“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern.”
Nearly 300 years later and the words of Samuel Johnson still carry the ring of truth.
But then Dr Johnson was informed on many subjects: it was he who famously observed that “when a man is tired of London he is tired of life.”
We’d like to think the good doctor would have approved of an article rounding up the best pubs in and around the City.
From ancient institutions to thrusting up-and-comers, these are the best boozers the Square Mile has to offer.
Try and visit them all – just maybe not in one night.
The best pubs near Liverpool Street
The Michelin-starred Galvin brothers continue to take the capital by storm, with their individual approach to some of our favourite London restaurants. Now, they’ve turned their expertise on the world of pubs and created one hell of a treat for any Spitalfields locals. This bistro-cum-boozer flirts with a more restaurant-y theme, while still being more than capable of serving up a decent pint. Speaking of which, copper tanks of unpasteurised Pilsner Urquell call to you from behind the bar, while classic pub favourites like a Barnsley pork chop and hot dog with all the trimmings keep hunger well and truly at bay.
galvinrestaurants.com / 35 Spital Square, E1 6DY
The Jugged Hare
This undoubtedly classy bar deftly skirts the fine line between contemporary boozer and the misty-eyed pub we all see in our fantasies – are we the only ones who dream about the mighty pub? It really is difficult to know where to start: sporting a formidable bar snack menu (venison scotch egg, chips and gravy, and pork crackling with apple sauce, to name but a few), four pumps for proper ale and a sleek dining room should you fancy its sensational game-heavy cuisine, this is as perfect as any pub in the whole of London. We couldn’t be more jealous of the neighbouring Barbican residents.
thejuggedhare.com / 49 Chiswell St, EC1Y 4SA
The Williams Ale & Cider House
This is one of those pubs that has something for everyone – including ale and cider, obviously, but also darts, live sport, a beautiful brick interior, a decent wine list and a food menu that is meaty in both senses of the word: Fat Fil’s Platter feeds up to ten and includes BBQ ribs, lamb koftas and mini sausages. (You can also order a vegetarian alternative.) If you’re struggling to choose which of the many labels take your fancy, the pub offers three third-pints for the price of a normal one, so you can experiment without fearing work the next day.
williamsspitalfields.com / 22-24 Artillery Lane, E1 7LS
The Craft Beer Co
Guess this pub’s specialty? That’s right, the pies are delicious – as you would hope, considering the pub stands in the shadow of the Gherkin. To accompany your meal, and any geographically appropriate pickles, there is also quite the abundance of craft beer. St Mary Axe houses 18 keg lines, nine cask pumps and more than 200 bottles and cans. Don’t fret if beer isn’t your tipple of choice, the spirits range is also strong. This is the seventh pub from The Craft Beer Co, and as you’d expect, the group know the score when it comes to giving the people what they want. There's even another pub in the City – situated on Farringdon's Leather Lane.
thecraftbeerco.com / 29-31 Mitre St, EC3A 5BU
The best pubs near Farringdon
The Old Red Cow
Built in 1854, the Old Red Cow has gone through several incarnations in recent years. Until 2006 it was named Ye Olde Red Cow but then changed its moniker to Long Lane, before switching back to the Old Red Cow (without the olde English affectations). Happily, stability seems to have been restored, and you can enjoy the extensive range of craft beer on tap. Hungry? Sample one of the scotch eggs, made with duck egg and black pudding. Don’t be alarmed if you hear unexplained noises from above: the ghost of former landlord Dick O’Shea is said to haunt the first-floor balcony.
71 Long Ln, EC1A 9EJ
The Viaduct Tavern
The grand gin palaces of 18th-century London were some of the most decorous (and raucous) locations in the City – and genuine rivals to the City alehouse. Sadly, no originals survived the ravages of time, but one faithful Victorian imitation still remains: The Viaduct Tavern. Originally built in 1874, this brilliant pub is a legitimate contender for the most beautiful in London. All etched glass and Lincrusta ceiling, it is a must visit – if for the atmosphere alone. Unsurprisingly, it serves a fine G&T, with a well-pulled pint to boot. Located just around the corner from the Old Bailey, it’s the perfect conflation of law and, well, disorder.
