London is home to a great many pubs, bars and nightclubs. The online city guide View London and the weekly magazine Time Out can inform you of what’s going in London’s nightlife, as well as with cultural events in general.
Pubs & bars
London is an expensive place and your drink is likely to cost more than its equivalent elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Expect to pay around £4 for a pint of lager or Guinness (or around £3.50 for a pint of ale) in an average pub, but be aware that as with restaurants, pubs close to major tourist attractions cash in on travellers’ gullibility so be on your guard for the tourist traps where higher prices are not unheard of. Despite this however it is still possible to find a sub-£3 pint in central London – but it takes some determination. If you’re looking to save money and meet travellers then pub crawls are guided tours that run nightly in London. You’ll save the ticket price on the savings you get from discounted drink deals and what you would have spent on club entry. Two operators “1 Big Night Out” and “Camden Pub Crawl” operate nightly in Leicester Square and Camden town respectively.
Many local pubs, especially those run by chains like Wetherspoons and Scream tend to be more reasonably priced with good drink promotions on weekday nights and during the day. As with the rest of the UK, chain pubs abound which Londoners tend to avoid like the plague. A good place to get cheap beer is at any one of the Sam Smith’s run pubs that are dotted around Soho and north of Oxford Street. These pubs are good traditional boozers which are frequented by the local working population and odd celeb.
In the Bloomsbury area, check out The Court (near the north end of Tottenham Court Road) and The Rocket (Euston Road). Both are fairly cheap to drink at, given that they cater for students of the adjacent University College London. However since both pubs have been taken over by a new company drinks have become noticeably more expensive. Directly opposite the British Library is The Euston Flyer, popular with locals and commuters alike given its close proximity to St Pancras International railway station.
Classier bars and pubs can be much more expensive. However, the cost of alcohol drops significantly the further away you go from the centre (though be aware thatWest London tends to be an exception, with prices pretty much the same as the centre).
Two important endemic London breweries are Young’s and and Fullers. Young’s was founded in Wandsworth in 1831 (but has recently relocated to Bedford) and nowadays it boasts 123 pubs in central London alone. The Founder’s Arms on the South Bank is one of the brewery’s most well known establishments. Fullers was founded a bit later in 1845 at Chiswick (where you can take a most enjoyable tour of the brewery, including beer-tasting) and the jewel in its crown is probably the Grade I listed Old Bank Of England on Fleet Street, thanks to its breath-taking interiors. Fuller’s flagship beer is the famous ‘London Pride’, however to try a truly authentic Cockney pint, ask at bars if they serve a seldom seen now Porter, a dark style of beer originating in London in the 18th Century, similar but less heavy then a Stout. For a different taste, try London Gin, a popular type of spirit, often mixed with tonic water, (and a slice of lemon) to make G & T’s.
It’s hard to say which pub in London is truly the oldest but it’s easy to find contenders for the title. Many pubs were destroyed in the Great Fire of London – indeed, Samuel Pepys supposedly watched the disaster from the comfort of the Anchor in Borough. Pubs were rebuilt on sites that claimed to have been working pubs since the 13th century. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese in Fleet Street is on the site of an old monastery and its cellar dates back to the 13th century. The Princess Louise and Cittie of Yorke (22 High Holborn, WC1V 6BN Tel +44 20 7242-7670) are two lovely pubs close by, along High Holborn with interesting decor; as is theJerusalem Tavern of Farringdon, a converted Georgian coffee shop, which sells the Norfolk beer, St. Peters. The Royal Oak of Borough, is another pub which is the only representative of an out-of-town brewery in London, that of Harvey’s of Lewes. The food is fantastic as is the atmosphere. Those interested in London’s historic and literary connections can’t miss The Spaniard’s Inn in Hampstead. Dick Turpin is said to have been born here; John Keats and Charles Dickens both drank here; it’s mentioned in Dickens’ The Pickwick Papers and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The Goose at Catford, was reputedly a favourite hole of Karl Marx.
