Are London’s pubs the city's richest source of historical architecture? The stories of empires are often written on - and within - the walls of its watering holes, where poets and princes have carved their marks upon beer-stained wooden tables. Here we list some of London’s most precious pieces of history, where its people can still enjoy a drink after a day of toil - or during one...
And of course you can read more about London's best pubs in the Londonist pub database here.
The Blackfriar is one of London's most famous boozers. Built in 1875 on the site of an old monastery, it's an architectural curiosity — wedge-shaped and adorned with mosaics and ornamental balconies. It was remodelled in 1905 using sculptors, and the interior boasts beautiful copper reliefs and other decorations of the transport-you-to-another-time type. The Blackfriar was almost destroyed in the 60s to make way for a road, but was saved by a strong opposition movement spearheaded by Sir John Betjeman - now the pub is protected by its Grade II listed status.
The Grenadier was originally built as a military officers’ mess way back in 1720 and first opened to the public in 1818. It takes some finding, mind, hiding as it does around a dogleg of cobbled mews labelled 'private road'. A sentry box and doors painted bright red and blue stand stark against the simple white walls. The interior is stuffed with military portraits and images, with back rooms named The Wellington and The Boot... Arthur Wellesley himself lived nearby. The most noticeable feature is the collection of signed dollar bills appended to the ceiling. These are said to be for 'Cedric' - a grenadier who was supposedly beaten to death for cheating at cards.
Ye Olde Mitre Tavern
A tough find, Ye Olde Mitre in Holborn is a Grade II listed public house, and English Heritage documents put its building date at about 1773, though the pub itself claims 16th century origins, around the time of the Protestant Reformation. The interior was remodelled in the early 1930s, and it wears its age gracefully and with no little charm. The Mitre sits in Ely Place, giving the pub an odd significance: until the late 20th century it was technically part of Cambridgeshire, standing on land belonging to the Bishops of Ely.
That changed some years back, but the pub's place in history is assured: Shakespeare speaks of it, and it still retains an independence from the rest of London that attracts fleeing jewellery robbers from nearby Hatton Gardens – city police can't follow in there.
The George Tavern sits on the site of the old Halfway House, and still contains original brickwork dating back about 700 years. Its historical significance is demonstrated in mentions among the writings of Chaucer, Dickens, and Samuel Pepys, and its architectural importance was also recognised with Grade II listed status granted in 1973 - which commended its retention of earlier features during several 19th century remodellings. Derelict in 2002, the building was bought by artist Pauline Forster and reopened as a performance arts venue. And pub, obviously.
This one's not an obvious choice, boasting less in the way of architectural oddities and quirks than others on this list. But there might be few London pubs with insides or outsides as instantly recognisable as this Camden watering hole. The Dublin Castle dates back to 1856, and was built for Irish navvies working on the railways in London, to enjoy a drink free from the scowls of other nationalities. But the pub's earned its place in history more recently, rising to prominence in the 1970s as a launching pad for young bands after Madness established its live reputation during a residency there. The iconic red and white facade, the leather booths, mirrored walls and wooden floors all seem to seep with its rich musical history. A cultural icon, and a pretty one.
The Warrington has recently been restored to its original 1857 glory, with striking mosaic floors, stained glass windows, and a beautiful marble fireplace. Elsewhere you’ll find a bar and staircase fashioned from an old ship during a late-19th century restoration. It was once owned by the Church of England, and later by Gordon Ramsay. Its rich history also includes a rumoured spell as a brothel, and apparently the word ‘randy’ was coined here due to its proximity to Randolph Crescent. It’s near Abbey Road, too, so you may even find some of London’s current culture leaders inside.
The only surviving galleried London coaching inn and the only pub owned by the National Trust, the George Inn first appears on maps from around 1543. It was rebuilt in 1677 after a fire wiped out most of Southwark. The exterior wooden walkways, white against dark walls, transport you back to a time when horses would have driven your coach to London, instead of Citylink or Easybus. One of Dickens' many old haunts, the pub featured in his novel Little Dorrit, and The George now proudly holds Dickens' life insurance policy framed upon its walls.