As a beer writer I am often asked what my favourite pub in London is. It’s a slightly ridiculous question, like asking an author what their favourite book is, or a musician what his favourite album is. Often it depends what you’re after, what mood you’re in, or (more likely) which one is closest. But writing the London Craft Beer Guide has led me to one concrete conclusion – that a good beer list is very often the best sign of a good pub. I’ve found countless horrible pubs with good wine lists, far too many soulless gastropubs with a hundred different gins. But a good, varied beer list proves a few things. First, a lack of the beer tie. Second, an adventurous and considered palate. Third, a willingness to put pride and provenance over profit. Fourth, a love of life’s best social cohesive substance. Nothing brings people together like beer, and when the right people come together in the right place, it takes a lot to make them leave. This is the joy of the pub, and these are some of my favourite pubs in London.
The Southampton Arms
After a few beers we’re all liable to hyperbole, but every time I have slammed down a jug and declared the Southampton Arms the greatest pub in the world it has been met with nothing but agreement. This dingy, spit-and-sawdust style pub may seem sparse but is full of soul. With 12 real ales pumps, six cider handles and two keg lines, as well as a small but perfectly formed selection of pub snacks, it has all the basics for survival. On top of that it has a raucous and devilishly difficult pub quiz on a Monday and regular jazz piano nights that, if you’re really lucky, will turn into a piano and brass ensemble. It truly is a magical place, full of joy and great beer, like all pubs should be.
The Duke’s Head
Finding a local in London can be tricky. There are so many soulless chain bars, made by ripping the souls out of traditional boozers and replacing them with faux wood and the taps with faux lager. The Duke’s Head , however, has breathed new life into a historic building and created a quintessential British local in the process. They focus on real ale and cider, taking great pride in how well they keep their beers, but there’s also a great keg list and a well-curated spirits shelf – so it’s lucky they have exciting street food chefs in the kitchen at all times to keep your stomach well lined.
The Euston Tap has no right to be as good as it is. Crammed into the two feet of Euston Station’s demolished archway, it’s cramped, a bit sweaty and nearly always full. But the tap and fridge lists keep beer lovers piling through the doors, tutting under their breath at the innocent commuters who have popped in for a swift pint and frozen by indecision at the huge range. The throughput at the bar means the beer is always fresh and delicious, bringing in mostly British and American beer, and if you can get a seat there isn’t a better train station pub in the world.
There aren’t many reasons to visit Stockwell. In fact, Stormbird might be the only one, but it is a darn good reason. No other bar in London has such a daring and unusual tap list – on our most recent visit there wasn’t even a lager on, and when that style represents around 70% of sales in most pubs, that’s a bold decision to make. Luckily their huge list means there is still something for everyone, from real ale fanatics to lambic lovers, via hopheads and even ceoliacs. It’s cash only so make sure you pop to a machine on the way, and always get out a bit more than you think you need, because with a discount on takeaway you’ll do well to walk away with any change.