Getting properly pissed
A London pub crawl
Theater aside, the real traditional London evening out starts around 5:30 p.m. at your favorite pub. Among the most historic and atmospheric ale houses are the sawdust-floored and rambling Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese at Wine Office Court (off 145 Fleet St.; tel. 020-7353-6170); Dryden’s old haunt the Lamb and Flag, known as “Bucket of Blood” from its rowdier days (33 Rose St.; (tel. 020-7497-9504); the Art Nouveau Black Friar (174 Queen Victoria St.; tel. 020-7236-5474).
Pub grub is no longer universally awful, but don't make any assumptions. To be sure you'll dine fine, patronize those known for the best grub: fashionable Notting Hill address The Cow, 89 Westbourne Park Rd. (tel. 020/7221-0021; Tube: Westbourne Grove), posh The Enterprise, 35 Walton St. (tel. 020/7584-3148; Tube: South Kensington), and the pioneering pub-with-edible-food The Eagle, 159 Farringdon Rd. (tel. 020/7837-1353; Tube: Farringdon), serving Mediterranean-style dishes. Among my favorites south of the Thames is The Anchor Bankside, where the present pub dates from 1757, but a pub has been at this location for 800 years (34 Park St.; tel. 020-7407-1577; www.pubs.com). This is where Shakespeare got sloshed, Dickens Drank, and Samuel Pepys sat and watched the Great Fire of 1666 consume the City of London across the river. In the late 1990s, new owners had the temerity, shamelessness, and utter lack of style to modernize the main bar in the pub (how they got around various antiquities protection laws is beyond me), but most of the other little bars and snugs creating this multi-level maze of a pub remain—some of them named for famous patrons, including Dr. Johnson, who found fortification here to write his famed dictionary (much of which was penned whilst sitting here with a pint or four).
Another fave, The George, set on the ground floor of an old coaching inn—sort of the motels of their day, with open balconies rising several stories—rebuilt in 1676 (George Yard Inn, 77 Borough High Street, Southwark; tel. 020-7407-2056; www.pubs.com and www.nationaltrust.org.uk). Interesting side note: in the late Middle Ages, traveling theater troupes would pull into the narrow courtyard of such coaching inns and use the roof of their props coach as a stage upon which to perform. Guests and pub patrons would line the railings above, tossing down coins to show their appreciation for the show. This was the beginning of the British theater. (No, seriously.)
Make sure you order some true English bitters, hand-pumped and served at room temperature. Try Wadworth, Tetley’s, Flowers, and the London-brewed Young’s and Fuller’s.
Most pubs are open Mon–Sat 11am–11pm and Sun noon–10:30pm.
- Planning your time: OK, you can pop into a pub for 10 minutes to get the flavor. Most people spend 2 hours or so and make an evening of it. Others do this for 4–5 hours every single evening. Some travel writers are even known to take their laptops with them and try to get some work done over a pint or three. ( on London Itineraries.)
- Take a tour of London pubs with our partners at Viator.com: