The 50 best pubs in London

It’s taken some doing, gallons of pints – but we’ve made it: our second year naming 50 favourite pubs in London.

We adore pubs for all the life that happens in them: the wind down after work, the ill-advised Friday lunches, the long Saturday afternoons, the lazy Sunday recovery. They are not mausoleums but museums, always collecting stories, often prompting them. This is how it’s always been – decades before we were there, others were, doing the same things: laughing, arguing, catching-up, falling out, making up. Making out.

There are probably rules for categorising pubs. In George Orwell’s last essay for the Standard, 1946’s The Moon Under Water, he listed 10 of them. We’ve not tried anything similar; we haven’t found the craftiest beer lists, the strongest smelling whisky shelves or places with fine wine priced in old money. Instead, for us, atmosphere is everything. Some of our choices come down to that first feeling after swinging open the door, or whether or not there’s still a warm glow after last orders are called. It’s not tangible, sure.

Our preferences haven’t shifted so much since over 12 months: we still favour places with flaking paint over those done up with Farrow & Ball and we go for Guinness over Goze. We've been all over, but haven't discriminated by area – though granted, we probably spend too much time in Soho.

As with last year, the “50 best” is something of a ruse. These are just our favourites, after all, and other recommendations have spilled in – there are more than 60 places mentioned below, and still we couldn’t squeeze in some old favourites. Putney types may be furious The Bricklayer’s Arms didn’t make it, Canonbury kids will bemoan the exclusion of The Snooty Fox. Those who fill the Lord Northbrook in Lee on a weekend are probably wondering why it missed out. The best pub, after all, is still the local.

The truth of it is, we haven’t the room. Some places probably deserve their own spot but have been lined up with similar houses so the list could roam a little further. Sometimes we went to a big name and were let down. Still, even with a year of enthusiastic drinking, we couldn’t get everywhere. Certain we missed a spot? Email or

We stand by last year’s list too, and were sad to drop most of the 11 that went: the Hare in Bethnal Green remains a tough-as-nails boozer for those who are, well, tough-as-nails; the Bill Murray is still brilliant for comedy, and the Red Lion in Leytonstone still has a cracking choice of craft beer. The 50 below, though, are the pubs we go back to time and again, the pubs we go out of our way for, and the pubs we drag friends to. You'll spot us at the bar; there's always another round.

50. The Old Bank of England, Fleet Street


One of the most incredible interiors of any pub in the city can be found at the Old Bank of England — a stunning spot with ornate ceilings and grand chandeliers. Behind the lovely island bar they pour McMullens cask ales, with Rivertown on draught, while the kitchen turns out decent pub grub. As the name suggests, the pub is housed in the old Law Courts’ branch of the Bank of England, which operated from 1888 to 1975. Interestingly, the building sits in between the barber shop owned by Sweeney Todd and the pie shop owned by his mistress Mrs Lovett — a grizzly detail for an otherwise resplendent London pub. HF

194 Fleet Street, EC4A 2LT,

49. The Dublin Castle, Camden

(Spudgun67/Wikimedia Commons)
(Spudgun67/Wikimedia Commons)

The Hawley Arms may be more famous thanks to an association with noughties Indie kids, but Camden’s best pub is the Dublin Castle. It seems to both have inspired and absorbed the epitome of Camden culture, right down to the lashings of military red on the walls — remember the Libertines’ jackets? From the outside, it looks almost grand; inside it’s a place to drink cheap lager and have your head blown off by boys and girls with guitars. That’s what everyone’s been doing for decades, anyway; its reputation started to grow when Madness first made it here, but then Blur got a leg up in the place too, and Amy Winehouse supposedly pulled pints behind the bar from time to time. They've live music every weekend and often in the week too, and there's a ping-pong table for the afternoons, before the amps get switched on.

If you’re headed up Camden Road toward Holloway, the Lord Stanley is a must stop-in too. Decidedly more upmarket than the Castle, it’s perfect for a Sunday Roast and a decent glass of wine. DE

94 Parkway, NW1 7AN,

48. Prospect of Whitby, Wapping


A pub has stood on the Prospect of Whitby’s spot since the 16th century. Back then it was known as the Devil’s Tavern, named for the nefarious activities of the sailors that used to frequent it. The pub is far more than just a historic novelty though, blessed with a spacious downstairs drinking area, a great beer garden and unparalleled views of the Thames. Parts of this loveable boozer might be over 400 years old, but the pub still has so much to offer visitors in 2020. Timeless rather than trendy, which is fine by us. HF

57 Wapping Wall, E1W 3SH,

47. The Lyceum Tavern, the Strand

(Ewan Munro/Creative Commons)
(Ewan Munro/Creative Commons)

Like all the best Sam Smith’s in London, the Lyceum feels like it’s not been changed in decades. The boozer, found right on the Strand, has the charm of an old spit and sawdust ale house – the booths are some of the cosiest spaces to sip a pint of Taddy lager and escape the crowds. As you’d expect from the brewery, the drinks are cheap compared to places nearby. Covent Garden has a handful of top pubs, and the Lyceum is always one of the best options. HF

354 Strand, Covent Garden, WC2R 0HS

46. The Crosse Keys, the City

(Ewan Munro/Creative Commons)
(Ewan Munro/Creative Commons)

Punters should leave preconceptions about Wetherspoons at the door. The pub is a great mix of affordability and quality, matching tasteful decor — including marble columns, vaulted ceilings and a curved island bar — with the reasonable prices punters expect from a Spoons. The fact that rounds don’t cost the earth here makes it perfect for an outing after work, while Spoons’ usual solid selection of beers and spirits is on offer. We named it the best Wetherspoons pub in zone one in 2018 and stand by that claim — it's certainly the best option for an affordable drink in the City. Tim Martin might have his politics all wrong, but the man knows how to look after his pints. HF/DE

