Proper Old Boozers In London's Hipster Neighbourhoods

Proper Old Boozers In London's Hipster Neighbourhoods
This is a proper boozer. The King William IV in Leyton
This is a *proper* boozer. The King William IV in Leyton.

The rise of craft beer movement has evoked an explosion in places that take beer very seriously. On the whole that’s been no bad thing. But sometimes you just want a pint of Guinness, to keep half an eye on the match over a game of pool, and to pay a fair price for a pint.

But in hipster areas of London, the places you can get a Fosters and a bag of Scampi Fries are dwindling.

There’s a dying breed of pubs that we should cherish: the places that stubbornly refuse to serve trendy unpronounceable beers, preferring instead to stick to a tried-and-tested formula that’s kept drinkers coming back for years. As a result, they attract a loyal crowd of regulars, providing a ‘living room’ feel that leaves you warm and fuzzy inside (and no, that’s not just the booze).

This is pub culture as it should be, before “Instagrammable” became a marketing adjective; and where the person behind the bar knows your name and what you drink.

To make this list, these boozers need a welcoming atmosphere, a community feel and plenty of spirit. And they have to be in hipster areas. They’re bolt holes when you need to get away from shabby chic décor, smug people who “work in digital” and smoked cherry saisons.

Shoreditch

The Old King's Head on Scrutton Street. Photo: duncan c

The birthplace of a movement. Today most of the artsy types have been priced out and any self-respecting hipster would not put it on a 'cool neighbourhood' list (especially because the Telegraph has). However, there are still enough novelty pop-ups and bizarre fashion choices to entertain the ‘hipster safari’ crowds from Billericay and Clapham — and that means an abundance of theme bars and over-priced beers.

Where does the right-thinking drinker head to hide from this modern-day Gin Lane? Abandon Callooh Callay to the slithy toves, and kick off Jaguar Shoes. Instead, get along to the Old King’s Head. The regulars are a mix of old school city boys, working class blokes, and — on Fridays — the staff of Vice (its offices are just up the road).

Bar staff are friendly but no-nonsense — don’t even think about moaning if a regular gets served before you. The TVs usually show rolling 24-hour news channel, although you can ask to change it if you want.

Clad in magnificent green tiling, The Old King’s Head is one of the most welcoming pubs we’ve been in. Keep an eye out for the pub cat, who’s usually sat on one of the bar stools, or parading about the place like she owns it, teasing any dogs that dare enter her territory.

The Old King's Head, 28 Holywell Row, EC2A 4JB. Open 8am-11pm Monday-Friday. Not open weekends

London Fields

The Hare, Cambridge Heath Road

Our nan used to refuse to go to Broadway Market because she was afraid of getting mugged. Now we’re afraid to go there for fear of being mugged by the cost of a coffee.

Eschew Off Broadway and the Cat and Mutton and instead make your way about a half mile south east, to The Hare on Cambridge Heath Road.

This is a proper, traditional east London pub. With an incredible jukebox, a good selection of whiskeys and staff that won’t tolerate nonsense, The Hare is one of our favourite boozers.

This pub is a microcosm of east London. You get all sorts in here: every age race, class, and drink preference. Each falls under the watchful eye of landlord Julian who’s gregarious and welcoming, so long as you adhere to his standards. Like he says: “how would you like people to behave in your front room?”

The Hare, 505 Cambridge Heath Road, E2 9BU, 12pm-12am every day except Sunday, 12pm-10.30pm.

Peckham

Del Boy would feel right at home with the cocktails being served at some of Peckham’s newer establishments, although many of them would be deemed too poncey even for him. You might get great views from Frank's, or be able to play retro arcade games at Four Quarters, but you’ll also have to listen to Charlotte bore on about some “really authentic jerk chicken” she got off a stall near the station.

Our recommendation is head to the namesake of Trotter’s favourite boozer.

The Nag's Head, Peckham Rye

The Nag’s Head (no, not the one off the telly) shows live sports, comes with a “no real ale available” advisory from Camra, and has a whiff of ‘dangerous’ about it. But venture in and you’ll find a warm enough welcome, sport on the TV, and some peace and quiet.

