london pubs

Central London pubs that still feel like locals

London is a bogglingly vast, complex world city. It’s also the kind of place where, if you’re in the know, you can find a ‘proper’ pub not too far from Trafalgar Square or St Paul’s Cathedral.

We’re specifically talking about places that are fairly central – let’s say in, or on the edges of, Zone 1.

If you read our monthly newsletter you might recall that we started thinking about this after a conversation with @CarsmileSteve in a bar in Brussels.

Steve mentioned The King & Queen on the corner of Foley Street and Cleveland Street in Fitzrovia as a prime example.

“It’s been run by the same family since the 1960s,” he said. “The same lads are always behind the bar and have been forever – for at least 15 years.”

When we visited back in the early days of this blog we observed that it felt like a relic of the 1980s and clearly hadn’t been redecorated in some time.

Another pub Steve mentioned was The Sutton Arms, Great Sutton Street, EC1. (Not the one about five minutes’ walk away on Carthusian Street.) That was seconded by reader Nathan in a response to our call for suggestions last month:

“It’s a little better known in the craft beer bubble but is all things to all people. Family-run for donkeys’ years.”

We don’t think we’ve ever been, somehow. It does look good:

  • carpet ✅
  • beer mats ✅
  • mostly brown ✅
  • a sense of individual ownership ✅

Or, to put that another way, not generic pubco, big brewery, “Would you like to upgrade to sweet potato fries?” managed greyness.

When Lisa Grimm wanted suggestions for somewhere to drink near Marble Arch we suggested The Carpenter’s Arms, Seymour Place, W1, which we’ve visited a few times. Again, it has the same family-run feel and characterful decor. In her write-up she said

The Carpenter’s Arms was spot on for great cask ale – which makes sense, as it’s the HQ for CAMRA’s London branch. Alas, there was no food on, so I had to have a ‘meal’ of (fortunately) low-ABV ales and very expensive gourmet crisps, though that’s no complaint. I enjoyed an always-reliable/always-welcome Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter, but the new-to-me standout was Wantsum Brewery’s 1381, a session IPA.

Other suggestions received by Tweet and email include:

  • The Red Lion, Crown Passage, SW1, off Pall Mall (Nathan)
  • The Golden Eagle, Marylebone Lane, W1 – “has a long-serving landlady, regular customers and good beer… [and] a weekly piano singalong!” (Dermot)
  • Star and Garter, Poland Street, W1 – “Also long-serving licensees and a proper boozer in the heart of Soho.” (Dermot)
  • King Charles I, Northdown Street, N1 – “A magic little backstreet boozer.” (Ollie)

For our contributions, we’re going to suggest:

We’re going to aim to visit or revisit as many of these pubs as we can in the next few months.

In the meantime, are there any glaring omissions?

12 replies on “Central London pubs that still feel like locals”

The Star and Garter in Soho – the licensee/tenant there has I fancy changed in the last year or so. The tenancy was certainly being advertised late in 2020, and there was a different team and vibe when I was last in a few months ago.

I’d tip the Blue Posts Berwick Street but again there’s been a change in management recently, with the long-standing tenant and licensee effectively retiring not long ago.

While now under Fuller’s control for some years, the Harp is still a local for some of us who live or work locally, as well as a good proportion of regular visitors, and those who stumble across it. The general manager and partner live in the flat above.

Also tipped:

The Lemon Tree – the manager, Andy, has been there a good decade and lives above the pub with his partner.

The Marquis is also worth a visit, though it can be noisy as it attracts a good crowd, and the long-term manager, who also lives on the premises, plays his vinyl collection loudly.

Coach and Horses

Nearer to the Royal Opera House and Strand/Aldwych, this has been run by the same (Irish) family for many decades, and while it gets its fair share of visitors and theatre goers, it has a good few in who live or work locally, or who used to.

Oh, we’ve been in the Blue Posts a couple of times recently and hadn’t noticed much of a change, except them refurbing the loos (long overdue!). Still buzzing and faintly seedy (a good thing!), one of the last “proper” soho boozers…

My local London knowledge is about a decade out of date, alas. The Bree Louise would have fitted into this category, but it’s been gone for years now (thanks, HS2…)

My regular drinking group started when we were all students in South Kensington, so we used to go to the Star reasonably regularly. We also used to go to the Antelope round the corner, which would have fitted your description, but it looks like it’s been poshed up a bit since then (in the house style for a Fuller’s pub – I’m sure I also remember going to a Young’s house round those parts, but I can’t recall the name).

Would also have suggested the Blue Posts and the Charles I, so instead I’ll suggest two in Bloomsbury, as I used to live round there: The Lord John Russell (Marchmont St) and McGlynn’s (Whidborne St). Both freehouses serving cask with a mixed crowd of locals, students and people waiting for trains. The Lord John Russell was also a favourite of the late Bob Crow (RMT HQ just up the road).

Big fan of the LJR, spent many a happy night in there, but I’m not *quite* sure it ticks all of my personal “local” boxes? Possibly the number of students? Maybe the crowd feels a little too transient?

I know what you mean, but it definitely has regulars (and not just me!). I would also say that mix is true to the sprit of that area.

Cross Keys, Endell St – a local in Covent Garden; regulars from the nearby flats, stage crew from nearby theatres.
King’s Arms, Roupell St – corner boozer that looks like it’s on a film set
Wenlock – obv.

Oh, just realised we’ve not mentioned The Shakespeare’s Head round the back of Saddler’s Wells! An actual Flat Roof Pub, long-standing landlord, long-term purveyors of the Holy Trinity (before the discontinuation of Cheese-flavoured Moments, RIP). Mainly locals from the estate, but also Saddler’s Wells atendees and performers (and, once, Kylie!). Haven’t been back since the reopening, should probably remedy that…

A few more locals within Zone 1 …..

South of the river often gets forgotten about.

Yesterday evening, away from the bustling crowds around London Bridge and Borough Market, just a short walk down the High Street, after a day walk on the Capital Ring, the Royal Oak was still welcoming, and comfortable, and the first visit in several years No carpet though 🙂

Which prompts for a few more, though ones I’ve only been in, if at all, irregularly, for a long time. I haven’t been in the Lord Clyde for a few years, and there has been a change in management, but that was always a good local

Ditto the Glad, though it’s even longer since I was last in.

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