9 Gracechurch Street, EC3V 0DR,

45. The Ship & Shovell, Charing Cross


Hard, you’d think, for a pub a moment from Trafalgar Square to be off the beaten track – yet you stumble across the sequestered Ship & Shovell. Cleaved either side of Craven Passage, just behind Charing Cross, it is two pubs for the price of one: both are cosy Victorian boltholes with plenty of original features, while at the bars they’ve Badger beers on draft (the Best Bitter and Tangle Foot are favourites), a couple of decent lagers and a carefully chosen spirits selection. Most of all, it’s just a beautiful little spot and lovely to be in. If you’re in Soho, the Shaston Arms – also run by Hall & Wodehouse – does something very similar. DE

1-3, Craven Passage, WC2N 5PH,

44. The Spread Eagle, Homerton


This place, where absolutely everything from the bar snacks to the sofas is 100 per cent vegan, has single-handedly been dispelling myths about veganism since opening in 2017, proving that it’s a whole lot of fun to go meat and dairy-free. Go for fantastic cocktails from the beautiful central bar – their very boozy Bloody Mary is perfect with brunch – and excellent food from Club Mexicana. Importantly, while the pub is best known for its vegan cause, it never feels worthy or pretentious. HF

224 Homerton High Street, E9 6AS,

43. The Westminster Arms, Westminster


This old-school boozer is the politicians’ pub of choice — and the political journos who report on them. Run by Britain’s oldest brewer, Shepherd Neame, the pub is famous for its division bell, which alerts politicians when they needed to dash back to the Commons to vote. Today you can find plenty of lovely old period features, like the beautiful illustrated signwork above and around the bar, which adds to the appeal of the place. It gets pretty busy after work, but propping up the bar here and watching the pub’s locals mill around is a joy in itself. Settle in one of the comfy and secluded booths dotted along the far wall, which must have hosted their fair share of deal-making and political plotting in their time. HF

9 & 10 Storey's Gate, SW1P 3AT,

42. The Bank of Friendship, Highbury

(Ewan Munro/Creative Commons)
(Ewan Munro/Creative Commons)

Football pubs in the city are a mixed bag, and few places look their best with 100 noisy fans scrambling for space. The Bank of Friendship is somewhere that bucks the trend and comes into its own on match days – it’s a five minute walk from the Emirates on Blackstock Road and a haven for Gooners on Saturday afternoons. It comes alive on the weekends, but is far more dimensional than your average sports boozer, and one of north London’s gems. The dark interiors are a nice place to settle in while the generous, characterful beer garden is a fantastic space for groups on summer evenings.

226 Blackstock Road, N5 1EA,

41. The Alexandra, Wimbledon


The Alex is a Wimbledon favourite with good reason. A Young’s, it’s not cheap, but it’s been run the right way for a long time by landlords Mick and Sarah Dore. It’s a big old place: by the front windows are booths to devour Sunday lunch in, there are four different bars, and upstairs is a roof terrace without much of a view but pints of atmosphere. When there’s sport to watch, the TVs will have it on, and the place gets busy with fans that like to shout along – head to the Lounge upstairs for peace and quiet if that's not your thing. Food is reliable, they run a damned good quiz and know how to throw a party. They’ve a kind streak, too: this is the place that lays on Christmas lunch for free, for anyone on their own. To be frank, when a pub’s this size, the soul of them tends to get lost. Here, it’s the opposite – they’re all heart. DE

33 Wimbledon Hill Road, SW19 7NE,

40. The Trafalgar Tavern, Greenwich


Greenwich is blessed with a selection of great pubs — especially on Royal Hill, which features both craft ale specialists Greenwich Union and the lovely Richard I next door to each other. However, the Trafalgar is arguably the most impressive in the area. It’s huge, imperiously overlooking the Thames, and rather handsome too — so much so that it’s commonly used as a wedding venue. It’s steeped in history, having welcomed drinkers since 1837, and the outside areas and spacious interiors split over three floors makes it an idyllic meeting point for those in south east London. One for those long afternoons. HF

Park Row, SE10 9NW,​

39. The Blue Posts, Soho


Old Soho is lionised like few other places. True, little is left from its most disreputable days, but the spirit of it all – living in vino veritas – can still be found in the pubs that have mostly been left alone. There are three Blue Posts in Soho, one more in Fitzrovia and another in St James’s. This is probably the dingiest of the lot; it’s also our favourite. A wooden, three-sided bar sits at the back serving the usual lagers and a couple of ales – nothing especially fancy, though occasionally they have some interesting gins on, and there’s a few decent whiskies to get through as well. The staff are good fun, which is probably why this place draws everyone it does: weathered regulars, hacks and hardened drinkers, Vice types. There’s a mix. As it often looks shut, heading inside is something like uncovering a secret. This is just a pub, an old boozer, nothing flashy; this is why, to us, it’s wonderful. It's the same reason we're so fond of McGylnn’s in King's Cross. Your mileage may vary. DE

22 Berwick Street, W1F 0QA,

38. The Hemingford Arms, Caledonian Road

(Ewan Munro/Creative Commons)
(Ewan Munro/Creative Commons)

