Just as a dog is for more than just Christmas, it's criminal to only visit a good Irish pub on St Patrick's Day. In a city where even the plainest of pubs seem to feel obliged to go gastro, Irish joints offer welcome respite: much of their charm is being down-to-earth, old-fashioned boozers.
Besides being cheap – mostly – Irish pubs tend to offer craic-ing atmosphere, and many have regular live music. Plenty have something on every week: if they don't have a website, ring up for details. You might not know the songs, but expect to have your feet moving like they're on strings.
Naturally, you'll want to get stuck into pints of stout, but be sure to try Irish whiskey where it's offered, which is usually a little sweet and easy drinking, and if you see it, brave the powerful Poitín (you're asking for 'po-teen').
We've listed our favourites below, in no particular order. Think we've missed a spot? Let us know in the comments below.
1. The Auld Shillelagh
From 11am until late, The Auld Shillelagh have been keeping things distinctively Irish for 25 years without seeming to try: it's an uncomplicated, honest place with a big heart, who offer table service – although you'll sometimes see pints of Guinness stacked up on the bar as thirsty punters get their rounds in. They're big on music, too, with foot stomping and fiddles guaranteed. The Irish Times declared it the most authentic Irish pub outside of Ireland: they really are the real deal. One worth the trip. If you're hungry, try London's best pizzeria, which is just down the road.
Info: 105 Stoke Newington Church St, N16 0UD, theauldshillelagh.co.uk
2. The Faltering Fullback
Lauded by locals as the best pub in north London, this place has a lot to shout about. When faced with the difficulty of a small yard, the owners took the only option available to them and decided to build upwards: the effect is a cosy, but surprisingly spacious, split-level affair with a range of decking and tables. The Fullback is an early afternoon suntrap and only a stone’s throw from Finsbury Park station – and even in bad weather, the garden is a sight to behold. If you're in Islington, pop in to The Hemingford Arms on Offord Road, which is the sister pub to the Fullback.
Info: 19 Perth Rd, N4 3HB, falteringfullback.com
3. The Sheephaven Bay
Hurrah! A proper pub, with a darts board and everything. The ceiling is a collage of scarfs, the walls a tribute to Irish sport and there's plenty of beer on hand. The lounge is an comfortable spot, where you'll find most of the action, including live music, but if you're looking for something more cosy, head to the Saloon. Fill up on a full Irish (a steal at around £6), and in summer, head to the beer garden. It's not a hard-knocks kind of pub, just one full of Irish charm.
Info: 2 Mornington St, NW1 7QD, sheephavenbaycamden.co.uk
4. The Tipperary
The Tipperary has proved popular enough to stand for 400 years in the city, making it London's oldest Irish pub. The first place place outside of Ireland to serve bottled Guinness, they're still one of the best places in London to enjoy a drop of the stuff, but beware that's it's one of London's narrowest pubs, so you'll want to watch for elbows or risk spilling your hard-earned drink over their shamrock mosaic floor. Still, perched up against the solid oak bar top, you'll find a friendly crowd ready to claim you as one of your own.
Info: 66 Fleet St, EC4Y 1HT, facebook.com
5. The Toucan
There's nothing especially friendly-looking about this Soho spot, but pull yourself together and get through the door. Guinness is the lifeblood of this buzzing Soho institution which, with its floor-to-ceiling posters serving as decoration-cum-wallpaper, is something of a homage to the stuff. It boasts multiple taps of it, as well as Guinness cocktails: you can get a concoction with champagne or a slightly cheaper offering with cider. Anyone looking for Irish whiskey is also in luck, as The Toucan has some rare breeds adorning its shelves, and on the menu, you'll find classic Celtic dishes like stew and colcannon. Beware that, especially lately, the Toucan has been steadily getting more and more popular, so you might struggle to get in. This place has Jimi Hendrix's seal of approval, too — he once played in the basement.
Info: 19 Carlisle St, W1D 3BY
6. The Boot
Given it's central location, one might expect The Boot to be busier than it is, but its quietness is part of its charm – it's far from dead, but you won't be hemmed in wondering why old pubs are so damned small. Kitted out with an array of nic-nacs – including, you guessed it, boot-themed bits 'n' bobs – they've also got a solid selection of beers and ales on, some decent food and friendly service. It's a charming spot that earns its regulars.
Info: 116 Cromer St, WC1H 8BS
7. Ramble Inn
It might not look much, but behind the unassuming frontage is a little pub beloved by its regulars. You'd not mistake this for an upmarket spot, but it excels at what it does. There's genuine Irish hospitality here, with table service, live Irish music, a well attended quiz night, where there's £100 up for grabs, and sports on three big screens. They've even got a poker night going.
