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Twelve Great London Pubs

I know, everyone has their favorite. And there is no way to pull twelve out of the 7000 pubs in greater London and not miss a whole bunch. But here are twelve tested by me, and by friends who know pubs. (In no particular order.)

1. The Jerusalem Tavern, Clerkenwell. Pretty well tucked away, but a wonderful place for a pub lunch. Great food. It is also small, so get there early (which mean noon). This is an echt old pub—18th century, and it looks it! It is also very much a "local"--few tourists, just the regular crowd.

2. The Old Mitre, Hatton Garden. Also an old one, and also pretty well tucked away. It is off Hatton Garden down an alleyway that is not all that well-marked about 50 yards above Holborn. It dates way back to the 16th century, though the present building is from the 18th. Two tiny cozy bars, with a somewhat more roomy, if less picturesque, room upstairs.

3. The Lamb, Lamb’s Conduit Street. Located towards the north end of the street on the east side. Food is ok, but the beer is fine. Lovely wood interior with a nineteenth-early twentieth century feel.

4. The Globe, London Bridge. Not so much picturesque, really, as thirties or forties feeling. Small, very local. Very few tourists ever get here. It has two distinctions: it’s the closest pub to the Borough Market, and the flat upstairs was used in the filming of Bridget Jones’ Diary. (Handily close to southbank theatres for an after play drink, and not crowded as pubs in Charing Cross and the Strand usually are.)

5. The George, London Bridge. The last remnant of a galleried inn in all of London. It is a seventeenth century building, with a series of bars. Good beer, pleasantly picturesque. Sit there, think of early 16th century actors at work in the court yard. (The pub is just one wing of what would have been four wings enclosing a central courtyard. It has a gallery (walkway/porch on the second floor). From the galleries of the original four sides of the inn people would have been able to watch plays and entertainments in the courtyard below.

6. The Albert, Westminster. A wonderfully picturesque Victorian pub—and therefore called the Albert (Victoria's husband, for those of you not up on your English Royal soap opera history). It's quite near Victoria station, so a good place before or after nearby theatre. Food was pretty good last time I was in.

7. The Salisbury, St Martins Lane. Here is a pub in which to luxuriate in one of the most splendid public house interiors in all of England. Glass and mirrors everywhere, and beautiful woodwork. Built in the 1890's, it has recently been refurbished, and except for its being one of the busiest pubs in London--especially before and after evening shows (it is surrounded by theatres). But late morning or midafternoon it's a splendid place to spend an hour reading the paper and watching the crowd.

8. The Sherlock Holmes, Charing Cross. Well, he’s as likely to have shown up here as anywhere else in London, though the pub is much closer to the Thames than to 221B Baker Street. It’s surprisingly quite a good pub, respectably early 20th century in its décor. It has a couple faux-Holmesian exhibits to gawk at, and you can get the T-shirt. If you are there in the day, walk around to Craven Street, behind the pub, and you’ll find a row of 18th century houses, on one of which is a plaque commemorating a stay by Ben Franklin. You will be the only person looking at it, too, since no one else seems to know it's there.

9. The Blackfriar, City. This is a great art deco sort of a pub, with a wonderful early twentieth century interior. From the outside it also has a curiously attractive triangular shape--made more prominent since the buildings around it seem to have sloped off leaving the BF standing alone. (For those of you who know New York, it's like a mini-Flat Iron building.) Food is OK, beer is very good. Great fun to sit in for a while to enjoy the friarly “cells” within.

10. The Lamb and Flag, Covent Garden. Has a claim to the oldest pub in London--it dates from 1623. It is indeed a lovely remnant of an earlier day. It’s a trick to find, but has good beer and food when you do. Very popular in the evening—full to overflowing out into the courtyard in front when the weather is anything but rainy.

11. The Anchor, Southbank. Famous old pub on the river just east of the New Globe theatre. It’s been there since the 17th century, it is said. Often crowded, in spite of the fact that it is filled with rooms, including seven different bars. I favor the place only at times of day that the crowds will be less obtrusive. Two in the afternoon is perfect.

12. The Cittie of York, Holborn. This is a fabulous great space. It’s all very olde fashion-y, and a pub has been on this spot since the 15th century. Most of the present building dates from the late 19th century. Still, very atmospheric. It is said to have the longest bar in Britain.

If that dozen doesn't satisfy, then add:

The Washington, Belsize Park, The Flask, Hampstead, The Spaniards, Hampstead Heath, and in town, The Museum, just across from the main entrance to the British Museum, The Skinner’s Arms in Judd Street (quiet, tasteful) and The Marquess of Anglesey in Covent Garden--a plain interior even if claiming roots back to the 18th century, but good beer in quiet surroundings on a weekday afternoon. Finally, if you happen to be in Dulwich Village, in south London not far from the Sir John Soanes designed (and fabulous) Dulwich Picture Gallery, visit The Crown and Greyhound, a huge Victorian pub. Last time I was there I discovered my favorite English beer: Black Sheep Ale.