The exterior of this Islington pub is a thing of beauty, with a floral display perfectly kept all year round. The Hemingford is similar in some ways to the Churchill Arms in Notting Hill: both are beautiful corner pubs with Thai food on the menu and knick knacks hanging from ceiling. Here the decor is decidedly quirky, with a model plane suspended in perpetual flight above the bar. The plush upstairs area is a little full on, perhaps, but the stunning downstairs bar is perfect for a relaxed drink amongst a local crowd. A highly recommended north London pub. HF

158 Hemingford Road, N1 1DF,

37. The Drapers Arms, Islington


This is somewhere to come for the food, and the kitchen offers a daily changing menu of thoughtfully done cooking. It feels somewhere comfortable to settle into: not quite flashy but still decidedly upscale – very Islington, in other words. The place is proudly free-of-ties, which is perhaps its biggest strength: things change often, keeping an otherwise standard-but-smart place interesting. They've usually three ales on – presently Harvey’s Sussex Best, Wandle and Truman's Runner – various lagers and plenty of decent wine. The green bar is still a lovely touch, all these years on. DE

44 Barnsbury Street, N1 1ER,​​

36. The Scarsdale Tavern, Kensington


The Scarsdale Tavern is hidden down one of Kensington’s most beautiful streets, one of huge Victorian terraces with trees in the front garden. Helped by hanging flowers, it is beyond handsome and versatile too: in the winter, the restaurant fills as people come to warm up. In the summer, the terrace throngs; the sounds are of glasses filling with fizz and office gossip. Ross, who manages the place, keeps the place ticking over nicely; it has that wonderful feeling of somewhere in the middle of the countryside and on a sunny weekend, is somewhere to order gin n' tonics and bottles of rosé and decide that one ciggie won't hurt after all. It’s said to be Piers Morgan’s favourite pub, but you can’t win ‘em all. DE

23a Edwardes Square, W8 6HE,

35. The Chesham Arms, Hackney

(Ewan Munro/Creative Commons)
(Ewan Munro/Creative Commons)

Impressing outsiders is one thing, but the best pubs rally a defensive loyalty in their locals. Kentish Town boozer The Pineapple helped set the template in 2002 when it was saved by Old Pineapplers, whom it still welcomes today. In 2015, in Hackney, the Chesham Arms went through something similar, and poured its first pint after two hard years of local campaigns. Sat in a row of houses on a quiet street, the Chesham is good looking in a quiet sort of way and proved it was worth the effort early on, being named CAMRA’s pub of the year in 2016. Today, it serves a first rate choice of beers, with regular guest ales, and is known for its cider. There's no food, which is a hidden boon – they’re happy for punters to order in from the nearby Yard Sale Pizza, a few minutes up the road. It’s by no means flashy, looking very much the way a pub might do for a smart sitcom, but something about it just works. DE

15 Mehetabel Road, E9 6DU,

34. The Old Ship, Hammersmith

(Ewan Munro/Flickr)
(Ewan Munro/Flickr)

Hammersmith is spoiled for choice when it comes to picturesque riverside pubs, but the Old Ship might be the most beautiful of the lot. In fact, it resembles a luxurious villa more than a pub and the striking white building is something of a waterside landmark in W6. Punters have been coming since 1722, and it's no surprise to see it as popular as ever. The fantastic riverside terrace out the front offers unparalleled views of the Thames and its always one of the busiest stops during the annual Boat Race. HF

25 Upper Mall, W6 9TD,

33. The White Swan, Twickenham


The outdoor veranda and sitting areas at this Twickenham gem are simply stunning, helping make this one of the prettiest spots in west London. Inside, punters may struggle a little for space, but the exteriors more than make up for it. The waterside spot feels a world away from rush of the city, resembling a lovely old country pub more than a bustling city boozer. A summer afternoon spent here idly looking out across the river, working through the exhaustive choice of craft ale and wines and catching up with old friends, is bliss. HF

Riverside, TW1 3DN,

32. The Faltering Fullback, Finsbury Park


Tucked away down a leafy road around the corner from Finsbury Park station, the Fullback is one of the very best sports pubs in the city. Behind the flower-covered front is a small central bar serving a good selection of craft beers. It’s an Irish pub but the kitchen serves up Thai food, which is ideal for soaking up the drink on boozy Saturdays. The front room, decked out with rustic benches and a pool table, is a top place to watch all kinds of live sport shown across two big screens and fills up to capacity for the Six Nations. The outside terrace spread over two floors is a brilliant space too, although you’ll be lucky to get a seat in the summer. If you’re after somewhere more traditional, old-school boozer Nicholas Nickleby round the corner on Ferme Park Road is an honest-to-goodness spot for a few quiet pints – it seems to be one of a handful of pubs left in London with a proper dartboard, too. HF

19 Perth Road, N4 3HB,

31. The Holly Bush, Hampstead


This beautiful 18th century pub stands proud at the top of Holly Mount, a short walk from Hampstead Heath. Ale fans are well catered for, with 10 tap options and five cask ales on rotation, and they've a healthy choice of whisky, but its the kitchen where the pub really excels. The pub serves a great Sunday roast in the smart, comfortable surroundings of the dining rooms around the back and upstairs. The cosy interiors feel perfect for winter evenings, but the tiny outside seating area out the front of the pub is a nice spot for drinks in warmer weather. HF

22 Holly Mount, NW3 6SG,

30. The Grapes, Poplar


This historic spot might be owned by Ian McKellen and the Standard's proprietor Evgeny Lebedev, but that’s not the only reason it’s included here – promise. It’s one of the very oldest pubs in the city, dating back to the 16th century, and also one of the most characterful. It’s nestled in idyllically by the river, with a charming bar and one of the most inviting interiors in east London. McKellen’s influence is obvious too — the staff used on the set of Lord of the Rings hanging up behind the bar is a dead giveaway, and he's known to run the quiz from time to time. HF

