There is something truly special about London pubs; the diversity of styles, the history, and the increasing availability of fantastic locally brewed beer – London pubs have it all.
Like any City, though, finding a winner can be a real challenge if you don’t know where to look; and with well over 5000 pubs to choose from – searching for a good one can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack.
To make life a little easier, we’ve rounded up five pubs from very different parts of London, all of which are a real winner if you’re not sure where to start.
Ye-olde Cheshire Cheese
First up is the fantastically old Ye-Olde Cheshire Cheese; rebuilt in 1667 shortly after the Great Fire of London, the pub remains a remarkable warren of dark and dimly lit rooms. The pub floor even sports a scattering of saw-dust as a charming and rather eccentric nod to Britain’s old boozers. Such eccentricity is to be expected, perhaps, as brewery owners, Samuel Smith are somewhat infamous in their hometown of Tadcaster.
For the history buffs among us, the credentials of the pub are enhanced further still by having Charles Dickens as a cited regular, who apparently used to enjoy sitting next to the pubs real fire, which survives to this day. To be fair though, I’ve read many books and articles listing Charles Dickens as a regular in certain London pubs, and it would appear the man liked a pint, or two, perhaps even three.
In all seriousness, though, if you’re looking for a living and breathing piece of British history look no further than the Ye-Olde Cheshire Cheese. Its mix of wooden panelled bars, snugs and function rooms are a real treat for Londoners and tourists alike.
Princess Louise – Holborn
Similar to the Cheshire Cheese, the Princess Louise is another historic gem. Also, owned by the eccentric Tadcaster based brewer Samuel Smith’s, the Princes Louise boasts more than its fair share of historic features. In-fact, it’s one of the best preserved, most complete examples of a Victorian pub interior anywhere in Britain – even the gents toilets are listed!
Moreover, the Princess Louise is a symbol and relic of the British Empire. The lavish decoration was a statement of Britain’s place in the world at the time, and, believe it or not, the interior of this pub was actually pretty unremarkable back in its day. In 1872, Britain owned the largest Empire in the world; if you want to get an idea of how the Victorian’s exhibited such wealth and power back home, look no further than this pub.
Moving slightly away from the traditional London pub theme, the Porterhouse on Maiden Lane near Covent Garden is impressive and characterful in its own unique, less historic way. The first thing that hits you when you enter is the vast amount of copper that dominates the entire interior. Secondly, you’ll notice the remarkable range of the Porterhouse’s own beers, which come from the pub’s own Brewery in Dublin.
Even more remarkable is just how big the place is while retaining a snug feel. It’s a real warren of a place, but not in the same way as the Old Cheshire Cheese. Despite having a large capacity, the place retains a cosy character by dividing up seating areas over many different levels. Once inside, you’d hardly know you were in such a large building!
As a matter of fact, the place actually reminds me of the kind of ‘super pub’ we see so commonly in North America. It’s similar in many ways to the Irish Heather in Langley, BC where I lived in Canada – comparable in that it has a large capacity but works hard to retain character. Well worth a visit if you like great craft beers and quirky, but modern pubs.
I have an interesting story about the Churchill Arms; an almost slightly embarrassing story, in fact. Tell me: If you were entertaining a crowd of German work colleagues of an evening in London, would you think twice about taking them to a pub named the Churchill Arms? Likely, if you’re smarter than me, you’d have put two and two together quicker than I did… I chose the place because we were in the area (Notting Hill/Kensington) and because I’d heard a lot about it. So, I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to show them a really classic British pub…!? I’m sure you can see where this is going: we turn up, enter the pub, and guess what – the whole place is covered in War memorabilia. Not to mention it was all topped off by the massive Union Jack flag covering the fire place… how embarrassing! As Basil Fawlty would say in the classic British TV series ‘Don’t mention the war!’ Well, I guess I kinda did! Ooops! But never mind, the place really lived up to expectations, and it wasn’t long before they’d gotten over the presence of gas masks and Spitfires – brill! In all seriousness, the Churchill Arms is a real London local; very authentic – hosting a wide variety of clientele. Just as a real pub should be.
The Market Porter
Last but not least, our London pub journey takes us to Borough Market – close to London Bridge. The market itself is one of the most vibrant places to visit in London and with so much footfall traffic, it no doubt helps keep the punters coming to the Market Porter pub. Such hassle and bustle is also good for beer turnover, which is good news as the pub has one of the best selections of real ales anywhere in London. Priding themselves on delivering a constantly changing range of Britain’s best ales, the beers often turnover so quick they could tap a beer in the morning and it would be gone by lunchtime. If you like your ales fresh, this is about as good as it gets! The pub itself is relatively traditional but spacious, with a relaxed atmosphere as drinkers often flow out into the neighbouring streets to soak up the atmosphere. Visit on a Saturday to get the full effect of how the nearby market adds to the vibrancy of this must visit London classic.
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