The hub of local British life

Historically, the pub was at the heart of every local British community, the place you went for every occasion between celebration and commiseration. The barman plays the role of agony aunt to scores of people, and some locals have been propping up the same spot for decades.

Times have changed though. The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) estimates around 18 pubs are closing every week, as publicans struggle to make a living due to high taxation and recession. Pubs have been forced to diversify, and this is partly to thank for the boom in gastropubs - a pub that serves restaurant-standard food as opposed to the 'scampi and chips' style grub they were once famed for.

In London now, the stylish gastropub with its chic interiors and seasonal menu outnumbers the old fashioned drinking establishment with soggy carpets and a dartboard, of which there are woefully few. A handful of corporations now own thousands of pubs, which can make them seem like identikit places lacking real character or atmosphere. 

The pubs on this list represent a cross section of the best of British pubs, from the no nonsense, old timer like The Palm Tree to the new-fangled gastropub like The Cow, each excellent in its own right. The best way to save the independent pub from demise, is to get drinking in one immediately. 


One of a string of Tom Conran establishments on Westbourne Park Road, each one takes you into another culinary world. The Cow, contrary to what its name suggests, is a seafood gastro pub and restaurant excelling in all things fishy. This tiny cozy pub has a handful of tables with a wood burning stove in winter and a couple banquettes squeezed around the central bar. Dig into the menu of seafood platters, whole Dorset crabs or some winkles and whelks to nibble on over a pint. Tom Conran is a gastropub pioneer, and this is one of the least pretentious and homely. The upstairs restaurant is a different story, with an expensive fish orientated-menu and fine dining atmosphere.


Covered in ivy on a backstreet of Finsbury Park, you would never guess that this cavernous pub has one of the best beer gardens in London. This is a venue of many faces. On first walking in, it looks like your traditional British pub: cozy and cute with a predictable range of beers on tap and some quirky drinking artefacts hanging from the ceiling. Walk through into the barn like sports room with a student hang-out vibe: pool table, big screens, picnic tables and a rowdier crowd. But persevere upstairs, and it turns into an overgrown garden terrace bar, with multiple layers and tucked away tables, perfect for dates. They also have an acceptable menu of Thai food for when the mood takes you.

East London

On a corner of Cheshire Street, this now adorable little pub has had a colourful history. It was once owned by the notorious Kray twins, who bought it for their mum Violet, and according to legend, made the bar top from coffin lids. After that it became known for late-night lock-ins and license-flouting parties, that is, until current landlords Eric and Nigel bought it up, and it became what it is today - that perfect little local, just far away enough from the tourists on Brick Lane to keep it full with the colourful characters of Cheshire Street. With a traditional wood bar, low lighting from small chandeliers and flowers on the tables, the decor is simple and cosy. There's a small fire in winter and a garden out back for smokers. The beer list is excellent with some deadly Dutch blondes, and the food is tasty and wholesome from mixed platters to cottage pies.


This pub stands out as an island of old East End life in the middle of leafy Mile End Park. It's is about as typical as a British boozer gets with just the right dash of surreal. There are china plates on the shelves, photos of unknown celebrity drinkers from times of yore on the walls and a dart board. The whole place is steeped in a deep red light from the copper wallpaper, which makes drunken shenanigans that take place here all the more intense. Though don't go thinking Val and Alf will take any nonsense from the punters. It attracts everyone from old timers who have been drinking here since the fifties to the middle-class arty types, who live in the area, as well as the neighbourhood nutters and all the charming canal folk who live on barges. Located right on Regent's Canal, in summer drinkers spill into the park with their pints and watch the boats pass by. They've had the same resident band, The Palm Tree Trio, for decades, who get the regulars partner dancing on the psychedelic carpets every weekend. Join in!

A firm favourite amongst Londoners, The Spaniards Inn has been fueling the city since the 16th century. Originally the tollgate to the Bishop of London's estate, it was immortalized in Dicken's Pickwick Papers and it is thought Keats wrote poetry in the garden here while knocking back a couple clarets. Revamped in 2013, it has kept its oak panels and intriguing nooks, while now having a menu of real ale and excellent seasonal British food. There is an award-winning dog friendly pub garden, with barbecues come summer, though situated right next to Hampstead Heath, you're best off having a romp over the grassy hills and ending up at the Spaniards Inn for a roast dinner.

This is a real ale, no nonsense, pub beloved by many for just those reasons. The sign outside reads 'Ale, cider, meat,' and it does exactly what it says on the tin. They change the casks every few days with a dedication to stocking from only small, independent UK breweries. On the counter they have a display of pies, sausage rolls and often a big slab of roast pork, which they'll cut up and stuff into a bap for you. The d�cor is equally simple: wooden chairs, wooden booths, a coal fire, a piano and some old paintings, not to mention a cheerful local crowd.

First built in the 1830s, this charming Kensington pub has kept its olde worlde feel. The original wood panelled interiors partition different sections of the pub, with adorable little doors leading between them, which once would have prevented any untoward mixing of the classes or sexes while imbibing. It's not all about the rich history though; they have a fine selection of ales and beers, and excellent gastro pub fare of seasonally inspired dishes. Tucked away between Notting Hill and Kensington, it's hidden from most the shoppers, with a gorgeous pub garden to hide away in, with and outdoor bar and heaters for alfresco drinking even in this cold country.

Every week, the majority of London descends on Columbia Road for the Sunday flower market, but for many years, the midweek days were eerily quiet. One of the few reasons you would find yourself on this sweet Victorian terraced street, was to go to the Royal Oak. It's a handsome old-fashioned pub with a nice bit of polish, that serves excellent food and seems to always have a welcoming cheer about it. Now that the rest of the street has filled up with wine bars and tapas restaurants, it's generally frantic inside, with the local vintage-clad crowd, creative yet grown-up. There's a little outdoor yard, which on summer days doubles as a second bar space, serving Bloody Marys and pastries on Sunday mornings. Upstairs is a calm and civilised restaurant with a more serious menu of impressive modern British cooking.

Opposite Canonbury Overground station, this is where ale lovers converge enticed by its dedication to stocking an ever-changing menu of delectable ales. A member of CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale), they always have at least one locally-produced ale on their four taps at any time, as well as other quality tipples from the likes of Redemption Brewing Company, Ha'Penny and Windsor & Eton. Food is in the form of a daily rotisserie menu - the spit-roasted free range Norfolk chickens are aromatic and tasty - and on Sunday they do every ilk of proper British roast with fancy trimmings. The open space is a quirky take on the classic pub with a jukebox and 60s posters on the walls.

Soho is one of the most historic and colourful parts of town, popular with London's waylaid artists, mavericks, and libertines. The French House has a long and potted history, and counts the likes of writer Dylan Thomas, artists Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and William Lowry amongst its dedicated regulars. It's an ever-busy spot, with people spilling out of the small bar area outside. Since expanding to the upstairs room, there's more chance of a table, but half the pleasure is the street action. Grab a bottle of Breton cider or one of the excellent wines and get involved.


Meet Tyler Wetherall

Tyler Wetherall is a freelance writer specialising in travel, food & drink, covering topics as varied as narcs in the Colombian jungle to cocktail drinking in Cuba. Tyler has lived in London...  More About Tyler