76 Narrow Street, Poplar, E14 8BP,

29. Bradley's Spanish Bar, Fitzrovia


There since the 60s, the magnificent Bradley's is split over two floors. Down well worn concrete steps, past the men’s loo, the basement tends to be a loud, fun place with the TV on, where the bar pours a few Spanish lagers, some ales and plenty of gin, while upstairs is the size of dishcloth and has a proper, old fashioned jukebox that sounds magnificent, and tends to play Bowie or the like. A seat at the bar is the one – stay long enough and you should end up dancing (though they’re now, sadly, strict on kick-out time, somewhere between 11.30pm and midnight). In 2018, it extended its license for another 10 years. We’ll drink to that. DE

44 Hanway Street, W1T 1UT​,

28. The Glory, Haggerston


The Glory couldn’t be more aptly named. The Haggerston pub has it all going on: have a quiet(ish) pint in the early evening, followed by a drag show, then a dance party in the basement. It’s small and cosy and a regular haunt for east London’s creative types. Under the watchful eyes of drag superstars Jonny Woo and John Sizzle, the Glory has grown into one of London’s best queer spaces. When LGBTQ+ pubs have been closing left, right and centre – the Black Cap in Camden and the Joiners Arms in Hackney have been two such losses – the Glory is where to go if you’re looking for inclusivity and a warm welcome. Zoe Paskett

281 Kingsland Road, E2 8AS,

27. The Tipperary, Fleet Street


This narrow little boozer on Fleet St twinkles with Irish charm. On the outside is a billboard that purports to tell the history of the place, which is mostly a yarn. It’s not the first Irish pub outside of Ireland, as it boasts, though it has been around since at least 1443, when it was still the Boar’s Head. Known as the Irish House until the late 60s, the place is a narrow treasure trove, a wood-panelled snug of Irish whiskey and tiled shamrocks in the floor. Though there’s plenty of Irish decoration, it feels authentic rather than affected. It has its fair share of regulars, most of whom are chatty types, and the Guinness is good – though it was once uniformly flawless, so we're not sure if something's changed over the last year. Nevertheless, it's still a cracking place where crowds seem to come and go altogether – if you’re staying long enough, the place will go from bursting full to empty to bursting full again in its own strange cycle. But that's the Tip – it runs to its own rules. DE

66 Fleet Street, EC4Y 1HT,

26. The Earl of Essex, Islington


Given most of this list is a love letter to boozers, the Earl of Essex might come as some surprise; it’s a modern place, really, just wrapped up in an old Georgian frontage. This is one for those who really love their beer; they’ve countless bottles and cans, five in cask (including two ciders) and another dozen or so in kegs. They’ve plenty of pints for under a fiver – and do halves and thirds for those who want to try different things – and proudly stock high-end for beer, with a few sharing bottles going over the £30 mark. It’s not just for the ale aficionados, though: it’s a light, bright spot that’s easy to be in. One for idling away an afternoon. Their sister pubs, the King’s Arms E2 and the Axe in Stoke Newington, are just as good, while the Five Points Brewing Company offer something along the same lines at the excellent Pembury Tavern in Hackney. DE

Danbury Street, N1 8LE,

25. Ye Olde Mitre, Hatton Garden


Ye Olde Mitre is a memorable place that has, over the years, earned itself something of a fabled reputation. Hidden away down Ely Court, a toothpick of an alley off Hatton Garden, the Grade II listed building was built in 1773, though a pub’s been there since the mid 1500s. Queen Elizabeth used to dance on the land here, which, owing to a Bishop and some quirky bylaws, technically belonged to Cambridgeshire until the 1970s. The interior dates to the 1930s and is gorgeously homely, all heavy oak and nick nacks, smile inducing. The pub is really quite tiny, especially in the front room, which is just right for a pint of Pride. It’s made it into films – the Deep Blue Sea and Snatch among them – but nevertheless, because it’s so tucked away and so cute, getting in here feels like discovering a beautiful little secret.

Sadly, the pub is closed on weekends, which Fuller's attribute to footfall; of course, a pub needs to make its money to stay open, but it’s still a shame – the place is interesting enough that it’s worth giving up a Saturday afternoon for. DE

1 Ely Place, EC1N 6SJ,

24. The Jerusalem Tavern, Farringdon

(Google Maps)
(Google Maps)

Beer drinkers are well catered for at this Clerkenwell haunt, which is the London base of Suffolk’s utterly charming St Peter’s Brewery (if you're up there, take a tour, it's well worth it). The draft selection is excellent, and it has a memorable, rustic decor. The pub is no hidden gem — it’s nearly always bustling with drinkers sampling the ales, and drinkers will be lucky to bag themselves a seat. Still, it's full of inviting corners to set up camp in, especially by the fire. While it might have the feel of an authentic 17th century pub, it’s relatively new, after a revamp in 1990 gave it the appearance of a Dickensian den. Embrace the folly of it all and it’s a lovely place to escape. HF

55 Britton Street, EC1M 5UQ,

23. The Coach & Horses, Covent Garden

(Ewan Munro/Creative Commons)
(Ewan Munro/Creative Commons)

For a long time, I avoided this one like the plague, partly from loyalty to the Romilly Street place, and partly because this sits opposite one of the mouths to Covent Garden. Somehow, it remains firmly a locals’ pub rather than a tourist trap. It is a comfortable room and proud of its Guinness – it claims to serve the best in London, which is debatable, but there's certainly a sense of ceremony on ordering one. They also pour a cracking pint of Tribute, while the whisky list is fearsome, with even an old bottle of Port Ellen behind the bar. The walls are a ragtag of old newspaper clippings and pictures, and old fashioned mirrors. Staff are friendly, chatting to their regulars, and service is swift. On a rainy day, it is an utter refuge. DE