For the best view in the city, try pubs on the banks of the Thames. The South Bank has lots of good bars with plenty of iconic bridges and buildings in sight the cocktail bar in the OXO tower is a secret that most tourists walk by everyday. Heading towards Bermondsey, pub crowds become a little less touristy.
If you’re after gastropubs, you may like to visit London’s first, The Eagle, in Clerkenwell, established in 1991. You can also try Time Out’s favourite newcomer, The Princess Victoria on Uxbridge Road, Shepherd’s Bush.
Wine buffs can enjoy the famous Davys wine bars that dot the city. The company, established in 1870, import wines and own over thirty bars in the centre. Other big names in wine include the Michelin-starred Cellar Gascon and Vinoteca, both in Smithfield. For a posh wine tasting experience, there is Vinopolis by Borough Market, though a tour price will be as eye-watering as the produce sampled.
Big hotels, such as The Dorchester and The Ritz, and upmarket clubs around Leicester Square and Soho are reliable bets for a date at the bar. The Connaught Hotel in Mayfair-Marylebone boasts its house bar, plus the Time Out favourite, The Coburg. Still in Mayfair, The Polo Bar at The Westbury is very intimate.
You can rely on most up-and-running bars to offer a short cocktail menu and there are also bars that position themselves as cocktail specialists.
- Artesian Bar at the Langham The Langham, London, Portland Place, London W1B 1JA Called the World’s Best Bar three years in a row by Drinks International Magazine, the Artesian is at the forefront of experimental mixology. Every cocktail is expertly crafted and unlike anything you will have seen before. Open Monday – Saturday 11am – 2am, Sunday 11am-12 noon. Typical price is £17 for a cocktail.
- Ye Olde Chesire Cheese 145 Fleet Street, London EC4A 2BU Rebuilt in 1667, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese was the drinking place of choice for everyone from Samuel Johnson to Charles Dickens, and still has much of its historical charm: low ceilings, cosy spaces and all. Open Monday – Saturday 12 noon-11pm, Sunday 12 noon-5pm. Typical Price: £4.00-50 a pint.
- Drink Shop Do 9 Caledonian Road, London N1 9DX A break from the chain bars that surround it in King’s Cross, Drink Shop Do is a vintage-inspired bar offering a wide range of unusual activities from making Lego robots to learning the Thriller dance alongside a menu of crafted cocktails and craft beers. Monday-Thursday 10:30am-12 midnight, Friday-Saturday 10:30am-2am, Sunday 10:30am-8pm. Typical price is £8.50-£9 for a cocktail, bottled beers £4.50-£5.20.
- The Faltering Fullback 19 Perth Road, London N4 3HB With its ivory-covered outside and its wide variety of room (all with their own unique atmosphere), The Faltering Fullback is a great choice for anything from quiet weekend drinks to watching the big game. Monday-Thursday 12 noon-11pm, Friday-Saturday 12 noon-12 midnight, Sunday 12am-10:30pm. Typical price is £4.50 a pint.
- The Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town The Breakfast Club, 12-16 Artillery Lane, London, E1 7LS Perhaps London’s worst kept secret, this bar can be found hidden behind the fridge of the Shoreditch Breakfast Club restaurant, and features a fun kitschy interior and an intimate atmosphere. Monday-Thursday 5pm-12 midnight, Friday 3pm-12 midnight, Saturday 12 noon-12 midnight, Sunday, 12 noon-10:30pm. Typical price is £9-£10 for a cocktail.
- Zigfrid Von Underbelly 11 Hoxton Square, London N1 6NU Uniquely decorated and always lively, the Zigfrid is one of the most popular bars in Hoxton Square, a major drinking destination for those looking for offbeat bars and a great atmosphere. Monday-Thursday 12 noon – 1am, Friday-Saturday 12 noon-3am, Sunday 12 noon-12 midnight. Typical Price: £7.90-£9.50 for a cocktail, £4.10-£5.70 for a pint.