Info: 223 Mitcham Rd, SW17 9JG, rambleinntooting.com
8. The Porterhouse
Come here to get stuck into your drinks: this vast place, split over 12 levels, has the gold medal from Brewing Industry International Awards (what you might call the Olympics of brewing). Its stout is truly Irish: handcrafted in Dublin and then shipped to us in London. Still, you won't find any shamrocks or novelty tat here, just great Irish beers, good food and, in the basement, live rock music. Sure, there are a few tourists around – which dent the speed of its service – but it's big enough for just about anyone to find a spot and settle in for the evening, and the huge selection of beer doesn't hurt, either.
Info: 21-22 Maiden Lane, WC2E 7NA, theporterhouse.ie
9. The Kingdom
The Kingdom is a solid place, with solid regulars: it's a traditional boozer with no frills, which is to its credit. Come here to drink and to watch the telly and to have a good time – without any tacky gimmicks, it feels inherently Irish. You might also catch some cracking live music. Once you've shown your face a few times, they'll welcome you back with open arms.
Info: 229 Kilburn High Rd, NW6 7JG
10. The Crown and Cushion
One of life's little mysteries is why Irish pubs love to serve Thai food – but look out for it, because they really do, and The Crown and Cushion is no exception. Alongside it, you'll find cheap pints, a jukebox, sports on the telly, and an open fire. There's something endearing about the C&C that'll have you convinced a Thai curry is the perfect accompaniment to a pint of Guinness. Who knew?
Info: 133-135 Westminster Bridge Rd, SE1 7HR
11. Waxy O'Connors
A Gaelic behemoth, Waxy's is a labyrinth of staircases and passages which link four separate bars. Expect olde-worlde interiors that look like something from Hogwarts, a very warm welcome, lots of live music and and rugby-mad drinkers. Food-wise, Waxy's serves up pub grub with an Irish bent, such as steak and Guinness pie, Irish stew and crocks of mussels. There is a tree in the middle of the pub and lots of whiskey. No surprise it's been at the top of its game for 21 years. If you're looking for something a little calmer, head to nearby Waxy’s Little Sister.
Info: 14-16 Rupert St, W1D 6DD, waxyoconnors.co.uk
12. The Cow
Tom (son of Terence) Conran’s faux-Irish pub is the smart option for celebrating Paddy's Day, although it's a little on the pricey side and definitely Irish-themed, rather than the real deal. As such, it's definitely not your rough-and-tumble Irish boozer — the house specialities include oysters and they've a sterling wine list. The food is first rate.
Info: 89 Westbourne Park Rd, W2 5QH, thecowlondon.co.uk
13. The Boston Arms
You won't struggle to find a spot here: The Boston Arms is huge. Cheap Guinness and Murphy's (our preference), there are plenty of pool tables too and a good, lively crowd. Pop across the road to the Boston Music Room and Tufnell Park Dome for live music.
Info: 178 Junction Rd, N19 5QQ, bostonarms.co.uk
14. Tir Na Nog
This family run Irish-themed spot serve a mean stout, host live music on the weekends, and boasts a pool table, TV screens for the sport and plenty of nods to Ireland in the decor. If you're in the area and want somewhere with a little character, it's worth popping in. Oh, and the name means "Land of the Young".
Info: 107 Garratt Lane, SW18 4DW, thetirnanog.co.uk
15. Ganley's Irish Bar
Come for the service and the atmosphere, both very friendly. They've just celebrated 13 years being a local favourite, earning their reputation with fairly priced food, plenty of events and tongue-in-cheek decor. There's plenty of sport on, too.
Info: 43-47 London Rd, Morden, SM4 5HP, ganleysirishbar.com
16. Blythe Hill Tavern
This CAMRA award-winning pub is extremely traditional, all dark wood panelling and real ales on tap. While it's not exactly an 'Irish pub' per se, they have traditional Irish music every Thursday, they serve Guinness and there's a few Irish whiskies to choose from. A damned decent pub in all respects.
Info: 319 Stanstead Road, SE23 1JB, blythehilltavern.org.uk
17. The Lamb
This independent pub has beautiful green tiles on its frontage, a reliably excellent beer selection and is a top spot for barnstorming Irish music. There's Wraggle Taggle, a traditional session, every Tuesday, while most Sundays they have a more racous take on Irish music.
Info: 54 Holloway Rd, N7 8JL thelambn7.co.uk