There are few places in London that can so comfortably claim the status of British institution as the pub. There’s a reason this thronging centre of British social life stars in Shakespeare’s Henry V, is the starting-point of Chaucer’s 14th-Century Epic Poem The Canterbury Tales, was written about and pondered over by George Orwell, and was even included in the training of American GIs coming over for the D-Day Landings.
Littering every street and every borough, spilling punters onto the street each evening, London boasts over 3,500 ‘public houses’. Where then, are the best ones?
A true British answer would be ‘if they sell beer, they’re all good’, but for Walkative guests with a more discerning taste, here’s just 7 of our favourite watering holes in (relatively) Central London to get you started:
No:1 The Lamb & Flag, Covent Garden
Tucked in a cosy corner just around from Covent Garden, The Lamb & Flag has been serving patrons since 1623. Although the interior is unlikely to be that old, there is certainly an air of timelessness at the Lamb & Flag. Filled with locals and visitors alike, the bar is covered in small brass plaques memorialising and celebrating its regulars. Highlights include ‘Tony Pickles’, ‘It’s a Bargain Harry’, ‘The Bins Brothers’, and ‘Pint of Bitter Dave’. You could spend hours just appreciating all the plaques, or even longer appreciating the beers and lunch.
No 2: The French House, Soho
Not ones to be the most historically sympathetic to the French, it seems odd that the tricolor is so confidently flying in Britain’s capital above a matter-of-fact pub called ‘The French House’. It certainly doesn’t help that it was originally run by a German.
The French House, though, is a Soho celebrity, a rare glimpse into a nearly-lost history of the district. Though no one’s quite sure where the name comes from, rumours are that it is here that the exiled French General (and soon-to-be President) Charles de Gaulle, wrote his nation-defining speech ‘To all Frenchmen’ in 1940, calling for mass resistance to the occupying Nazi regime.
Curiously, too, the French House only serves half-pints. The story goes that brawls were so common here that the landlord refused to use whole pint glasses, as they could easily be smashed and used as weapons. The only day when you will see a full pint is April Fools’ day, where everything is a pint; beer, wine, gin & tonic.
No 3: The Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street
If you are looking for a pub that feels like a real step into the past, you cannot go wrong with Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese. In place since the 1500s, and rapidly rebuilt after the Great Fire of London of 1666, you wouldn’t guess you were in central London. Built with low ceilings and dark wood beams, it’s a real historic gem. It’s also a good spot for a bit of lunch.
No 4: The Prospect of Whitby, Wapping
With a raging river passing directly through London, it’s no surprise that the city often had visiting sailors and quite often, pirates. The Prospect of Whitby embodies this history. Although it has now been taken over by the Greene King chain, there is still an element of originality to the pub, with a noose hanging from the top floor over the Thames, a 400-year-old stone floor, and a pewter bar counter. The Prospect of Whitby has also been host to centuries of monarchs, and is also mentioned in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. If it’s good enough for undead blood-sucking parasites, as well as also Dracula, we reckon it will be good enough for you!
No 5: The Cross Keys, Covent Garden
Central London pubs aren’t cheap. What you gain in hydration from the drinks, you lose through the eye-watering prices. We were shocked to see, then, just how affordable The Cross Keys is, particularly whilst being so central. It’s certainly not the cheapest pub in London, but it’s definitely not as pricey as its neighbours.
As well as that, The Cross Keys feels like an authentic pub. Dark wook, carpet floors, friendly staff, it will definitely give you the authentic pub experience that so many look for. Look out for the Beatles memorabilia lining the walls, too. We’re not sure why it’s there, we don’t even know if the Beatles ever visited, but it’s still a fun addition to the space.
No 6: The Churchill Arms, Kensington
You’d be right for guessing that the Churchill Arms is named after Second World War leader, and somewhat-controversial symbol of Britain’s imperialism, Winston Churchill, but originally, it was known as ‘The Church on the Hill’, which then got shortened after the war. The Churchill Arms is stunning, having one of the most beautiful pub exteriors in London, flaunting huge bouquets of flowers, come summer, and Christmas decorations in the winter. If you’re hoping for some decent food with your pint, too, The Churchill Arms discards traditional ‘pub grub’ for some gorgeous Thai curries.
No 7: Mr Fogg’s Tavern, Covent Garden
Our final pub is a little more of a Wildcard, and not necessarily a favourite of die-hard Londoners. For visitors to London, though, Mr Fogg’s Tavern is quite simply a bit of fun. It includes a speakeasy cocktail bar upstairs, endless choices of gin, and impressive -if somewhat contentious- decorations. If you want mountains of Union Flag bunting, men with big moustaches, and a feeling of being in the Victorian era (without thinking too much about what the Victorians were actually getting up to across the rest of the world), then this is the place to go. Not too far from Leicester Square or Covent Garden, it’s an easy, and certainly family-friendly, choice.
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