- Alternative London Pub Tour Unit 5, The Yard, Yorkton St E2 8NH If you are only in London or the East End for a short time, you might want to take advantage of some local knowledge. Alternative London started the first graffiti/street art tours in the East End and have now added in a Craft Beer Pub tour, which they again add they local knowledge and flare to. This is a good way to find some great Pubs and beers around Bricklane and Spitalfields. Price: £25.00 which includes the tour and 4 drinks.
- Frank’s Peckham Multi-Story Car Park, 95A Rye Lane, London SE15 4ST Found on the top of a car park behind the Peckhamplex cinema, Frank’s offers a warm atmosphere even on the coldest nights, as well as 360° views over London. Closed Monday. Tuesday-Friday 5pm-11pm, Saturday-Sunday 11am-11pm. Typical price is £5.50-£7.50 for a cocktail, £4.50 for a pint.
- The Camberwell Arms 65 Camberwell Church Street, London, SE5 8TR A restored Victorian public house, the Camberwell Arms is one of the newer gastropubs in London, and has become a popular haunt in Camberwell (about a ten minute walk from Denmark Hill Station). Monday 5pm – 11pm, Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 11pm. Typical price is £6-£8 for a cocktail, £3.70-£4.70 for a pint.
- Evans & Peel Detective Agency 310c Earls Court Road W.8, London, SW5 9BA Another of London’s secret speakeasies, drinkers will need to make an ‘appointment’ with the ‘detectives’ to gain access. Once they have done this, they will find acclaimed cocktails in this small bar. Closed Sunday-Monday. Tuesday-Thursday 5pm-12 midnight, Friday-Saturday 5pm-12:30 am. Typical Price:£10.50 for a cocktail.
Nightlife is an integral part of London life and there are countless nightclubs in and around Central London with music to suit even the most eclectic of tastes. Districts in London tend to specialize to different types of music.
The Farringdon/Hoxton/Shoreditch area has many clubs playing drum and bass, house and trance music and is home to the superclub Fabric. The clubs in this area are often home to the world’s top DJ’s and attracts a lively, hip and friendly crowd.
The area around Mayfair is home to the more upmarket clubs in London. This area attracts a rather more showy crowd who love to flaunt what they have and is a must go to celebrity spot. Beware that drinks are ridiculously expensive and many clubs operate a guestlist-only policy. Music played here is often of the commercial chart, funky house, hip hop and R&B genre. Notable clubs include China White, Luxx, Maddox, Jalouse, Funky Buddha, Whisky Mist, Mahiki, No 5 Cavendish Square, Embassy, Vendome and Maya.
Nightclubs around the Leicester Square area hold the same music policy, but are rather more accessible, with numerous club and pub crawl promoters scattered around the area offering deals on entry. Notable clubs are Cafe De Paris, 1 Big Night Out pub crawl, Penthouse, Sound, Tiger Tiger, Zoo bar and Ruby Blue.
The Camden area is home to clubs which play Indie, metal and rock music and notably the Electric Ballroom, the world famous Koko (Fridays) and Underworld, however be aware that Camden clubs are mostly shut (or empty) on the weekdays.
Gay and lesbian
London has a vibrant gay environment with countless bars, clubs and events in almost every district in the city.
The nucleus of London’s gay scene is undoubtedly Old Compton St and the surrounding area in Soho, whilst Vauxhall has also grown significantly in the last decade – with a generally more seedier and fetish-oriented selection of bars and clubs compared to those of Soho. You will find that many areas, particularly in Camden Townand Shoreditch, that straight bars will have a mixed clientele.
To find out what is going on during your visit, you can check:
- qmagazine.com a weekly magazine that comprehensively covers the London gay scene with handy night by night listings available on-line and in print
- Boyz Magazine which is published fortnightly and is freely available at most London gay venues, and contains listings of everything that is happening in all the major clubs in London and the South East.
Pride is held every year in June with parade and street parties. The choice of places to go sometimes seem to be unmanageable.
- London Gay and Lesbian Switchboard (LLGS), ☎ +44 20 7837-7324 (email@example.com). This voluntary service has been operating since 1974 and as well as providing counselling they offer an incredibly thorough information service about Gay events, accommodation and businesses in London.