Favourite bars of the capital
A few years ago a close friend of mine bought me a guide book for Christmas. It was a guide book to the best pubs of London (London’s Best Pubs – Peter Haydon & Tim Hampson) and it listed 117 of the most interesting and most unusual hostelries in the capital.
My friend didn’t buy me the book because he knew I liked visiting interesting pubs. He couldn’t have done, because at the time I didn’t know that I liked visiting pubs that much myself. Nevertheless, I soon decided to visit every pub in the book and check them out one by one. It turned into one of the most enjoyable and interesting things I have done in a long while. It took me over 2 to get through the list.
The book was divided into 7 geographical areas and the pubs were spread out all over the capital. My plan to see them was pretty simple; each free weekend I had I would head up to London, select one of the areas, choose 2, 3 or sometimes even 4 pubs to visit and string a walk together linking them up.
My rules were that I must drink at least a half pint of beer in each one and I must remain for at least 15 minutes in the pub. I kept to both these rules but I must admit in some cases I drank a bit more and stayed a lot longer.
The book gives a lot of information about the history of the establishments as well as the beers on offer. The list is a good one too. Whenever newspapers or magazines print their own best 10 or 20 pubs in London they usually tally with the ones in the book.
Pubs are a threatened species in the UK, even the good ones in London, so sadly two of the 117 pubs had already gone before I got to them. Some of the ones I did visit have gone since.
I enjoyed visiting them all and I looked forward to my little excursions. I was actually quite sad when it was all over. I have now started to go back to the pubs again for a second or a third look.
The book is well recommended so I won’t spoil it by listing too many of the establishments it covers.
I have chosen 12 of the better pubs almost randomly (they should certainly not be regarded as my 12 favourites) and added 1 of my own.
Here, then, are 13 pubs of London, the nearest tube station and the reason why I like them.
1. The Lamb – Russell Square
This is a lovely old traditional pub. It has wooden floors and no real modern gimmicks. It has lots of wonderful snob glass too.
The Lamb is next to the Italian Restaurant Ciao Bella which is great value and also worth a visit.
2. Ye Olde Mitre – Farringdon
This is a hidden pub located down a back alley off Hatton Garden. It is a real gem and one to impress visitors with. If you can remember where exactly it is !
3. The Black Friar – Blackfriars
This is a very atmospheric pub. It is possibly the only Art Nouveau pub in London and is Grade 1 listed.
There are lots of interesting fittings and carvings to look out whilst enjoying your drink.
4. Victoria – Paddington /Lancaster Gate
This is a lovely example of a Victorian pub. It has quite a luxurious feel to it. It has a good mix of locals and visitors too. I visited it twice on two separate Saturday afternoons 18 months apart and found I was sat next to the same two guys at the bar each time.
5. Princess Louise – Holborn
This is another wonderful example of a Victorian pub. This one has an absolutely outstanding interior divided into little sections by snob glass. The gents toilets are worth a visit and they are listed.
6. Cross Keys – Covent Garden
This one is tucked away in Covent Garden. It has a really nice exterior. Inside it is full of fascinating bric-a-brac.
7. Wenlock Arms – Old Street
This is a real ale pub with a really knowledgeable bar staff. It is a little off the beaten track but it is worth seeking out for the atmosphere and the beer. It is close to the Regent’s Canal and can be combined with a visit to nearby Islington.
8. Cittie of York – Chancery Lane
This one is included here because it is so eccentric. It dates from the 1920’s and is in a mixture of styles ranging from Art Nouveau to Tudor. It has a cavernous interior and there are lots of little booths to sit in and talk. It is lots of fun.
9. The French House – Piccadilly Circus
A lot of Gallic influence and beer served only in half pints. It is fun to stand near the bar and watch the tourists try to order pints and be politely refused. It has a place in history too as it was here that Charles De Gaulle wrote his “France hasn’t lost the war” speech in 1940. The broadcast of the speech on the BBC is now commemorated near the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.
10. The Nags Head – Hyde Park Corner
This is a wonderful old place located down a quiet little street not far from bustling Hyde Park Corner. It has an interesting collection of antiques including some old amusement machines. The landlord bans the use of mobile phones inside and why not!
11. The Kings Arms – Waterloo
Located in Roupell Street, a lovely old Georgian back street round the corner from Waterloo Station, this is a great little pub. Its two small bars are cozy and obviously well-cared for. It has a conservatory area at the back where they serve great Thai food.
12. Red Lion – Green Park
This is another pub down a passage. It claims to be the second oldest licence in the West End. It is located in the St James area of London which is home to the Gentlemen’s clubs and the high end retailers.
13. Betjeman Arms – Kings Cross St Pancras
A great place to gaze up at the beautiful train shed roof, watch people come and go and keep an eye on the Eurostar trains as they arrive and depart.