Before entering many unsettling situations, I have my father’s words in my ear: ‘before you know it, this will all be in the past and you’ll be sitting back where you are now.’ It provides a lot of comfort, so in current times I’ve been digging deep and hanging desperately onto these words with a slight tweak: before you know it, this will all be in the past and you’ll be sitting back in your local. The humble pub. The backbone of the community. The setting of the awkward first date, the heaving backroom celebration, the infamous post-work ‘just one’ and our crown jewel- the Sunday Roast.
I think I speak for most of us when I say it’s the thing we miss the most. This list exploring the capital’s four corners has been compiled not because we’re sadists, but to remember why we love these places, what’s so special and to amp up the custom when they reopen their doors.
Rebuilt and rebirthed from the headquarters of Hampstead’s very own mineral water business, like many of our favourite drinking spots it has taken numerous forms hanging onto much of the beauty of its previous lives. The Grade II semi-tiled treasure in the well to do streets of Hampstead gives off the air of an old saloon on entering. Helped by the cherry red leather button back benches beneath engraved glass-panelled room dividers and mahogany pediment mirrors. The establishment gradually becomes more modern throughout, time travelling from the Victorian bar to an airy modern conservatory. Its homeliness is retained throughout and a better opportunity to get a seat is guaranteed. @flaskhampstead
This joint is no-frills from the outside in. From the distinct lack of flounce on the outside to the utilitarian cream tiled bar back and simple, classic furniture on the inside. Even down to the way they run things it’s no-nonsense. Their ethos: good cider, good ale and ‘a fridge full of lovely meat’. No bookings. No cards. No plastics. 18 varieties on tap and all from small independent breweries. Marry your pint to a pork pie with piccalilli as you sit and listen to one of the old boys play on the upright piano and be thankful that such a place exists.
The Salisbury, N4
Anyone venturing here for the first time will have no trouble finding it - look for the stonking great red brick palatial building on the corner with 6ft high letters on the front. I read that if you’re meeting someone here, you’d be best setting off a flare so that they can find you- and it’s good advice. A pub that promises anonymity and more valuably a seat is a rare thing, but it’s no surprise in the great Victorian rooms of The Salisbury. A particularly charming room is the dining room, reminiscent of a French bistro with its black and white checkerboard floors, globe pendants and bentwood chairs. Elaborate plasterwork and cornicing are just part of the detail you can admire on your quest to find the loo.
The Georgian building covered in leafy lusciousness was once a place of recuperation for weary country walkers and inside retains much of that same atmosphere with its low ceilings and exposed beams lit by candle sconces. Though now it sits in the residential streets of a London long changed, though sitting by the fire can still transcend time. Outside, the large patio half encased in a lilac net of hydrangeas. It makes for one of those pub gardens that you could spend a whole day in. And you might have to after polishing off their whole roast suckling pig with all the trimmings.
The Ivy House, SE15
Nestled in the residential streets of Nunhead, this is a pub that epitomises the notion of being at the heart of the community, having been wrestled out of the hands of developers and becoming London’s first co-operative pub in 2012. The Grade II listed building made up of a multi-room layout does that wonderful thing of containing different worlds under one roof. The great shock of walking through the wood-panelled doors of the humble main bar scattered with its longtime locals, only to find yourself in a rather large music hall fitted with a stage swathed in gold curtains whilst a young man screams Alanis Morisette in a session of Live Band Karaoke. Oh to be eating my roast in the sidebar as Sunday’s jazz band wafts through the rooms. They’ve saved the pub once and now they need to save it again. Pledge a tenner to pull their first pint when they reopen or say thanks with a £1 here. @ivyhousenunhead
The gleaming teal jewel of Telegraph Hill is a beacon for boozers. Petunias and greenery align the window boxes and come rain or shine, it’s locals bedeck the porch. Inside, no wall or surface is spared for the array of flotsam and jetsam. The fire roars throughout the winter, along with the entertainer on the mic almost always. A bar where Goldsmiths students and geriatrics are elbow to elbow. In the corner, you’ll find two old-timers jamming until last orders on a Monday or a surprisingly diverse fiddle quartet busying away a mid-Sunday afternoon. It’s the people that make this place, along with the family-run nature, but the hidden restaurant in the garden serving Thai definitely helps.
For those familiar with Deptford’s Little Nan’s, they extended their family last year by shoe-horning themselves into Stockwell’s Cavendish Arms, giving it a kitsch facelift whilst preserving all its former glory. This is my official thanks for continuing to fuel the live venue attached and not ripping up the William Morris-esque carpet. The pub is a cavern of faux flowers, swathes of velvet, disco balls and ephemera whilst Pat Butcher’s eyes follow you around the room from her portrait on the lav door. Though prime position is on the Rococo sofa sipping a party in a cocktail glass below the shrine to Princess Di.
