Asking a Londoner for their favourite pub is no easy feat: weather and commute aside, few subjects are bound to elicit such passions as this one. The pub is the cornerstone of London’s social and neighbourhood life: a place to celebrate, commiserate, or simply shoot the breeze over well-earned pints. Crowds spill out into the street at The Coach & Horses; locals bash out tunes on The Palm Tree’s piano; long rambles end at The White Swan in Twickenham.
Whether you’re in the mood for craft ales or solid grub, there’s a London pub out there just right for you. Here are 10 favourites to pin on your map.
With its rough-hewn tables and great arched windows, this Fulham pub puts a rustic spin on the classic pub experience. The kitchen rustles up simple but refined fare, which makes the most of British game and produce. Order venison and marjoram meatballs, Cornish monkfish or lemon-curd doughnuts, among other delights. It’s best to book ahead: this is the only pub in London with a Michelin star.
Dress yourself to the nines and don’t forget your party hat. Jonny Woo and John Sizzle, the two drag queen celebrities who run this East End pub, hold LGBT-friendly evenings and events. Check out the programme: the room downstairs hosts concerts, disco nights, cabarets, and cross-dressing soirées, always with a generous helping of warm, good-natured fun.
In the heart of Marylebone, this classic pub boasts a red and gold façade and old-school carpets. The interior is snug and cosy, with a few stools near the windows and a bar against which locals like to lean. A pianist livens things up every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday nights. Who knows? After a few pints of London Pride, you might decide to join him in a song or two.
In summer, its façade all but disappears beneath a curtain of flowers; in winter, it’s covered in twinkling Christmas trees. Winston Churchill’s grandparents were regulars at this Notting Hill pub, a local institution since 1750. Inside, beneath a ceiling strung with hanging lanterns and pitchers, people gather around pints of real ale and hearty Thai dishes. A quirky pairing, in true British style.
The ghost said to have haunted this pub for the past 200 years goes by the name of “Cedric”. Superstitious visitors still hang banknotes from the ceiling, allegedly to pay off the debt the young soldier incurred before his untimely death. Tucked away on a cobbled street near Hyde Park, it’s a compact but charming spot, with a rather well-heeled clientele. Prince William has even been spotted here.
A short walk from the British Museum, this handsome Victorian pub is a stickler for tradition. Green leather banquettes line the walls and snob screens – once used to shield customers from staff – still circle the horseshoe bar. The menu’s as trad as they come: half-pints of prawns, beer-battered cod, and sharing platters laden with cheddar, pork pies and pickled onions.
At the northern edge of Hampstead Heath, this 16th-century wood-panelled beauty rewards treks up the hill with cosy nooks by crackling fires. Come balmier days, the beer garden – one of the biggest in town – beckons. The menu’s quintessentially British (Scotch eggs, fish and chips, roasts with all the trimmings), but the range of craft beers on tap nod to a pub still moving with its times.
End a leisurely walk along the Thames at this historical pub, which overlooks the original mooring point of the famed pilgrims’ ship. It may have bags of character, but that’s not its only selling point. Whether you’re in for a pie and a pint on Wednesdays or fishy Fridays, the pub grub here’s always fresh and seasonal. As for the river views? You’d be hard pressed to find a better vantage point.
A far cry from its former incarnation as a notorious East End boozer, the Culpeper has scrubbed up very nicely indeed. An impressive central bar pours natural wines and local beers, best savoured by the floor-to-ceiling windows for a spot of people-watching. Herbs for the cocktail list are grown on the rooftop garden, which doubles up in the summer as a hangout for cool creatives
This bleu-blanc-rouge pub is a Soho institution. Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud and Charles de Gaulle were regulars, perhaps drawn to its bohemian charm, pastis selection and half-pints of beer. Upstairs, the dinky dining room serves confit garlic, pig’s-head terrine and poached pear. But the joy is in the eclectic crowd: pull up a stool, order a glass of wine and see where conversation will take you.
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