42 Wellington Street, London WC2E 7BD

22. The Royal Oak, Borough

(Ewan Munro/Creative Commons)
(Ewan Munro/Creative Commons)

London Bridge and Borough aren’t short of pubs, but the best of the lot can be found on the corner of Tabard Street. The Royal Oak is one of the most welcoming pubs we’ve come across in a while. On cold winter evenings, a warm amber light spills out from the wide windows on all sides, drawing in stragglers with the promise of good beer and good company. There’s a homely feel to the snug space, with haphazardly hung paintings and pictures, and tables and sofas scattered around a lovely central bar. Head down, take your pick from the large selection of ales – the Harvey’s bitter is always good – and settle in for a cheery evening. HF

44 Tabard Street, SE1 4JU,

21. Prince of Greenwich, Greenwich


This self-styled "museum pub" is a very popular spot, with plenty of regulars – deservedly so. It’s one of those places going above and beyond, with regular live music, film screenings and decent Italian fare; they want you in, and who doesn’t want to be wanted? The decor is perhaps a little done, a touch twee, but it’s certainly memorable, with the walls and every nook and every cranny filled with oddities. The overwhelming feeling here is one of being welcome; they pull a fresh pint, staff are lively, there’s a TV in the corner for those who want it. If you're in Greenwich, it's an absolute must, but it's worth travelling for too. DE

72 Royal Hill, SE10 8RT,

20. The Dolphin Tavern, Holborn


Free from brewery ties, the tiny Dolphin Tavern has long been left to its own devices. You come in here for a pint of Landlord and to marvel at the smart minds that resisted all temptation to do the place up. And why would they? Sat on a corner on Red Lion Street, it is quaint without being fake; it also does what pubs often promise to do but rather can, as it draws in all London life and puts them on the same playing field. On any given evening, there could be well-heeled locals lent against the bar besides a group laughing loudly over a bottle of Prosecco. Lads could be spilling lagers over cigarettes outside, while old boys grumble to each other inside. It’s close by the Lamb: you could crawl between the pair and never be bored. DE

44 Red Lion Street, WC1R 4PF

19. The Marksman, Hoxton

(Kerry L/Flickr)
(Kerry L/Flickr)

This award-winning pub was named Michelin Pub of the Year back when Michelin still did such things, and the setting is one of the most impressive in Hackney — no small feat. The interiors are stylish and comfortable in equal measure, and the craft ale selection is pretty top notch. It’s the food which really excels though: chefs Tom Harris and Jon Rotheram, both formerly of St John in Clerkenwell, are responsible for an excellent, contemporary British menu, while the upmarket venue also puts on a fantastic Sunday roast. It’s a multi-faceted space too, hosting regular DJ nights and live music events. Hackney is spoiled for choice when it comes to pubs, but this is the most accomplished of the lot. HF

254 Hackney Road, E2 7SJ,

18. The Commercial Tavern, Spitalfields


Loving a pub is rarely entirely rational. The Commercial Tavern seems occasionally to have forgotten its opening hours, has a pool table in awful nick and serves quite piercingly dreadful cocktails upstairs – but to its regulars, it is magnificent. The building is outwardly conservative – a Grade II listing sees to that – but inside, it’s a compendium of eccentricity. Fluorescent magazine covers are plastered against twee, flowery wallpaper. Monster chandeliers drape over wonky tables, antlers jut threateningly from drunken headboards, old clocks tick entirely on their own time. It is almost comically east London, but it has enough kitsch, strung-out Warhol charm to draw people back over and again. The beer is good, the spirits selection surprisingly broad, and upstairs, with the orange of the street light warming the bar, it’s somewhere to fall in love with. DE

142-144 Commercial Street, E1 6NU,

17. The Wenlock Arms, Hoxton


It almost wasn’t to be, and age means nothing: the Wenlock Arms, sat on its corner since 1836 – or maybe 1835, or 1832, no-one seems sure – was set to be demolished in 2010. Locals protested and Hackney Council relented. Of course they did; if this place could survive a bombing in the blitz, a few greedy developers didn’t stand a chance. After a little snooze, the pub reopened in 2013, when it set the template for what it’s become: a craft-beer place, but not one given to naval-gazing. In fact, it largely forgoes all the irritations that tend to accompany the worthy sorts who sip on sours: in fact, with its open fire, dart board, upright piano, worn floors and cheery-but-not-chummy staff, it’s just a proper old pub that happens to have a few different bits and pieces to keep the nerds in pints. With 10 cask ales, 20 keg lines and seven ciders, you won’t go thirsty: they’ve also got a surprisingly decent run of wine, and Pieminster pies to soak it all up. Still, it’s not just for the beer-lovers, and plenty of locals love it – they’re the friendly type who chat. It’s a shame they blast heavy rock over the speakers as the evening winds down, but on a dead quiet street, it is the only place alive. DE

26 Wenlock Road, N1 7TA,

16. The Lamb, Holborn


It feels good to go to the Lamb even before you’re in, partly because Lamb’s Conduit Street is the king of all roads and partly because it’s next ludicrously named Ciao Bella, which is always full and cheerful, and it’s an easy buzz to pick up. Beautiful inside and out, the Lamb is a rare thing: a big pub that’s actually good. Young’s know how to look after their beer and so it is here: besides the brewery’s usual pints, they’ve usually a couple of other breweries on and their fair share of spirits. Service is swift though it’s often heaving full. But the draw, aside from the gorgeous Victorian decor, all glass screens and polished oak – the leather banquettes are comfortable if a bit plush – is that everyone here always seems to be having a good time. It rattles with happiness. DE

