London’s Historical Pubs

There are 5,500 pubs in London’s 33 boroughs, but only a few are architecturally or historically important. In choosing, I also require that your visit also will likely be a pleasant experience. Pubs are often the centers of their communities, but they are closing at alarming rates in these financial times. So, it is important to support and enjoy something so quintessentially British while you visit London.

So, if you are going to have a pub experience when you visit London Town, I’ll help you learn about some of the best, here. I’ll choose the ones located in more central parts of the city.

This is a centuries-old pub which was frequented by many of London’s writers, especially by Dr. Samuel Jonson, who wrote the first English dictionary in the 1600s. The pub also survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. The pub is now owned by the Samuel Smith group, but much of its quirky atmosphere is definitely still there, and you can see the chair where Dr. Johnson used to sit — maybe you’ll even get to sit in that room, too.

Technically The Mitre, the area’s 2nd oldest pub is not in London, but in Ely, right on the border, where the Bishop of Ely’s residence used to be. The Mitre has been a London institution since Elizabethan times and, yet it’s a well kept secret. When you find it, you may not want to share this tiny place. Its two tiny wood paneled rooms hold a bar that is just big enough to rustle up a cheese toastie for drinkers who insist on a some food. If you go to the Mitre, however, it’s not to eat, because this is a drinkers pub. Heaven knows there are few enough of those left.

This pub is the most beautiful London example of the late-Victorian golden age of pub building. It has a fabulous interior. After being closed for most of 2007, they have refurbished and also reinstalled the screens that used to divide it up into small drinking compartments in the 1900s. Just the sort of thing for a private tete-a-tete chat that can make your visit memorable. Make sure your gentlemen travelers visit the amazing gents bathrooms. When there, try Samuel Smith’s Old Brewery Bitter 4% which is a malty bitter brewed at Yorkshire’s oldest brewery (founded in 1758). It’s still served from wooden casks.

208-209 High Holborn, WC1V 7BW
phone: 0871 258 9670*
Nearest station —
Holborn London Underground station (110m away) – zone 1
From the station, cross Kingsway and head down High Holborn. You should be able to see the pub’s sign on your left from the corner of Kingsway and High Holborn.

Nearby sights:
Sir John Soane’s Museum
Shaftesbury Avenue theaters

This is a tiny pub, built before 1900, but the myriad of mirrors make it seem much larger. Even with all the mirrors, you are unlikely to catch a glimpse of your own reflection in this amazing ornate opulence. The Red Lion is a shrine to the Victorian craftsman’s long lost skills.

You’ll find it a pleasant counterpoint for all the posh places nearby. Be very clear about which Red Lion in St. James you are heading toward. There are two, but both are excellent — this one for its interior, the other in Crown Passage, for its camaraderie and service.

2 Duke Of York St, SW1Y 6JP
phone: 0871 258 6269*
Piccadilly Circus London Underground station (240m away) – zone 1
Green Park London Underground station (440m away) – zone 1
Exit the tube station at Eros’ statue at Piccadilly Circus and head down Lower Regent Street. Cross over and head down Jermyn Street. Duke of York Street is on the left about 500 yards down on the left. The Red Lion is on the right.

On a side street in St. James’s, this is a charming pub. By and large this is as genuine and a genial a pub. The TV is muted and there’s no music, but what you do get is well-kept beer, a cracking collection of whisky and excellent sandwiches. It’s also one of the politest bar staff in town. Many of the punters – from businessmen to builders – are up for a natter — so it will be a great place to meet the locals. It can get very busy weeknights (try to get a seat upstairs) and it’s a handy hideaway on Saturdays. Give it a try if you’re after a warm and comfortable pub, with an excellent rating. (Closed Sunday).

23 Crown Passage, King Street, SW1Y 6PP
phone: 0871 258 7348*
Nearest station:
Green Park London Underground station (330m away) – zone 1
Take exit on to the south side of Piccadilly and walk toward the Ritz. Take the second street on your right (St. James’s Street) and walk down the hill toward St. James’s Palace. At the bottom turn left along Pall Mall. The entrance to Crown Passage is immediately on your left, parallel to St. James’s Street.

Piccadilly Circus London Underground station (530m away) – zone 1
Piccadilly Circus: Take Regent Street exit. Walk all the way down Pall Mall. Turn right and walk along Pall Mall. Crown Passage is the last turning on your right before St. James’s Street.

Sights nearby:
Fortnum & Mason Food Hall and department store

The Cross Keys is quaint and popular (especially with the media crowd nearby) as this little pub is on the periphery of Covent Garden. Unlike many places, it’s pretty much unchanged over the years. There are still a couple of beers on the hand pumps and a pretty standard range of supporting beers on tap. The food is pretty standard and the atmosphere and service are very good. It’s almost always crowded, but it’s a decent place to visit on a Saturday afternoon. By the way, the collection of knickknacks and memorabilia on the walls and ceiling should really interest Beatles fans.

31 Endell Street, WC2H London near Drury Lane
nearest stations:
Covent Garden London Underground station (190m away) – zone 1
Turn right out of Covent Garden tube and walk along Long Acre until you get to the junction with Bow Lane and Endell Street. Turn left up Endell Street and the pub is about two hundred meters up on the street on the left.

Leicester Square London Underground station (410m away) – zone 1
Holborn London Underground station (470m) – zone 1

You can also learn more in “London Heritage Pubs: An Inside Story” by Geoff Brandwood and Jane Jephcote and other books by Peter Haydon or Robin Turner and Paul Moody.


©2009 mystic at Travel Vacation Review