viaducttavern.co.uk / 126 Newgate St, EC1A 7AA
The Fox & Anchor
Unlikely pairings can often work surprisingly well: think peanut butter and jam, or Claudio Ranieri and Leicester City. So it proves with foxes and anchors, which combine to produce this magical little pub that also doubles up as a boutique hotel. Yes, if you want a City break, or simply can’t be bothered to travel home, you can book yourself into one of the double rooms upstairs. That way you can also enjoy the City Boy Breakfast in the morning: an £18 monster that finishes with a pint of Guinness. There’s also a wine bar, if you fancy something a little more refined…
foxandanchor.com / 115 Charterhouse St, EC1M 6AA
The Craft Beer Co
Here's that other Craft Beer Co we mentioned – and it's even bigger than its cousin across town. Leather Lane houses 21 keg lines, 16 cask pumps and more than 200 bottles and cans. Leather Lane was the first-ever Craft Beer Co to open, way back in 2011. For a few years, it had the most beer taps in the UK but the Covent Garden Craft Beer Co overtook its forbearer in 2014. Family, eh? Always trying to get one up on you.
thecraftbeerco.com / 82 Leather Ln, EC1N 7TR
The best pubs near Blackfriars
The Punch Tavern
This pub is named not for its proliferation of fruity cocktails, or the frequency of bar-room brawls, but rather the beloved puppet and tormentor of his wife, Judy. Keep an eye out for the series of Punch & Judy-themed paintings on the walls (they’ll probably be behind you). Like its fellow tavern The Viaduct, The Punch was also once a Victorian ‘Gin Palace’ – and duly sells more than 40 gins. You won’t get through every label in one evening (we hope), but that gives you a good excuse to return to this beautiful, quirky pub and even take a meal in the private dining room.
punchtavern.com / 99 Fleet St, EC4Y 1DE
The Black Friar
The first thing you’re likely to notice about The Black Friar is the black friar himself: the large, laughing statue of the man of God situated above the front door. Apt for a pub that wears its heritage proudly. Step inside and you’ll discover multiple other engravings on the walls, in what must be the most remarkable building to house a pub in London. Squeezed between two converging roads, like a boozy rendition of New York’s iconic Flatiron building, it was constructed around 1875, and is named for a nearby Dominican Friary that existed in the middle ages. Tuck into the food and make merry with the varied draughts of real ale.
nicholsonspubs.co.uk / 174 Queen Victoria St, EC4V 4EG
Hack & Hop
Situated just a hop away from the hacks of Fleet Street (genuinely how the pub got its name), Hack & Hop offers a beer list that would make Barney Gumble book a direct flight from Springfield to London City. But rather than Duff, the beers on offer are largely of the craft variety: whether it’s keg or cask, a rotating selection of the UK’s finest brewers is always on offer. Accompanying your pint is the kind of sturdy pub fare conducive to a lengthy drinking session. The delicious ‘sharing’ platters are something of a misnomer, though: keep ’em to yourself.
thehackandhop.com / 35 Whitefriars St, EC4Y 8BH
The Old Bank of England
Boozing on the site of The Old Bank of England dates back nearly 500 years, when two taverns, The Cock and The Haunch of Venison, kept ye olde Londoners happy long into the night. The taverns were demolished in 1888 to make way for a branch of, you guessed it, The Bank of England, which traded until 1975. Now in the trusty hands of Fuller’s, the site is back to what it does best. If this wasn’t enough history for you, the pub supposedly stands between Sweeney Todd’s Barber Shop and Mrs Lovett’s Pies. The pub also serves pies, but thankfully not of the human variety
oldbankofengland.co.uk / 194 Fleet St, EC4A 2LT
The best pubs near Bank
The Trading House
With its mounted animal heads, cavernous interior, tropical plants and stuffed songbirds perched on plinths, The Trading House is the type of eccentric outpost where you can imagine a Victorian adventurer taking a final supper before setting off for the Far East. Or perhaps we should say Down Under: this Grade II-listed building was formerly the Bank of New Zealand. An enjoyably inventive cocktail list and generous array of dishes (may we point you towards the hanging kebab?) only add to the fun. This is a quirky refuge for those City workers seeking something a little bit different.
thetradinghouse.uk.com / 89-91 Gresham St, EC2V 7NQ
A City institution, Leadenhall Market is one of the oldest markets in London (it dates back to the 14th century), and the Lamb Tavern is its most famous pub. Established in 1780 when it was owned by one James Pardy, the current building dates back to 1881, with an etched glass window still bearing the name: “W Pardy wine & spirit merchant”. Clearly the Pardy clan stuck around for a while. Despite its three floors, the pub becomes very busy after work, so be prepared to burn off some of those beer calories by fighting your way to the bar.