The Mayflower, SE16
Make your way down the cobbled streets of Rotherite and you’ll find this little beacon of hanging baskets and leaded windows, overlooking the spot in which it’s namesake moored on the Thames. You are undeniably in a mariner’s tav with the bar clad in oiled planking and flagons hanging from its shelves and beams. Glossed banquets and stone busts line the walls while low hanging lanterns light your way. What does a wanderer of the seas need when docking? A stiff drink and a Penny Black- very sweetly, it remains the only pub in which you can still buy stamps.
The Grapes, E14
Set into the old dockside buildings that run alongside the Thames is the watering-hole belonging to Sir Ian McKellen. A narrow little boozer that’s stood its ground for nearly 500 years. The blue facade and hanging baskets welcome you into a cavern split over two contained floors. Both attached to little patios that hover over the water's edge which in Dickens’ words, “seemed to have got into the condition of a faint-hearted diver, who has paused so long on the brink that he will never go in at all.” It’s the souls that have frequented it that add to the spirit of the place.
Proudly sitting on the corner on Curtain Road since 1576, it was once a theatre frequented by Bill Shakes before becoming the pub we know today (bar an iffy brothel period in the ’70s through to the ’90s). When Shoreditch saw the end of its all together iffy period, Vice took over, turning it into one of London’s most iconic music venues. Though more decorated for the prospect of clambering on a table, the original Truman Co. mirror proudly and surprisingly still hangs above the bar. It seems these foundations will always be a beacon for the arts in some form. You can buy some beers here to enjoy when the doors open and help them continue to be a platform for emerging artists.
Pride of Spitalfield
When the rest of the world imagines a pint-size British pub, I think something like the Pride of Spitalfield is conjured. A tiny whitewashed building with scalloped blue awnings and hanging baskets, reminiscent of a village pub. Inside the notion continues- praise be the pub that remains carpeted! Beer mats collage the front of the bar and black and white photos adorn the walls as a little disco ball gleams in the corner. I hope this place long continues to dig its heels in. Respects must also be made to the legendary feline that would sit nonplussed with drinkers, the beloved pub cat Lenny who passed away earlier this year.
Commercial Tavern, E1
Another Spitalfields soul, this time straddling the corner between Shoreditch High Street station and Commercial Street. This Victorian pub could have you fooled that it was like any other. However, step in and it’s a world of whimsy- a cluster of mismatched lampshades above you, every patch of dilapidated wall adhered with a different ditsy paper along with the many mounted horns scattered about. Upstairs, one would think they were sitting down for a mad-hatters tea party with a Marie Antoinette twist, clinking your glasses beneath the Murano chandelier whilst sitting upon the gilded Rococo furniture. Just swap the idea of champagne and cake for an IPA and award-winning pizza. Thankfully, there’s no off with your head attitude- the staff are the loveliest bunch.
A Western saloon and an oyster bar had a sordid affair and from it, The Cow was born with bags of Irish charm. The whole place is a feast, but there is something cinematic about the dining room. Maybe it’s the strict colour scheme with its red floors, crisp white tablecloths against the soft red leather seating. You could see your antagonist smoothing his matching red napkin and making you an offer you can’t refuse beneath the huge painting of a cowboy. It’s a nod to the wild west is subtly sewed throughout, from the typeface on the glossy black interior and half-net curtains to that aforementioned painting. Other beautifully bizarre artwork don the walls which fortunately for them would be much harder to bag than an ashtray. The menu isn’t half bad either, offering delectable delights from oyster tasting plates to sausage, mash and onion gravy. @thecowlondon
The Carpenters Arms, W6
Entirely independent and has made quite the name for themselves as one of the best spots for top-notch scran. The ever-changing seasonal menu, guest ales and wine give you a very good excuse to come back time and time again. Despite its esteem, it remains laid back and airy with white walls and stripped back floors, tongue and groove panelled benches and industrial lighting. The leafy garden lit by festoon lights and a burning fire pit is an enchanting spot to get lost in a bottle with good company and forget the world exists beyond just that.
Walk along the Hammersmith stretch of the Thames towards Chiswick and you’ll encounter a mysterious little twitten. A flagstone path leads you to the swinging pub sign illuminated by the glow of a lantern. Pushing open the door, it would be the opportune moment to take off your highwayman’s cape and cavalier hat. Low beamed, woody and dimly lit, it only seems right that this would be the meeting place for historical love affairs and countless celebrated figures scheming and creating in its shadowy corners. Sitting on the patio and it’s a different world. Watching the workings of the river has to be one of the best seats in the house as far as London goes.
What could be a more welcoming and undeniably British sight than a pub sitting proudly on a corner of the Notting Hill streets, every square inch in bloom as a stoic portrait of Winston Churchill swings surveying the land and Union Jacks flail in the parapets? Nothing. That’s your answer, nothing. Don’t even think that it wants to tone down the patriotism inside. Memorabilia hangs from the ceilings and clings to the walls. Catch snippets of the stained glass windows through the potted plants lining the window sills that can get their elbow in amongst the books and ephemera. It would seem like treason to order anything but a pint of London Pride.