England is synonymous with pubs and quaint drinking holes. And a stay in London offers up some of the most ancient and impressive pubs of all, with many of them dating back hundreds of years and offering that unique experience of fine ales, ‘step into the past’ decors and colourful characters.
Alongside the ancient and time-honoured pubs is a fantastic selection of modern, quirky and cutting-edge bars and gastropubs offering unique experiences and a chance to escape to a different environment.
The Mayflower Pub is a well-known place in Rotherhithe. It’s one of many great stop-offs along the Thames and this popular spot is packed to the gills with history. A pub has always stood on this site and it is named for the Pilgrim Fathers, who sailed off in their own Mayflower ship in 1620. The current building dates back to the eighteenth century and it’s very traditional, with wooden panels and oak beams.
There’s also a dining room upstairs with a good menu and which offers great views of the Thames. Just be careful if you’re on the outside decking at high tide, as it can get wet!
Over in NW3, Haverstock Hill boasts the Sir Richard Steele, which is named after the Spectator magazine’s co-founder and is a truly eccentric destination. It’s packed with stuffed animals, strange signs and bizarre knick-knacks which jostle for space, including ceiling space. Located on the slopes of Hampstead, the pub attracts a diverse crowd and is a particularly favourite with the ale-drinking set, with four quality beers on tap. There’s also well-priced Thai food on offer, along with quiz nights, music and comedy in the upper bar.
Zeitgeist is a German-themed food pub, located on the Black Prince Road in London’s SE11. It offers German beers, staff and football games and attracts huge numbers of locals and visitors. The beer selection is certainly superb, with 32 bottled German beers available and 16 on draft. The kitchen also serves plenty of themed food such as currywurst and schnitzel. Just be prepared for lively antics when the German-English sporting fixtures are held!
In Streatham, the Earl Ferrers is known for being one of London’s best ‘local’ drinking spots, with plenty of real ale and some great wines. This little pub is known for getting everything just so – from its friendly service to good music and a cheeky pool table squeezed into an alcove. There’s also a varied events programme, including a book club and quiz.
The Faltering Fullback is another hidden gem located just off Stroud Green, in Finsbury Park. It’s basically four pubs in one, with a bustling and horseshoe-shaped front bar, a relaxed back bar and a surprise third drinking area where the mood is lively and focused around a pool table. Head through the further doors and you’ll find yourself in a very unusual beer garden with gangways, terraces and stairs.
The Greenwich Union is off the tourist track in Greenwich and it’s a relaxed location, popular with young ale drinkers. Flavoured beers provide the fun and there’s a great British-themed menu. Free Wi-Fi access makes it popular with the daytime freelancing crowd and the beer garden gets packed in summer. It is located on Royal Hill.
In St Chad’s Place, the eponymous restaurant in King’s Cross offers a prime example of the changing face of this former notorious red-light zone.
It’s hidden away down a dark and cobbled alley which would have been off limits a decade ago, but which now boasts a wonderful bar space in a reworked Victorian warehouse. Popular with office workers, the venue has a distinctly Scandinavian feel.
The Palm Tree is one of those archetypal ‘East End boozers’ and has proudly stood on its own ever since its neighbours were destroyed in the Blitz. The interior speaks of a former age, with red velvet curtains, original carpeting and the classic brown wallpaper that was once found in every local pub. The clientele includes both garrulous old folk and youthful students, all drinking within a slice of living history. You’ll find it on Haverfield Road.
If Victorian London appeals, then Holborn is a great destination for nineteenth-century pubs. Try the Princes Louise on High Holborn, which is a glorious sight to behold with its traditional bar lamps, etched glass and wooden panels. Drinkers sit partitioned into separate spaces and the beer is very reasonably priced. The clientele is a real mix – tourists from the British Museum, lawyers from the nearby legal district and office workers.
And as another interesting fact about this pub, the men’s urinals actually have listed status!
The Heights in St George’s Hotel, W1, resembles any number of hotel bars but it’s the location that makes it unique. It’s reached by a secret lift in the St George’s Hotel lobby and is perched an awe-inspiring fifteen floors above busy Oxford Circus.
The bar’s window wall offers superb views of London and it’s next to the BBC too, so it’s often the haunt of a celebrity of two.