lambtavernleadenhall.com / 10-12 Leadenhall Market, EC3V 1LR
Jamaica Wine House
Winding your way along the narrow lanes that lead to Jamaica Wine House is to experience the medieval heart of the City. Indeed, dating back to 1652 and restored in 1885, entering through the doors of this red sandstone-constructed building is to take step back in time to how pubs used to be – some might say, should be. Back in the present, the magnificent wood-panelled room is one of the most popular in the City, while downstairs hosts Todd’s Wine Bar for hungrier, vino-focused patrons.
jamaicawinehouse.co.uk / St Michael’s Alley, EC3V 9DS
Ye Olde Watling
Legend has it that this famous old pub was built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1668 from the timber of old ships. Furthermore, many believe Wren subsequently designed St Paul’s Cathedral sat in its upstairs rooms. Despite, this historic edge, the pub itself is practically modern compared to the road it stands on: Watling Street dates back to the Romans, and was reportedly the site of Boudica’s decisive defeat in AD 60. Happily, the pub has fared better than the unfortunate Empress, offering an impressive selection of ales and classic British cuisine. Here’s to another 350 years!
nicholsonspubs.co.uk / 29 Watling St, EC4M 9BR
The Pelt Trader
Hidden beneath a railway arch at Cannon Street Station, this cool commuter spot is engineered for one thing and one thing only: good times. With 16 taps dedicated to one of the best selections of craft beer in the Square Mile, and a cracking range of pizzas ready to mop up the booze, you’re in very good hands indeed. The acoustics of the building’s arch mean there’s always a hubbub about this place, while in the summer months punters spill out onto the streets. Us? We’ll be at the bar drinking Redemption Big Chief IPA and eating a New York Hot pizza. Fortunately, the last train home couldn’t be closer.
pelttrader.co.uk / Arch 3, Dowgate Hill, EC4N 6AP
The beauty of this small pub group is that beer matters to them as much as it does to us. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that not only will you find one of the best selections in the City at this outpost on Seething Lane (address certainly not appropriate), but it’s also some of the best value around. There’s also the magnet-like pull of the menu – replete with your favourite junk food items, including burgers and nachos – fueling you up for what can only be a great evening. We’ll drink to that.
drafthouse.co.uk / 14-15 Tower Hill, EC3N 4AX
Unlike many of the pubs on this list, The Hydrant is a proudly contemporary establishment. Don’t worry: that doesn’t mean it has modernist toilets and serves drinks in a vase. However, you can expect bright red bar lights, a concrete floor and metal stools – the aesthetic is very Brooklyn. This would be a great place to come to impress the clients, especially owing to the large number of sharing plates on offer and plenty of beer, craft or otherwise. Also, take a moment to appreciate the name: The Hydrant is situated just metres from Pudding Lane, where the Great Fire of London was first ignited.
thehydrant.co.uk / Equitable House, 1 Monument St, EC3R 8BG
We love all drinking establishments here at Square Mile, no matter how big or small – and this pocket-sized space is certainly the latter. What it lacks in size, though, it makes up for in its drinks selection: behind the bar you’ll find 12 taps kitted out with London-only beers and bottles of gin. From Beavertown to Howling Hops, Sipsmiths to East London Liquor Company, these guys have the local angle covered. Best of all, is the take-away beer in one of The Arbitrager’s growlers. (Stop sniggering at the back.) Should you need to make a dash for the train, at least you can rest assured you’ll be suitably refreshed. What can we say? They know what the people want.
thearbitrager.co.uk / 27A Throgmorton St, EC2N 2AN
Harrild & Sons
Once the site of a printing-press manufacturer (owned by one Robert Harrild), the only thing you’ll find rolling out of this grand space these days is well-lubricated City folk. You would do well to arrive thirsty to this fine establishment: with a beer menu that lists an intimidating 100-plus bottles from the best breweries in the world, you’re going to want to try a few. Should you require something on the harder side, however, its 5CC cocktail club downstairs is as sophisticated as it is subterranean.
harrildandsons.com / 26 Farringdon St, EC4A 4AB