Taxi Noir: Five Fabulous London Pubs
Last time I listed five great British pubs. This time out I’ll talk about five of my favourite London pubs. I could probably list a hundred; so as before, my Fabulous Five is only a little sample – like you get when you ask to try a particular beer in one of the better houses. I’m restricting myself to Central London, and I assure you there will be more to coming next year when things open up more as to Covid.
- Cross Keys (31 Endell Street, Covent Garden). A very pleasant and comfortable old pub (1840s) on the edge of Covent Garden, away from the tourist epicentre. It still has a bit of a local feeling at the right time of day (all Central London pubs are best visited as soon as they open, as you might not get a seat). The Cross Keys’ subdued lighting rebuffs modern brashness, and shows the copper kettles and pans, stuffed fish, London street signs, and Beatles memorabilia in a lovely warm light. Beers from small London breweries are always available.
- Lamb & Flag (33 Rose Street, Covent Garden). If like historic pubs with dark-panelling, and a real fireplace, this is the place for you. A traditional London pub of the first order, the Lamb & Flag is often crowded, but if you get a seat you’ll be amply rewarded by the olde worlde atmosphere from the comfort of your wooden bench. The pub’s easily missed if you’re walking past at London pace, but it’s up an alleyway off Garrick Street. The Lamb & Flag was known as the Bucket of Blood in earlier times when Covent Garden was a violent district, but it’s all calm and peaceful now, I promise. The poet, John Dryden, was said to have been beaten up in the alley in 1679 on the orders of King Charles 2nd. I’m not sure if that’s true. It’s a nice story, but I can’t be arsed to scour three hundred years of Ye Olde Facebook posts to find out.
- Seven Stars (53, Carey Street, WC2). A gem of a pub tucked up between the law courts on The Strand and the elegant legal district of Lincoln’s Inn. Local workers know it for its legal theme, and for the resident cat who wears a ruff (see photo from my last visit). Celebrated for its beer, food; and hosting by the wonderfully named Roxy Beaujolais.
- The Porterhouse (Maiden Lane, Covent Garden). Established in 1996 in Dublin, The Porterhouse supplies it’s a small chain with its own beer, plus extensive lists of whiskies and beers from around the world. This is a departure for me, from the small and traditional to something big and modern, but it’s a fantastic pub that appeals to everyone. Their website accurately says it’s “as big or as intimate as you want it to be”, with an unusually large London pub space spread through three floors, plus cosy little spaces on mezzanine floors.
- Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (145 Fleet Street, The City). There has been a pub on the site since 1538, but Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese as we know and love was re-built after the Great Fire of London of 1666. Charles Dicken was almost certainly a regular, and GK Chesterton, Mark Twain and Samuel Johnson are all claimed to be regular customers too. The lack of natural light gives the pub its atmosphere. Gloomy? Not half. There are numerous bars and gloomy rooms, plus spooky little corners. I like to visit at Christmas when the fire is blazing in the front room. You’re not allowed to use a mobile phone here; so get your beer, find a seat, and tune into an authentic Dickensian vibe.
Did you notice that four of my five favourite pubs were in Covent Garden. I didn’t plan it that way, and I was surprised myself when I started to write out my list. I sometimes dismiss The Garden as an over-crowded tourist trap and stay in The City (Financial District) or walk further into Soho, but the pub gems are there for sure. Just get there early!