94 Lamb's Conduit Street, WC1N 3LZ,

15. The Crown & Sugar Loaf, Fleet Street


Sometimes forgotten and under-loved, the Sugar Loaf is slotted away on Bride Street, just off Fleet Street. It comes with all the usual advantages of a Sam Smith’s – little prices, Taddy lager, Old Brewery bitter – but has swayed further up the list than most of its peers for simply being quite beautiful. It is tiny, a rectangle about the size of a Victorian sitting room, with an often lit fireplace one end and leather seats below the window, facing a marble-topped bar. Under an ornate ceiling, it is all wood panelling and etched glass, lamps like flower heads, a tiled floor. It is entirely old fashioned; I’ve never seen evidence they stretch to even a ham roll, though they do have crisps. Never especially busy, it has that feeling of being a secret, and it’s fun to watch the suits who work nearby slowly get sloshed. For a quiet, uninterrupted pint, it is entirely perfect. While the past year has seen an uptake in disappointing stories of Humphrey Smith, the curmudgeonly brewery owner, and the bans on swearing and electronics are rather pointless (and not a little thick-headed), this is still a wonderful spot. DE

26 Bride Lane, C4Y 8DT

14. The Dove, Hammersmith


The Dove is a great waterside drinking spot, with the terrace at the back capturing expansive views of the river. It’s been a little too close to the Thames for comfort down the years, with a plaque that marks the various flood heights. The outdoor area is a beautiful space in the summer, but this loveable pub really comes into its own over the colder months — inside you’ll find an open fire and snug split-level seating room. Beamed ceilings add to the charm, while the usual selection of Fuller’s beers can be found behind the teeny wood-panelled bar. If you can bag a seat here on a chilly winter’s evening, don't give it up in a hurry. HF

19 Upper Mall, W6 9TA,

13. The Star & Garter, Soho


F***ing hell, what a pub. What a joy to discover this place, which sits on that cut-through part of Poland Street where, somehow, Lucky Voice is neighbours with Jason Atherton’s Social Eating House. It is a beauty from the outside, Irish Green and ornate, while inside it feels like being out at sea and in the Captain’s quarters. A bar serving from three sides sits to the left, while the rest of the room is bare wood – floor and ceiling – with brass hangings, old lamps and pictures of nothing in particular. They’ve the likes of Pride and Tribute, Greene King and Guinness, a lager and a surprising amount of spirits. This one isn’t about the beer, though. The draw is the feeling of absolute warmth and happiness that fills the tiny room; it’s somewhere regulars laugh with the bar staff, where a post-work crowd spill their pints as they squeeze between the crowd back to their tiny table. Upstairs is the saloon bar, usually open at the end of the week when things get really busy. DE

62 Poland Street, W1F 7NX

12. The Sekforde, Clerkenwell


We didn’t quite stumble across the refurbished Sekforde – the invitation was, quaintly, a handwritten note – but first went out of a sense of curiosity (have they heard about email?). It was among the happiest surprises of last year. Way back when, when it was still the Sekforde Arms, it was an unloved, tough old boozer, where the creaking doors sounded like cracked knuckles. Now, though it’s thankfully avoided going gastro, it’s been smartened up beautifully with gorgeous handmade Scandi furniture, serves a terrific Sunday roast, and has particularly good staff – the kind who know their stuff but manage to fill customers in without being overbearing. Interestingly, it's on a mission to become London's greenest pub, while their beautiful events space is used for talks, gigs and comedy. Better still, all their profits go towards their own charity, the Sekforde House Trust, which supports scholarships and accommodation for students in need. A pub with a purpose? More power to them. DE

34 Sekforde Street, EC1R 0HA,

11. The Auld Shillelagh, Stoke Newington


This Stoke Newington pub is a jewel. When it first opened in 1991, it was as basic as could be, a proper old boozer with a darts board. Though it’s winningly old fashioned, covered in newspaper clippings and the odd sports trophy, it isn’t twee and it hasn’t been forgotten. The view from outside is an illusion – it’s nowhere near as tiny as it seems – and inside, it is an authentic Irish place. The Guinness is exceptional; if you don’t believe the black stuff can be different depending on where it’s served, come here. It’s not all about the stout. The staff behind the bar are a friendly lot, there’s live music most weeks – howling, foot-stomping traditional stuff, usually – and when the rugby’s on, there are few places with better atmosphere. Stoke Newington may be pain to get to, but the Shillelagh is worth the trip. Good luck typing the name into Uber after a few pints. DE

105 Stoke Newington Church Street, N16 0UD,

10. The Churchill Arms, Notting Hill


The Churchill and the Standard have been having an affair for years – it’s probably not a coincidence that it’s just up the road from our offices. In our defence it always was, and still remains, a bloody good pub. Outside, swaddled in flowers, the Churchill is London’s prettiest pub. Through the doors and staring up at the ceiling is like staring into a treasure chest: it is a trove of oddities, from sailors’ lamps to gas masks, copper pots to old tin clocks. There’s an accordion in there somewhere. On the walls are old newspaper columns, photos, trinkets, memorabilia, curiosities. Is it a bit much? Possibly, but it does add sense of occasion. The bar here is long and made to sit at, shiny with taps that boast an array of decent real ale, and backed by glistening bottles of spirits. When the fire is stoked, it’s not only the prettiest pub in town but the cosiest too. A touch dusty, but that’s part of it.

