Oh boy, another ludicrously tough call, this. Not that that’s ever stopped me wading in and then realising I’d made several mistakes after the event… London has lots of pubs. Many, many pubs. Some of them are very good. Some, however, are excellent. Here are ten of those ones.
The Jerusalem Tavern (Clerkenwell)
Nice nice, cosy bolthole of Britton Street – quite famous, and often impossible to get a seat in. But it somehow feels Dickensian, and of course they’re the only pub in London to have the St Peters beers on tap. My favourite is the Ruby Red, but most of their beers are happily drinkable. [http://www.stpetersbrewery.co.uk/london/default.htm]
The Royal Oak (Borough)
Excellently preserved old Victorian boozer, with nice big windows so it doesn’t have the dingy feel that some of them do. The beers are superb – they specialise in the beers of Harveys of Sussex, who I’m yet to see produce a bad pint. Fairly roomy place, although understandably popular. One I need to spend more time in. [http://www.fancyapint.com/pubs/pub1228.html]
The Jugged Hare (Pimlico)
This is now my default pub for pub lunches around work – the converted bank does a great line in Fullers beers (my current favourite being the Honey Dew), and they also dish up some top quality grub. If you’re going to meet with people, it’s a good one. Probably not a place to get a great buzz going, but it’s a bank, innit. [http://www.fancyapint.com/pubs/pub1521.html]
The White Horse (Parsons Green)
Nice big roomy bar, often full of Jarrad & Tristan yah-yah types (hence its alternate name, “The Sloaney Pony”), but home to a stunning range of beers. The last few times I’ve been in they’ve had 5 real ales, 5 imported beers, and 5 “miscellaneous” beers, as well as a formidable range of lagers, bottles, and who knows what else. They quite often run beer festivals, and on the whole it seems like quite a decent enterprise. [http://www.whitehorsesw6.com/]
The Bricklayer’s Arms (Putney)
Seems a natural followup to the White Horse, as nearly every time I’ve been to one we wind up at the other. Well, it’s far, isn’t it? Cosy, local feeling boozer which champions the Timothy Taylor range of beers – I’ve been in there when they’ve had 5 of them on, which seemed worth celebrating with a pint of each. They do a great roast, and if you can get the spot next to the fireplace in winter then you’re sitting on an absolute A-list pub experience. [http://www.bricklayers-arms.co.uk/]
The Gunmakers (Clerkenwell)
Nestling in a back street off Clerkenwell Road, this is the pub in London which gains the hallowed moniker of “My Local”. Not that it’s really anywhere near work or my home. It’s cosy, friendly, the food’s outstanding, and Jeff & his team seem to have a sense of customer service that many other places seem totally unaware even exists. The people in there usually seem happy to chat with anyone about, and as if all that weren’t enough, the beers are nothing short of spectacular. Jeffrey usually keeps Timothy Taylor Landlord and Harveys Sussex Best on as regulars, and then rotates through some absolutely corking guest ales. And a better pint of Landlord I’m yet to find.
I hope I haven’t overdone it? [http://thegunmakers.co.uk/]
The Seven Stars (Holborn)
To be truthful, I’ve only been in here once, and was nursing a hangover at the time. I fully intend to go back though as it’s a rare gem. Again, nice beers, nice buzz, friendly staff who were very welcoming despite us being interlopers, and great food too. The landlord’s name is Roxy Beaujolais, and the pub cat is named Tom Paine – and has often been known to wear a ruff. The only problem with heading here is that my brain seems to go into autopilot and take me to The Gunmakers. [http://www.fancyapint.com/pubs/pub192.html]
The Montague Arms (New Cross)
The Puzzler and I embarked on a Sunday Roast mission to this place largely at my suggestion: it was clear from the outset that I had no idea where New Cross was. Once I’d found the building I had to hunt for a while to find an entrance that hadn’t been boarded up, and was on the brink of giving it up as being condemned when I spotted fairy lights. Inside was an interesting mix of nautical decor and taxidermy, and as I waited I heard some excellent banter wafting about. The roasts were what could only be described as “frigging cheap” (I think £5.50 for large roast plus pudding), the beer was ok, but the end-to-end thing was priceless. My favourite moment was the old blind bloke who wandered in, set himself up on the Hammond organ in the main room, bumbled and abandoned his way through about an hour and a half’s worth of West-Side-Story stylised showtunes, and then wandered out again. [http://www.myspace.com/themontaguearms]
The Trafalgar Free House (Morden)
Compact estate pub in the Deep South which had me thinking “are we in Kansas any more?”, but once you’re there it’s got a nice buzz on and quite often has some cracking jazz playing in the “front room” (insofar as it’s ostensibly a one-room pub). I was impressed with the beer last time, with O’Hanlon’s Yellow Hammer on tap that night. Definitely heading back here! [http://www.thetraf.com/]
The Star (Belgravia)
Seems a safe bet to include this one, as it’s been reportedly included in every edition of CAMRA’s Good Beer Guide. I first learned of this courtesy of one of our morris dancing tours and visit it at least once a year on that basis. Nice beers, nice food, great ambience, with the only downside now being that because of the neighbours complaining you’re now not allowed to stand out the front and enjoy your beer. [http://www.fancyapint.com/pubs/pub933.html]
And try as I might, I can’t justify fitting these 2 into the top ten anywhere, but thought I’d mention them given the frequency with which I seem to find myself propping up a wall in either:
The bright yellow & blue barn of a pub with pictures of top-hatted gents and ballgown-bedecked ladies painted on the windows: a family run Irish boozer which has an incongruously large range of Belgian and German beers in the fridge, along with all the usual suspects. The floor looks suspiciously to be made out of the kind of material that hoses off easily, but we’ve had some excellent nightcaps in there and though you never seem to start there we always seem to finish there.
De Hems (Chinatown)
One of the upsides of being located in the heart of the West End is that you don’t really have to do too much in order to get people in the door. As such, the service at De Hems is wildly inconsistent, ranging from engaging smiles (as I got last Thursday night, in abundance) to straight out being ignored (a Saturday night). It’s a Dutch pub, but as there’s only a couple of interesting Dutch beers out there, they borrow largely from the arsenal of fellow lowland Belgium, which can be lethal. Again, despite it often being a loud, impersonal pain in the arse of a place, we seem to wind up back there nearly every time we’ve seen a West End show.
Of course this list fails to address many of the pubs I’m happy to go to, such as The Cardinal, The Hawley Arms, The Albany, The Porterhouse, The Betsey Trotwood, The Richard Steele, The Nag’s Head at Belgravia, The Cat’s Back, The Edinboro Castle, The Princess of Wales, The Pembury, The Market Porter, The Dovetail, The Harp, The Lamb & Flag, The Red Lion & Sun, The Speaker, The Lexington, The Camden Head in Angel, The Spread Eagle, The Crown & Goose… ok, stop. That’s it. Push the damn “post” button already.