The phrase ‘if the walls could talk’ is a little hit or miss in London. If you were to have a natter with 90% of the walls in London, they’d probably only be able to offer up depressing anecdotes like ‘two graphic design students once shagged on that aging Ikea sofa bed’. But, being one of the greatest cities in the world, there are some London walls that hold stories we would pay our life savings to listen to and that applies to every single pub on this list.
These are the old school boozers and drinking dens that have witnessed everything from Charles Dickens writing Oliver Twist (probably), to Amy Winehouse pulling pints for her rock ‘n’ roll mates. They are the places that are as quintessentially London as an advertising executive drinking a Stella on an electric scooter, as famous as their notorious celebrity guests, and have gone from serving legends to becoming legends in their own right. These are the great London pubs that should be at the top of your agenda when you want your pints with a side of history.
Famed for: half-pints, the no phone screen rule, and being The French House.
The French House is a Soho icon. In many ways it needs no introduction, just a complimentary bow of respect, which it will probably ignore because it is quite literally The French House. Charles de Gaulle drank here. Dylan Thomas once got so pissed he left an entire manuscript under his chair. Francis Bacon was a regular. Basically, it is a big deal. This legendary boozer has not only stood the test of time but very much refuses to drag itself into the 21st century and we bloody love it for it. Discarding their commitment to serving half-pints and the serious no-screens rule would be like watching Dame Maggie Smith become TikTok famous for iPhone hacks. A tragedy. Come here for a round of half-pints when the thought of the latest ‘interactive wine vending experience’ spot makes you want to dry-heave, or just to do some proper people-watching whenever you forget that you’re very much in love with London and always will be.
The Hawley Arms
Famed for: noughties rock ‘n’ roll fans, Amy Winehouse
If you’re not a certified expert in the Great Britannia Rock ‘n’ Roll Movement - please see, The Braless Kate Moss Years - then you might wrongly presume that this Camden pub is home to a somewhat self-absorbed graffiti artist called Amy. The downstairs bathrooms are packed full of scribbles like ‘Amy was here’ and ‘Amy Forever’ that have in fact been lovingly written in Sharpie by Amy Winehouse fans that have come on a heartfelt pilgrimage to this pub where she notably used to pull pints behind the bar, despite never actually working there. Truly a woman after our own hearts. These days, you’ll still find gigs upstairs, that distinctive rustic noughties look, and a loud soundtrack of indie anthems. They’ve also got an upstairs roof terrace and signed band pics from the days when Liam Gallagher and Pete Doherty were regulars. Service can be slow, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. That’s rock ‘n’ roll, baby.
Coach & Horses
Famed for: Jeffrey Bernard, Private Eye lunches, and hot political gossip.
Long before millennials were claiming to be hardcore for downing six flaming sambuca shots whilst on a Magaluf trip their mums paid for, there was the 70s Soho crowd whose weekly alcohol units presumably hit the high thousands. If you too wish to channel the debauchery of Soho’s heyday, then get yourself to The Coach and Horses, the setting of some of history’s booziest ‘working lunches’. These days it’s a Fuller’s pub and although some of its original charm has left along with those infamous regulars and unsuspecting politicos who merrily spilled their secrets (not to mention the £1 sandwiches and £2 doubles), it’s still very much a Soho classic. When the sun is out, opt for a casual lean against one of its outdoor standing tables and pretend your gossip is illicit enough for someone to overhear and put it in print.
Famed for: Artists, a big literary history, and a good old fashion knees-up.
The George Tavern is a grade II listed pub on Commercial Road that is effectively a boozy safe space for artists, eccentrics, and anyone who doesn’t want to get into an argument with Trevor down the local who thinks it’s his business that you’re discussing feminism over a pint. This Stepney boozer has also been the setting of countless big-deal gigs over the years and is mentioned in the works of both Geoffrey Chaucer and Charles Dickens. Its modern day reputation for being the go-to spot for secret (and not-so-secret) bohemians is mostly down to the direction of landlady, artist, and certified hun, Pauline Forster, who has tirelessly battled with developers for years to ‘Save The George’. Thanks to its 3am weekend opening hours, loud late-night music, and endless assortment of gigs, The George is hands down our favourite pub for a proper feelgood birthday or a Friday night blowing off steam and sinking pints in their back garden.
The Prospect of Whitby
Famed for: smugglers, pirates, and importantly, Del Boy.
