Dave the Taxi Driver's


Guide to London

London Pubs

London Pubs

The Ring Pub, LondonThe English pub has always been a large part of our heritage. It is the backbone of our social life and usually the centre of the community all over the country.

The concept of the pub, which began as a roadside inn or tavern as far back as Roman Times, has spread to various places around the globe. But there is nowhere like London where you can savour the atmosphere, traditional beers, many foreign beers, plus the opportunity to enjoy the resurgence of our cuisine.

In fact, I would say you can’t come to London without spending at least a little of your time in one or two of the hundreds of pubs spread throughout the capital, even if you don’t drink alcohol. That’s not a rule I am imposing on you by the way. In my opinion you can see all the tourist attractions and theatres, but to get the most out of your visit, it is great to get a taste of real London life, literally. Most of the people in there might be visitors just like you, and there might be groups of girls with orange legs, who have eyelashes that could soak up a whole drink, fresh from Ayia Napa or Ibiza, wobbling on their heels. But there will usually be the regulars who sit at the end of the bar, who will usually be chatting on familiar terms with the landlord (the licensee).

Every nook and cranny of the capital has its representative of the licensed establishment. Some so hard to find because they are so small, like the Old Mitre Tavern in Holborn, where Queen Elizabeth I is said to have danced under the cherry tree. There are the modern trendy types like the Slug and Lettuce corporate and what are known as Gastro Pubs (see English Cuisine), have mushroomed all over the capital, having taken over the local and gone upmarket.

There is the themed aspect as well, like the gothic Bram Stoker in South Kensington (SW7), and the Bell, Book and Candle near St. Paul’s Cathedral. In Soho after visiting grungy, gothic Garlic and Shots, people will know you have been in there. Please reconsider if you have a date soon afterwards or share the aroma together. Strictly speaking this is a bar, but it feels like a pub and is worth a visit because of its individuality. For a great selection of whiskies and a rock and roll atmosphere with live music go to Filthy McNastys in Amwell Street, Islington.

Black Lion Pub, LondonMy favourites are the typical traditional sort, especially down by the River Thames, with a terrace overlooking the river, where you walk in and are greeted by the scent of beer and home cooked food. I particularly like the Black Lion, which is tucked away off the A4 near Hammersmith Bridge. As I say, the old saying is “the pub’s no good till the beer’s in the wood”. These are what the true English Pub is all about. I have said that at least twice already on this site. You can read the phrase again in St. James under Shopping and in English Cuisine.

Traditional pubs are often hundreds of years old and have been built on the site of an even older inn. There are many traditional pubs right in the middle of London so you don’t have to leave the central area to take a tour of interesting establishments. There are far too many to mention here but to give you an idea here are a few.

The Cittie of York on Holborn has been there since the 15th century. The George Inn in the Borough, just south of London Bridge which was frequented by Charles Dickens, was rebuilt in the seventeenth century on the site of an old inn where Shakespeare used to drink. Distinguished clientele indeed. The George is the last remaining Coaching Inn in London.

Considering that London has had such a colourful and chequered history, it is not surprising that many of them have interesting stories to tell. Another favourite of mine is the Prospect of Whitby in Wapping (E1),which stands by Execution Dock where gruesome executions of pirates and other criminals used to take place. A short way down Wapping High Street is the delightful Town of Ramsgate. Across the River Thames some distance away in Rotherhithe (SE16) is The Mayflower which was where the Pilgrim Fathers called in for a pint before sailing to the New World in 1620.

The Castle near Farringdon Tube station (EC1) has the Pawn Brokers Sign as well as its pub sign. When the Prince Regent (later King George IV) had no money to bet on a fighting cock, he asked the landlord of the pub to take his watch as deposit. After the fight the Prince Regent returned with his winnings and also in gratitude, he granted the landlord his licence.

Almost opposite the Old Bailey, the Viaduct Tavern, by Holborn Viaduct (EC1) cellar was part of the cells of Newgate Prison and the Giltspur Street Compter, the debtors’ prison.

On the South Bank by Blackfriars Bridge is the Doggett’s Coat and Badge. It is far from being a traditional building, but has great outdoor terraces and it is the start of the oldest Thames rowing competition, which was originally raced in 1715. The race takes place every summer, is almost five miles long and finishes in Chelsea.

In case you are wondering why all the pubs have a name. It was decreed by King Richard II at the end of the fourteenth century, so that they could be easily identified for inspection purposes. But many years before that, the Romans denoted their inns by placing carved signs in the shape of vine leaves over the door.

And of course there are the ghosts, the haunted pubs of London and there are many. The famous Grenadier in Belgravia, reputedly is where the ghost of a man who was caught cheating at cards and subsequently flogged to death, makes his presence known. At the Anchor Tavern on the South Bank, the ghost of a dog who tried to save his master from being violently press ganged into the navy appears around closing time. Read the creepy stories in the Haunted Pubs section.

This site is divided into areas and below I have recommended certain pubs in each area which will be convenient for your hotel. Or of course you can make up your own tour. It is common for people to visit Soho and do the rounds there. Soho is a great place. If you only go into one pub, try the French House, where General De Gaulle held meetings with the French resistance during World War II. The interior is covered in entertainment memorabilia.

Fitzrovia has a pub tour put together by my friend Tony, so have a look at that. With a street map in your hand you will get the idea. In case you don’t know, the colloquial phrase for a pub tour is a ‘pub crawl’. So if you don’t want to get to the crawling stage, get the measure of your alcohol tolerance, especially if you are not used to it and take it easy.

Bow Bells

Bow Bells Pub, London UKThe Bow Bells is what in England we would describe as a “local.” It is not a fancy gastro pub, but it does provide a large range of beers, pub activities and friendly customers. So called because you can hear the Bow Bells ringing, it has been described as dingy and in need of modernisation. This element, however, seems to add, rather than detract, from the down to earth ambience of the place.

Situated on Bow Road opposite the railway station, this particular pub seems to be haunted by a ghost with a sense of humour.

The pesky phantom sometimes presents himself as a fine mist rising from the floor of the bar, but moreover he prefers flushing the toilet when someone is sitting on it. This has caused many a surprised customer in the past, but fortunately, for the cleaners, they couldn’t be in a better place.

Landlords in the past have found the menace quite an annoying presence and in 1974 one landlord decided to flush the ghost out for good. A séance was held and as the participants asked the phantom for contact, the toilet door swung open so violently that the pane of glass inside was shattered. The séance was not successful and the ghost continued to haunt customers, ladies in particular, when on the lav. Since then landlords and drinkers alike have learned to live with the nuisance. No one knows the origin of the phantom, but the Bow Bells has been around since 1869 so offers plenty of opportunities for a mysterious story of someone who perhaps was once caught short.

As your standard “local”, the drinks are reasonably priced and it‘s great for sitting down and having a leisurely chat, but by no means expect a fancy reception. If you prefer somewhere a bit more upmarket then this isn’t the place for you. However Bow Bells may still be worth a visit just to spend a penny and become privy to the flushing ghost yourself.

116 Bow Road,
E3 3AA

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