Among all this stout Britishness? A cracking Thai restaurant at the back, there since the mid 80s (probably – no-one can quite remember). This apparent mismatch only doubles down on the place’s habit of eccentricity, and the various half-truths that make up its story. Apparently it’s named not for Winston but his grandparents, the seventh Duke of Marlborough and Lady Frances Anne Emily Vane, who swung by often in the 1800s. Perhaps, but the name only came about after the Second World War, and the pub opened in 1750. The truth is only a matter of perspective. Whatever it is, and though sadly long-serving landlord Gerry O’Brien stepped down in 2017, Fuller’s have long done themselves proud with this darling place. DE

119 Kensington Church Street, W8 7LN,

9. The Angel, Bermondsey


The Angel has had a life. A pub has lived around the site since the 1500s – Samuel Pepys thought enough of it to jot it down in his diary as "the famous Angel" – and the present building has been pouring out pints since 1830, when it would draw in smugglers and pirates, and artists too – JMW Turner is said to have painted The Fighting Temeraire here. By the 1950s, the handsome place was surrounded by buildings and courted a celebrity crowd. Over time, both went.

Walking past 15 years ago, it was tattered and forgotten place, staring into the Thames as if contemplating jumping in. But the Courage brewery let it go to Sam Smiths, who made it gleam without tearing everything out for a soulless refit. The beer’s perfectly fine, it’s pretty cheap and little is better sitting on the back porch, where the Thames licks at the deck. Though it’s wonderfully snug in winter, summer that makes the Angel; everyone takes their pint out and sits on the river wall. Crowds hover in the long, lingering evenings, popping back in for another round. People laugh and dance and sing until the light slips away and the Angel locks its doors. No pub is a church, but there’s religion in that somewhere. DE

101 Bermondsey Wall East, SE16 4NB

8. The Harwood Arms, Fulham


A decade ago, Brett Graham of the Ledbury was one of the gang behind this place, which picked up a Michelin star in 2010. Pubs into their food can lose what makes them pubs in the first place, but this one has stuck around, and remains as good as ever. Sally Abé looks after the food, which is all British plates, game heavy, plenty of clever little twists and turns folded into what’s on.

There's probably a valid concern that the Harwood is not really made for popping in for a pint. Despite their protestations to the contrary, and though it courts such an upmarket country pub vibe that one half expects it to reek of Barbour wax and wet Labradors on a rainy day, the criticism is just about fair enough, especially on weekends. That said, if you're nearby in the early evening and saunter in before they really fill up, you'll still get a pint, and the beer is well kept. Fans of this place should also head up to Hampstead to The Wells, which does similarly wonderful things and has a terrace made for long, sun-soaked Sundays. DE

Walham Grove, SW6,

7. Southampton Arms, Kentish Town

(AndyRobertsPhotos/Creative Commons)
(AndyRobertsPhotos/Creative Commons)

Time seems to have passed this Highgate gem by a little, and it’s all the better for it. The bar is stocked with a huge variety of craft beers, around 20 in fact, but only two varieties of wine — a lavish gastropub, this ain’t. Despite the extensive ale selection, which specialises in beers from London’s smaller breweries, the place still has the feel of a proper boozer, with a relaxed, unfussy atmosphere. The pub’s dog-friendly policy and a lovely open fire make it a really cosy option in NW5 with a refreshingly down to earth feel — and, now they take cards, after years of being cash-only, it’s even easier to get charmed into a session. Just don’t try to book, and don’t ask for Wifi — they’re pretty grumpy about that sort of thing. HF/DE

139 Highgate Road, NW5 1LE,

6. The Mayflower, Rotherhithe


Heaven propped up by Tudor beams. Rotherhithe’s Mayflower, named for the famed ship that set sail from moorings at the same site, is a den of dark wood and stained glass, candles and a coal fire – Sunday nights are best for this – and old photos everywhere. Glasses hang from the top of the bar. It is convivial; it is not somewhere people mind packing into, and out the back is a riverside terrace, heated in the winter. There’s live music a couple of times a month and pie night every Tuesday, fish night on Fridays. No surprise, then, that this beautiful spot down on the water is always busy. If you’re popping here, pop to the Angel nearby too. DE

117 Rotherhithe Street, SE16 4NF,

5. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street


Though one of the city’s most famous pubs, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese somehow still has the feel of a hidden gem, thanks in part to its location — you could walk Fleet Street for years and never notice it. The pub’s black front gives nothing away, and guests make their way in down a narrow side street off the main road, adding an irresistible clandestine air. The historic pub, rebuilt following the Great Fire of London in 1667, is full of surprises. As you’d expect from a Sam Smith’s, the beer is affordable, and the inexpensive drinks facilitate a great deal of conversation in the small, firelit bar that’s tucked in by the entrance. There's a rarely-used first-floor space but duck downstairs — mind your head as you go — and the pub seems to expand like a boozy Tardis, opening out into split-level drinking dens. The cellars are blessed with plenty of seating, ideal for bigger groups. It’s all just about stripped-back as could be, and the whole pub feels like a Dickensian time-warp, untouched and untroubled by the outside world. It’s a perfect place to lose a few hours, catch up with old friends and revel in a warm, fuzzy glow. HF

145 Fleet Street, EC4A 2BU

4. The French House, Soho

(Peter Clark)
(Peter Clark)

Like the Coach, the French is a towering, stumbling, lovably shabby legend of Soho. It’s the Withnail to the Coach & Horses I – it has airs, a certain faded gentility. It is a tailored tweed jacket fraying at the cuffs. There are rules here, eccentricities: beer comes in half pints (an infuriating foible, only lifted on April Fools when Suggs comes in), there’s no TV, no music, and there’s a strict(ish) ban on mobiles in the bar. But it has stories: Charles de Gaulle commandeered it as his office during the Second World War, Dylan Thomas and Francis Bacon adored it and it’s where chef Fergus Henderson first made his name. Neil Borthwick, who’d previously manned the kitchen at Merchant’s Tavern, looks after the restaurant now, plating up plates of extraordinary, simple food, brill, steaks, duck rillettes.