Calling all fans of Poldark and anyone who enjoys reading Wikipedia entries about notable pirates, this pub on the Thames is really going to get the old nautical juices flowing. The Prospect of Whitby in Wapping has been a pub in one form of another since 1520 and over the past 500 years it was rebuilt following a fire, got an oh-so casual visit from everyone’s favourite cig-packing party gal, Princess Margaret, and most profoundly of all, had a cameo in an episode of Only Fools And Horses. Outside of Del Boy, this riverside pub has also served other deeply respected British legends like Charles Dickens and J.M.W. Turner, who even sketched the views of local ships from the pub’s windows. Flash forward to the 21st century and it’s now a great spot for a pint with your history-loving parents or for a lowkey date out on their beer garden with river views.
Famed for: Irish charm, that garden, steps. So many steps.
Some become famous for their enchanting vocals. Others become famous for their ability to crush the tender self-esteem of an innocent air stewardess on national TV. And then there are those who become famous for a more unique talent, having so many steps that they are single-handedly keeping podiatrists of N4 afloat with a steady stream of twisted ankles. The Faltering Fullback is all about the latter, with a near-vertical garden that is legendary for its sunny afternoons packed with Londoners, young, old, and gloriously sunburnt, taking full advantage of their walk-in only policy. Eternally lively and one of the few Irish pubs in this city that manages to encapsulate Guinness glory without ever feeling like you’re trapped in Ed Sheeran’s brain on that fateful day he decided to write Galway Girl.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
Famed for: Charles Dickens, Agatha Christie, and being really, really old.
Most old school London boozers will claim to have been the setting where Charles Dickens wrote something that is now very famous. This leads us to believe two things: one, pubs know that a literary history is always a selling point, and two, Mr. Dickens really loved the sesh. Good for him. Work hard, play hard my man. Dickens, along with lots of other Very Important Writer People regularly frequented this pub - and in the case of Agatha Christie, actually mentions it in a Poirot story. It’s casually been open for almost 500 years and we love it for a Saturday pint, where the low, beam ceilings will trick you into thinking you’ve escaped London for the afternoon.
The Golden Heart
Famed for: Tracey Emin artwork, famous regulars, and an iconic landlady.
These days every new brunch spot or bar opens with a neon light wall hanging that says something like ‘Sex, Drugs, and Avocado Babes!’. But the neon signs in The Golden Heart are the work of Tracey Emin, who regularly hit up this small corner pub along with the rest of the young, cool Brit crowd in the 90s. Thanks to its Spitalfields location, you’ll still find this place packed full of art students who won’t publicly admit that they’re partly here for the pints, but mostly here because Pete Doherty used to be a regular. Whether you’re coming here to sip a pint on the buzzing patch of pavement outside after a day in the office or need a sit-down after scouring Brick Lane for vintage goods, be sure to be polite to the landlady who has become as famous as the pub itself. Do not fuck with Sandra, we repeat, do not fuck with Sandra.
Famed for: being an old officers’ mess, its traditional vibe, and being haunted.
We’ve watched enough Spielberg films to know that officers’ messes tend to look like a lot of fun. You know, cards on the table, beers in hand, some young dirt-smeared ‘chappy’ discussing whether his sweetheart Betty will marry him even though he is a lowly foot soldier from Brecon. It’s a vibe. This old school Belgravia pub that’s on a little cobbled street, started life as a classic officers’ mess for soldiers who lived in the local barracks and the interiors have that moody drinking den feel that’s perfect for a bev on a winter’s night. Some say it’s haunted by a man who was killed after cheating at cards, but we’ll take a side of spooky with our cold tankards if it means we can be cheap and merry in one of London’s boujiest areas.
The Pride of Spitalfields
Famed for: Jack the Ripper suspects and a loveable but truly hideous carpet.
There is nothing, absolutely nothing, as gloriously British as the pub carpet. The Pride of Spitalfields is home to the kind of shambolic pub interiors that will make you feel patriotic - bizarre knick-knacks that no one seems to question, 800 old decorative bottles that presumably didn’t fit in the recycling, an elderly gent who hasn’t moved from his red stool since the 80s, and a criss-cross carpet that is so ugly, it might actually be beautiful. Once known as the The Romford Arms, this place is believed to be the drinking den of choice of a couple notable Jack the Ripper suspects. Nice and cheerful. That being said, we’re also very into the fact that David Grey (remember David Grey?), once filmed a super ‘edgy’ music video here and that to this day, the pints remain very reasonable for its location, and that it’s open until 1am on weekends.