London Pub Crawl
All photos by Bozkurt Karasu.
So, you are in London for whatever reason... You have a long list of "things to do": Tate Modern, British Museum, Buckingham Palace, dinner at St. John Bread and Wine, maybe seeing a show in the West End and a lot of shopping. Are you done for the day? Are you tired? Thirsty? Sure you are... Now it's time to slow down and take it easy for a bit. You are in a city filled with amazing old pubs hidden in the alleys. Most of them are more like institutions rather than simple watering holes. None of them are boring, mind you, and all of them deserve a little attention after you walk in. Walk to the counter and order a fresh, flat, malty ale hand pulled from the cask and/or maybe a glass of whisky. Choose a corner for yourself and start to look around. You will start to note all the little details: writings, photographs, drawings, prints and sometimes an odd lighting fixture or a wooden gargoyle. Small, but particular oddities from decades ago revealing all the history about the pub you are in.
I definitely didn't have the chance to visit all of them. I did work hard to do my best over the years though, and I have some favorites. Again, what makes them special is the time you spend in them.
Sometimes with your buddies, sometimes all alone, sometimes late at night just before the last call, sometimes early in the morning at breakfast time. It's addictive... Once you start you won't be able to stop and next time, before you leave for London, you will find yourself making a list of pubs to visit.
A friend of mine once told me that everybody has to have their own "Top Five London Pubs" list. He believed that it was a very important document to be shared with friends. So, here is mine to share:
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (145 Fleet Street, City of London EC4A 2BU)
Rebuilt right after the Great Fire of London in 1666 and more or less unchanged since, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese has a network of small rooms in a basement connected to each other, forming a labyrinth of cellars. The floor is covered with sawdust and the rooms are dark anytime of the day. You can sit at the tables where Charles Dickens and Dr. Samuel Johnson used to like to sit or find a spot next to the fireplace. They carry their own label of spirits, including a blended Scotch Whisky and aged Rum at the bar, as well as all the seasonal Samuel Smith expressions, including their ciders, on tap. Definitely an adventure to visit.
The Cockpit (7 St. Andrews Hill, Blackfriars EC4V 5BY)
At first sight there wasn't anything special that caught the eye about this joint at the corner of a beautiful old building, but after spending a few nights in there I started to like it very much. It became our neighborhood pub for the entire month of June 2012. Situated in the middle of the financial district of London but a little bit off the beaten path, The Cockpit dates all the way back to the 16th century. It is pretty nice to see that the pub didn't get affected by the new hip vibe that took over more or less the entire neighborhood in the last ten years. Its interiors are like a scene from a BBC show about post war London. Since cockfighting is not one of the attractions anymore, it is usually quiet in there and filled with elder customers, but it is a great place to sit down in peace and enjoy your drink. Watching a football game with the regulars on the projection screen is quite amazing though...
The Dove (19 Upper Mall, Hammersmith W6 9TA)
Right where the river walk in Hammersmith leads you to a narrow path, the entrance of The Dove appears from nowhere. Once you squeeze in through the tiny door and the bar behind, it is a very pleasant surprise to discover the small terrace with its absolutely gorgeous view overlooking the River Thames. The food is amazingly good and if you are lucky to score a table on the terrace on a summer afternoon, believe me the life cannot get better. The bar has been frequented by Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, Richard Burton, Rex Harrison and many others. Perfect pit stop if you are in the area taking a walk or on your way to Craven Cottage to watch Fulham Football Club on their own turf.
Blue Anchor(13 Lower Mall, Hammersmith W6 9DJ)
Situated not more than a mile away from The Dove, Blue Anchor is the more social alternative in the area. With all its tables outside of the pub right where the crowded North Bank walk of the Thames
starts (or finishes), the pub is literally in the center of all the excitement, especially during summer months. It is a rowing pub in nature actually – mostly because it is located right in the middle of the Oxford - Cambridge Boat Race Track. You can find beautiful old rowing artifacts, prints and newspaper articles on the walls if you choose to be inside. It has a totally different feel to blend in with the crowd on a summer night outside. It almost feels like you are not in the city but in a small coastal British town.
The Blackfriar (174 Queen Victoria Street, Blackfriars EC4V 4EG)
Now there is nothing hidden about this pub. It is right across the street from the newly renovated Blackfriars Tube Station where Queen Victoria Street meets Blackfriars Bridge Road, always crowded and has a pretty straightforward not so exciting food menu. But once you walk in… Oh, boy! The place is an Art Nouveau landmark! It was built right at the beginning of the 20th century and decorated with beautiful wall details, wood carvings, stained glass, stylized furniture and lighting fixtures. It looks more like a museum than a pub. Totally worth it to visit and get to know this unique pub.
I have to say that no visit to London is complete without a decent pub crawl…! Please share your own “Top Five” with me. I need a new list for my next visit…