London is home to over 8 million people and being British they are born with a beer glass in hand and an incredible thirst. This is why the English pub was invented and London has several thousand public houses to choose from. It’s a hard job trying to find out the top 10 best pubs in the London area, but someone has to do it so here goes.
10. Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street
At first blush this is a really small pub until you realize that the front bar is just that – a front. Behind there are a series of cozy nooks to go hide and a larger bar out the back. This is a very old pub and probably the oldest wood paneling of any pub in the UK, some dating back to before 1666 and the Great Fire of London, which destroyed the original building.
9. Cittie of Yorke, Holborn
The rear bar is where it is all happening at the Cittie of Yorke (City of Yorke). This looks like a Tudor-style hall (think Henry the Eighth), but the there are what passes for ‘modern’ accessories in England, with 1920’s kitsch and flapper icons. There are also some old beer vats which form part of the surroundings and are a throw back to when the pub was owned by a brewery.
8. Black Friar, Blackfriars
A short walk from the Olde Cheshire Cheese is the Black Friar. The Black Friar is a Victorian pub which was last remodeled back in 1905. The pub was named and decorated for the Dominican friars who had a monastery close by. Ready yourself for a fanciful flight of fancy but the beer is first rate.
7. Princess Louise, Holborn
Head back up Fleet Street to Holborn for a brisk 10 minute walk and you are at the Princess Louise. This was the superliner of the Victorian-age for pubs when every attention was paid to even the minutest decorative and architectural detail. There is something else going on here though – for all the Victoriana, this is an elegant modern interior especially designed for providing semi-private areas to enjoy conversation and a pint. The food is excellent here too – highly recommended.
6. Red Lion, St James’s
There are hundreds of pubs called the Red Lion, but this one is very special and again dates back to the late 19th Century and Queen Victoria. It isn’t especially large, however there are huge mirrors packing the interior which give the illusion of a very spacious indoors. You have to take the tube or bus across London to get to the West End from the central city, but the Hopback Summer Lightning bitter is worth the flight across the Atlantic in any event.
5. The Forester, Ealing
Head even further west of the city to Ealing and the Forester. Ealing is also home of the BBC’s White City studios – go online and book a free audience ticket, if you are in the mood for a live TV show as well as a pint. This pub is Edwardian, which means it was built after Queen Victoria’s reign ended (in this case the Forester was built in 1909). The architect was the busiest pub designer of the day, Nowell Parr, and is a good example of the more restrained style and décor of the Edwardian era. The food here is as good as the beer, and especially the Thai food (yes they serve Asian food in English pubs).
4. Blind Beggar, Whitechapel
Another Victorian pub, built in 1894 but this one has a lot of history to go with it, and not all of it good. The first claim to fame is that the Blind Beggar was where the first Brown Ale was brewed using modern methods. This is also the site of the formation of the Salvation Army after a sermon was given here by William Booth. The darkest piece of Blind Beggar pub history is that this is also the pub where Ronnie Kray, a notorious East End gangster (along with his twin brother Reggie) walked into the bar and shot a man in cold blood in front of the shocked patrons.
3. The Eastbrook, Dagenham
Now you have a taste for the dark underbelly of London’s gangland, get on the tube and head even further east to the Eastbrook in Dagenham. This is Ford Motor City, with the town essentially built up to service the major Ford plant based there. It is also the hometown of Ritchie Blackmore, the guitarist from Deep Purple and Dudley Moore the actor.
Built in the Thirties specifically to serve beer and food to the sprawling terraced housing which was built when Ford established its car plant, this is an excellent example of pub life for the masses. Check out the Oak Room and the Walnut Room which are beautiful, but the beer is world class (the Eastbrook’s landlord has won more national titles than any other in the UK).
2. The Falcon, Battersea
The Falcon sits by Clapham Junction train station (pronounced Clap + Ham, not ‘Claffham’) and we have to head back into the city and head south of the Thames. Built in 1887 as public house come hotel to serve the train travelers, it has an exceptionally long bar (one of the longest in the UK). Delightful stain glass windows give a cathedral feel and there are numerous snugs and rooms to go find a quiet corner to nurse a pint of Harvey’s Best Bitter.
1. The Salisbury, Harringay
Another Victoriana pub full of cornucopia and built at the turn of the 20th Century but subjected to a very sensitive restoration. A spectacular building, but the food on offer is even better and even better than any of that is a pint of Fuller’s ESB (Extra Strong Bitter).