It’s fairly basic material-covered benches and wooden tables inside, and there are no fancy beers on tap — which is why there’s absolutely no chance of hipsters going in here.

31 Rye Lane, SE15 4TP, Monday-Saturday 11am-11pm, Sun 12pm-10.30pm.

Hackney

If you think the Cock Tavern is full of people it’s been named after, cross the road my friend and head for a proper watering hole: The Globe In Morning Lane.

Globe in Morning Lane.
Regulars give you a warm welcome at The Globe in Morning Lane.

The usual clientele of 40-50-something working class men and women don’t bat an eyelid at the occasional contingencies of Hackney’s new arrivals that visit, happily sharing tables and making everyone welcome.

It’s no frills, but there’s plenty of room for all in the Globe’s large interior. With TVs showing sport, a pool table and boxing memorabilia on the walls, the crowd of regulars joke with the bar staff and doorman — and if you’re lucky they’ll include you too.

Our tip is to stick around after midnight on Saturdays — that’s when the karaoke kicks off, and you’ll be variously treated to the superb voice of an old East End crooner, or the shrieking caterwauling of someone who’s had too much. Either way, the atmosphere’s supportive and a lot of fun. They do jazz on Sundays.  

The Globe in Morning Lane, 20 Morning Lane, E9 6NA. Sun-Tue 12pm-12am, Weds-Sat 12pm-2.30am.

Brixton

One of the hottest centres of debate about hipster invasion, there’s no doubting how much Brixton has changed in the last decade. Despite accelerating change there were always plenty of places to head to, but recently that’s changed and it’s now difficult to escape identikit bars and gastropubs.

In the past we might have suggested the Trinity Arms or the Prince Albert, but these two have undergone refurbishment, which has left them very ‘any other high street’.

The Effra Hall, Brixton

However, one place that’s resisted blandification is The Effra. Family-run, diverse and very lively, it’s got a solid Caribbean-inspired menu, regular live music and sports on TV.

Whether you’re on your way to one of the area’s music spots or stopping in for a good night out this is old Brixton in all its non-judgemental glory. Don’t come here wanting a pint of Brixton Brewery, this is Red Stripe country and all the better for it.

An honourable mention goes to an ol’ faithful – the Beehive. Brixton’s Wetherspoons is probably the least like any of these chain pubs in London. Sure, you get your usual mix of all kinds, but this has more ‘community’ feel than most of the fairly soulless offerings from Tim Martin. It’s not perfect by any stretch, but cheap beers and a lively atmosphere make this worth a visit if you need to get away from Brixton Market.

Effra Hall: 38 Kellett Road, SW2 1EB. 12pm-11.30pm every day. Beehive: 407-409 Brixton Rd, SW9 7DG. Sunday-Thursday 8am-11pm, Friday & Saturday 8am-12am.

Dalston

Forget it. This is home to a place called Untitled Bar, FFS.

What’s left is indicative of what happens when an area gets over-gentrified. The Marquis of Lansdowne and the Kingsland are cavernous, depressing places. These are the refuges of the people who still live in the area but can’t face going to the kidult theme bars or the overpriced craft beer basements. Get yourself in The Shacklewell Arms for some live music, or hop on a bus and go somewhere else if you want a proper boozer.

If you’re in west London and wondering where your recommendations are: everyone knows there are no hipsters in west London.

For more of our favourite pubs, have a browse of our pubs database — a guide to the best pubs in London, tried and tested by us.

Last Updated 09 August 2017

ASLEF shrugged

I was quite happy when I saw a photo of the Willy as its my local but rather disappointed that it wasn't mentioned in the actual article.. The fruit machine has gone but Gordon, Peter (aka the Gruffalo) and Ben are still there.

ASLEF shrugged

I was quite happy when I saw a photo of the Willy as its my local but rather disappointed that it wasn't mentioned in the actual article.. The fruit machine has gone but Ben, Gordon and Peter (aka the Gruffalo) are still there.