There are thousands, maybe millions … OK, approximately 10,000. A truly English experience is incomplete without a pint of ale and luckily, in London, every step is met with a century-old pub, all with varying atmospheres, all traditional, all timeless.
Cheers to the past!
Hundreds of years and countless stories later, the great public houses of London are still as lively as ever. Many rebuilt and refurbished since the 16th century, the oldests of the bunch are still kicking.
Take the Ye Old Mitre, where soldiers once exchanged war tales. It's now bustling with events, serving the usual ale, fish, and chips. Down in Soho, find The French Rooms, a crucial meeting place of the Resistance, now ideal for enjoying a sophisticated ambiance to unwind after work in the company of a special someone. Look to the waterfront for good beer and better views at the very traditional Mayflower pub, where … well, you know the rest.
For us, authenticity and exclusivity are key. So, the original Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (the one on 145 Fleet Street, framed by hanging whiskey jugs) and its inconspicuous 13th-century vaulted cellar is a must despite the touristic crowd. Not to mention, Queen Elizabeth I has been spotted there in her younger years.
Still, in the more reserved Belgravia, some ancient pubs specialize in all things retro. After a long day of shopping at Harrods, The Nags Head opens its doors to an old-school, authentic charm, sans technology (cell phones are prohibited). Or meet up with Madonna and the ghost of The Grenadier in Belgrave Square (known for its past of violent brawls). Safe to say, after a pint ... or 3, you won’t be able to tell the difference between you, the ghosts, and Prince Harry over there in the corner …
These pubs are right up your alley if …
- You want to practice your face to face social skills
- You like your vintage films with modern cameos
- You are dauntless and thirsty
Pubs of the New Age: Gastropubs
Nowadays, the pub scene in London has added another dimension to the ritualistic happy hour. The gastropub, a new phenomenon, is the combination of the traditional pubs, trendy cuisine, and the posh ambiance of London.
In the bustle of Queen Victoria Street, the stylish Black Friar continues this ritual bearing gifts: smoked salmon fishcakes, slow-cooked beef dressed in amber ale, and a unique atmosphere. On Monday nights, it’s nice to grab your lover and go to The Newman Street Tavern, a beautifully restored bar with a classic charm. A popular spot for young Brits, The Cat & Mutton, an old ale house turned into a contemporary cocktail bar.
Some do well juggling, like The Montpelier, known for its lovely bar snacks, and obscure cinema reached only through a narrow hallway in the back. In addition, The Princess Victoria regularly hosts a film club, followed by tasty Scotch eggs.
Find silver cutlery at The Gun. This pub and its stunning riverside terrace attract an upscale crowd who likes to mingle, sip beer, and nibble on Fillet of Peterhead cod, braised fennel fondue, clams, chorizo, and sea herbs.
Quench both your thirst and hunger here if …
- The old is getting ... old
- You’re always a little pressed for time
- You like your pubs Michelin-approved
For the beer connoisseur
There's another development in London’s budding pubology. It specializes in the art of beer and usually offers anywhere from 15 to 100 different types of carefully crafted ale manufactured in small breweries. These institutions are known for more than just their impressive selection of taste, but also for their intimate ambiances. They're perfect for a night out with the guys and beer experts to flex and impress.
In Soho's hotspots, in private alleyways, in between chic boutiques, are dark and mysterious storefronts. The intriguing Old Coffee House, run by the Leyton microbrewery, offers a (seriously) innovative selection - like coffee and bacon infused flavors - in a pleasant, upbeat ambiance. On the other hand, in the heart of the financial district, the modern, slick bar tops at The Arbitrager offers spirits, beers, and yummy bar food.
Wildly famous and heavily awarded, The Harp pub is an oasis in the heavily congested, touristic streets of Convent Garden. It's cited for its buzzing ambiance, above average beer, and hand-pulled (aka “real”) ale. This is a great spot to grab a quick cider before a night on the town.
Are the kids with the babysitter tonight? Great! Escape into the quiet streets of King’s Cross, and have some “adult time” amongst a collection of smoke porters, oatmeal stouts, IPAS, and kegs of exotic beers at The Queens Head. And if that sounds like Chinese to you, take a class with the barman at Holborn Whippet to learn about wheat beer, black lagers, cream ales, imperial porter, barleywine ...
Make sure these boozers are on your route if …
- You are (very) open minded
- Options don’t scare you
- Drinking heavily does not affect your ability to learn new things
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