Top 25 Pubs In London
The Royal Oak is wonderful because it is such a perfect example of an ordinary pub. It does nothing extraordinary or alarming. It is a Proper Pub, with small rooms and nicely mismatched furniture, and random plates and pictures on the walls. Here are some of the reasons that I love it:
The beer: Harveys’ beer is delicious, and the Royal Oak has a full range of it on tap. It’s one of the few pubs in London where you’re pretty much guaranteed a pint of Mild. (I have seen them run out of the lovely dark brew, but I have usually contributed to its demise.) In winter, they do a good smooth sour Old, and there’s always delicious hoppy, happy Harveys’ Best. Tucked away behind the bar are tiny bottles of Imperial Stout, and the Christmas ale – appearing on tap every December – is nearly as lethal. May is Camra-approved Mild month, with bonus extra milds to quaff. February features the seasonal ale ‘Kiss’ (and I’m certain that the bar staff never tire of the utterly hilarious variations on ‘Give us a Kiss please’). This seasonal run of beers is very comforting to a creature of habit like me.
It’s not such a great pub for those fools who spurn the warm, flat goodness of real ale; provision for the keg-drinkers is very limited. As is my sympathy. Drink some ALE instead! It is much, much tastier.
So, we reach the top 4, an area, one would assume, of almost complete agreement between those voting but, for some reason, our fourth choice has elicited strong opinions, hence two different views. Let’s take this to the comments box!!!
Small poky one room pub whose small pokiness is often accentuated by being in Soho, having a dripping ceiling, a galley bar in the thinnest part of the pub and – oh – a bloke out back playing 45’s with flying barbie dolls dangling from his equipment. Said barbie dolls are usually decked out in fetishwear, a Ken wank fantasy while the slow grind of some early reggae or rock’n’roll ’45’s soundtracks the oddest tiny sized porno ever. But enough of DJ Wheeliebag for now, back to this pub which could so easily be the anonymous back alley pub nestled by sex shops in Soho. It even comes with its own built in back passage for you to slip up. Apparently there has been a pub on this dogleg of Greek Street for hundreds of years. Be that as it may, this is a more turn of the 20th century stab at reliable pubness, and just about convinces with age (holes in ceiling help). But it gets all the basics of being a pub absolutely right.
So how does an old Mitchell & Butler identikit pub make it into this list? With its “pies of the day” and little tabletop fake chalk promotions of Winter Pimms. Well for some reason the Pillars never fit the old M&B mould, despite having to carry that stuff. Its pies were actually really good, and have kept on being good. The beer was always kept well and you were guaranteed an interesting pint or too (and not afraid to just serve bitters which were just bitters).
Very few pubs attract punters with the promise of shocks which will have you leaping out of your seat. And yet the second time I went to the Shakespeare’s Head, that was the reason I went there. I wanted to see Shakey newcomers surprised when, look ma no hands, a very loud bell rang. It never fails to deliver to new users, or fail to amuse us old hands. And it is fitting because at the heart of the appeal of the Shakespeare’s Head, alongside its many terrific features, is it partnership with that crucible of high culture, Sadler’s Wells.
A lot of pubs like to rack up the celebrity photos on the wall, though photo for photo The Shakey Head has a better class of old school family entertainers on its estate pub styled walls.
There are two words that according to modern usage I pronounce wrong. I will hold my hand up to “Colander” – which I pronounce “cullander” to rhyme with Wallander* as a throwback to believing it etymology being tied to the cauliflower I often saw being drained in one. The other word I annoy everyone with pronounce differently (correctly) is the name of this pub. I give it the long A – to me it is the PAY KEN HAM. Everyone else says PACK EN HAM. But PACK EN HAM sounds a bit too harsh to me, a bit too much like Pack It IN! Which is part of the point of the Pakenham, it doesn’t ask you to pack it in at all. Indeed it is quite happy to let you drink well past midnight.
The Pakenham is a posties pub, backing on to the wasteland at the back of Mount Pleasant Sorting Office, and fifty percent of the drinkers there are usually postal workers. As such you would not be surprised to find big projected sports screens, a dartboard and plenty of rushed pint vertical drinking space. But its horseshoe bar also keeps its beers very well (I think of it as the spiritual home of Doom Bar in London), and the excellent bar staff know how to work their crowd.
The Trinity is the only pub outside Zone 1* on this list. That’s not to say that we are a bunch of central London fanatics, but it is where we pretty much all work and, therefore, where we’ve spent most evenings in the pub. I’d left the Exmouth by the time this stage in proceedings had been reached so I’m a little short on the main thrust of the arguments that got the Trinity this far up the list, but I can tell you about what I like about it:
It’s the nicest pub in Brixton
And when you’re faced with a three hour gap between the end of work and halfway through the second support at the Academy that’s all you can ask for really. Because it is the location of the Trinity, only a ten minute walk from the Brixton Academy that led it to being visited, never mind nominated. The only time I’ve been here and not gone on to a gig was when The Specials cancelled at half 5. But this is damning with faint praise, they do a cracking pint of Ordinary, the service is good, they serve big portions of decent food and have a nice beer garden out the back
if you are some sort of beast of the field. Much like the Pineapple in Kentish Town it does seem to have become the haunt of A Certain Type Of Gig Goer, but then that’s maybe because I’m only going to Certain Types Of Gigs (and I freely admit to fitting the profile of the Certain Type)…
There was one night, just after the smoking ban came in (I’m thinking the night of the Carter gig?), when I arrived quite early (what? I was EXCITED!) to find that they’d replaced the carpet right through the pub and all you could smell was NEW CARPET, it was the weirdest thing, like drinking in Allied…
*sorry non-Londoners, but this includes you too. Although apart from the Three Goats Heads and the Turf in Oxford, the Windmill in Stansted Airport and the Brothers Bar at Glastonbury I can’t think of many non-London bouzers where a gang of FT contributors have been there at the same time. Oh, I suppose DBA in New York and the Small Bar in Chicago should get honourable mentions…
Having worked around Covent Garden from the middle of 2002 I’d walked past the Newton Arms loads of times (not least on the way to Parker Place where the original Club FreakyTrigger was held) , but always thought it looked a bit, y’know, Local. It looks like an Estate Pub without being attached to an Estate (although there are a surprisingly large number of people who live round there) and the cheap beer deals and garish posters in the window put me off.
The thing that finally got me through the door was horse-racing.