Newcomers will rub shoulders with a theatrical crowd, bohemians in their last refuge, colourful girls and boys trying to outwit each other. The people who make home here most often drink wine; tiny glasses, but lots of them. Many of these have had their edges rubbed smooth with booze, seem to glitter a little bit, are loveable and loved up and then, on a coin flip, spiky and combative. Lesley Lewis, the longstanding landlady, has a knack for keeping these types close: it is never boring. My favourite time to go is either mid afternoon or just before closing, when all the old actors will open for a chat, and tell you about when they were nearly somebody. DE

49 Dean Street, W1D 5BG,

3. The Coach & Horses, Soho


Has any pub been so eulogised as the Coach? It probably helps that so many of its regulars are journalists, and often have been. The Private Eye mob used to hold their booze bleached lunches here, and the Spectator would ring the bar to wring copy from Jeffrey Bernard, their Low Life columnist. From the mid-80s onwards, Bernard spent his days balanced on a stool by the gents, drinking countless vodka tonics – no lemon, on account of his diabetes – all beautifully remembered in Keith Waterhouse’s play Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell; when it first made the stage, lead Peter O’Toole would also stop by. Dr Who Tom Baker was another, perhaps wanting his fair share of abuse from “London’s rudest landlord”, Norman Balon. It was this Norman who put his name on the sign; back then, the regular’s sniggered and ignored it. Still, old stories of old drunks don’t keep a place going; the Coach still thrives because it hums with a crowd who love it, who sing loudly at the piano and put away pints.

At some point last year, there was a worry it would all go down the pan as Fuller’s wrestled back control from long-standing landlord Alistair Choat and his daughter Hollie. The pair put up a spirited campaign to cling on, including a nudist night, but it wasn’t to be. The Choats are missed, for their humour and welcome, but Fuller’s haven’t wrecked the place. In fact, it might even be better. The loos are no longer covered in graffiti, sadly, but the beer is fresher, they’ve more spirits behind the bar (including a lethal Calvados) and service is swift. It’s still wonderful, and it’s recently Grade Two listed, so little should change. Few live in Soho these days; this place is a reminder of when all the characters did. DE

29 Greek Street, W1D 5DH,

2. The Guinea Grill, Mayfair


Some pubs are sum of their parts, their beer list and location, their gardens and fireplaces. Not the Guinea, which makes much more sense in person than on paper.

At its busiest, it does not hum but rumble with laughter and chatter, pint glasses tapping on table tops. It is somewhere to be, somewhere everyone wants to be. The man looking after it, Oisin Rogers, is equal parts soft tailoring and good humour: he is a good part of why this backstreet spot is so well-liked, and so often in print. Rogers also looks after the Grill, the pub’s steak restaurant, and it’s the grill that keeps this pub is so far up this list. It’s somewhere that’s drawn a glittering crowd: Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Oliver Reed, Michael Douglas, Kylie. All will have met the same restaurant – it’s not changed in decades – a room that is quaint without being cloying, of oil paintings and heavy cutlery. It is somewhere that manages typical fussiness – even vegetables are served at the table – without being mannered.

The Guinea offers the kind of comfort that quietly encourages another bottle, or another round (one afternoon, one couple went through 12 martinis before deciding on the wine). It can be boozy, it is always brilliant. The steak is easily among the best in London. The wine list is fearsome. What it comes down to, then, is that they look after you. DE

30 Bruton Place, W1J 6NL,

1. The Harp, the Strand


The Harp has held on at number one, and London’s loveliest drinking spot is as reliable as ever. It draws in all sorts — the city’s account managers, street sweepers, artists and piss artists all gather here. Even the Opera house orchestra can be spotted ducking in during intermissions.

The space, with endearingly-awful old paintings and countless beer tap badges hung around the bar, has seen it all. It’s no secret how good this place is — if you can get a seat here you’re doing incredibly well — and it is nearly always full to capacity on weekday evenings, with drinkers spilling out onto the pavement, nursing pints of something delicious – there’s a mix of strong, well-kept stables and intriguing oddities squeezed in behind the compact bar. The popularity doesn’t detract from the experience, but weekends are a little sleepier and more relaxed. Anyone who’s enjoyed a pint on a Saturday afternoon in the upstairs space will know this pub’s endless appeal. In summer, the lovely old stained glass windows are swung open, with punters taking the lazy afternoons at their leisure and leaving in the evenings with sunburnt faces and fuzzy heads.

It’s not the beer, the people, the CAMRA awards, or the staff’s expertise that elevates this old boozer above everywhere else, though, but the ineffable wonder of the place — there’s a little magic here. Whether out under the midday sun, sheltering from the cold or basking in the amber glow of the bar in the evening, the Harp is an inexorably lovely shrine to traditional drinking culture. More than that though, it’s a chance to escape the realities of the city for a little while, be welcomed and warmed, and feel like a little part of something wonderful. HF

47 Chandos Place, WC2N 4HS,