Micropubs began life in Kent in the mid-2000s as an alternative to noisy mainstream boozers where the music was too loud, the smell of roasts got up your nostrils and the telly proved too much of a distraction. The first one, the Butcher’s Arms, opened near Canterbury in 2005 and has inspired more than 300 others across the country.
The early micropubs followed a simple philosophy. They concentrated on a rotating line-up of cask ales, they usually had only one room, and you wouldn’t find a TV or music in them — and there’s certainly no chatting on your phone. London’s first micropub, The Door Hinge, opened in Welling in 2013, and follows this formula closely, with a smashed up Nokia on the wall serving as a strict reminder to keep your phone switched off.
The micropub has already evolved from those Kentish roots. Ciders, wines and spirits are on the menu now — all chosen with the same care as the ales. Others have borrowed features from the micropub’s close cousin, the bottle shop. Some have quizzes and live music. One (no names, no pack drill) even broke all the rules and put a TV in for the 2018 World Cup. What would the purists say?
Now there are more than 20 micropubs in and around London. The beers are normally beautifully kept — and you can try before you buy. Boardgames and resident dogs feature heavily too.
These places are nearly all run by just one or two people — many are shut on Mondays to give them a day off — and there’s a story behind most of them, be it a redundancy money investment, or simply a desire to give their own neighbourhood a decent place to go for a drink. Many are off the beaten track, all are well worth your time tracking down. Here are 11 to get you started.
1. The River Ale House, Greenwich
Forget selfies on the Meridian Line, this is the real reason to come to Greenwich. Owner Trevor Puddifoot used to run a lingerie shop in a beaten-up old parade before the internet took his passing trade away. In 2017, his shop was reborn as The River Ale House. It’s quickly become a much-loved part of life in this overlooked end of Greenwich, closer to Ikea and the roar of the Blackwall Tunnel flyover than the museums and market.
The keen prices and friendly atmosphere mean The River often attracts a slightly younger crowd. It’s also pooch-friendly — it’s not unusual to see three or four in here at once — and a favourite stop-off for fans heading to and from Charlton matches at The Valley. The beer’s always top-notch, and there are plenty of bottles, cans, wines, ciders and gins to choose from too, as well as sausage rolls and scotch eggs for soakage.
The River Ale House, 131 Woolwich Road, Greenwich SE10 0RJ.
2. The Beer Shop, Nunhead
There aren't many bars with their own running clubs, but pop into The Beer Shop on a Tuesday evening and you’ll find the Runhead runners getting ready for their exertions — or toasting their efforts with a well-deserved ale. Based in an old corner shop unit, The Beer Shop treats cask and keg with equal reverence, and hosts street food pop-ups and beer tastings. A family-friendly hangout during the daytime, you’re as likely to find a child with a colouring book as you are a grizzled old beer fan ticking off an entry in his copy of London Drinker. A lovely place to meet for an intimate chat or just to watch the world go by on Nunhead Green.
The Beer Shop, 40 Nunhead Green SE15 3QF
3. The Kentish Belle, Bexleyheath
Somebody here likes trains. The pub is named after a train. It helps raise money to restore old trains. And it’s right next to Bexleyheath station. But you won’t go off the rails in the Kentish Belle, where the welcome is somewhat friendlier than that on Southeastern. It's a space for everybody; alongside real ales and a range of gins, you’ll find events from quiz nights to bottle swaps, a cheese club and board games nights. There are also regular tap takeovers, and it’s so popular you wonder quite what this corner of Bexleyheath did before this place opened in early 2018. The landlord, Nicholas Hair, has stuck his neck out in demanding change in the fusty old Campaign for Real Ale. If the way he runs the Kentish Belle is anything to go by, they should be listening to him.
The Kentish Belle, 8 Pickford Lane, DA7 4QW
4. The Hangar Micropub, Sidcup
Sidcup is London’s micropub capital, and it’s hard to choose between the options here. The Hangar is the newest, and developed a devoted following within weeks. You’d think this quiet shopping parade would resist the arrival of a micropub, but the Hangar has pulled it off by offering a mouthwatering range of ales and wines. Unusually for a micropub, there are even a couple of lagers on the menu. A Monday evening quiz features a game of hoopla, and it’s so friendly, the locals surely won’t mind you taking them on. A wonderful place to visit on its own, or as part of a tour around the local micropub scene: there are two others (The Halfway House and The Broken Drum) within walking distance, while The Hackney Carriage and Hopper's Hut — both similar to The Hangar — are a short 51 bus ride away.
The Hangar Micropub, 37 The Oval, Sidcup, DA15 9ER
5. One Inn the Wood, Petts Wood
Petts Wood, between Bromley and Orpington, is where Daylight Saving Time was born. Inventor William Willett came up with the idea while riding his horse early one morning and seeing how many blinds were down. Thanks to him, you can enjoy languid summer evenings at One Inn The Wood, which specialises in Kent beers, ciders and wines. There are also Kent pork pies, and even the crisps are from Kent. It’s a little way off the Sidcup micropub cluster, so often gets overlooked, but this gem won London Pub of the Year in 2015 and is a beer aficionados’ favourite. The service is friendly, and so are the fellow customers. Come at any time of year and raise a toast to William Williett.
One Inn the Wood, 205 Petts Wood Road, BR5 1LA
6. The Radius Arms, Whyteleaf
We’ve broken a rule here. This is actually a couple of hundred metres outside London. But the wonderful Radius Arms is so easy to get to — a few minutes’ walk from Whyteleafe and Upper Warlingham stations, both in zone 6 and just a few minutes from East Croydon — that we’ll turn a blind eye to the border and concentrate on the bar. On a Saturday night, it feels like half of Croydon’s here, with a real jumble of ages and genders, and usually a little puppy cradled in someone’s arms. When we visited, there was a strong beer (7% Estonian porter, anyone?), a light beer (a tasty 2.8% table beer) and a whole range in between. The Radius also does ciders, wines and spirits, and a fridge stuffed with bottles and cans. The ceiling is cluttered in old pump clips, and the walls display a love of motor racing and aviation. If you’ve ever doubted the appeal of a micropub, this is the one to come to.
The Radius Arms, Whyteleaf, 205 Godstone Road, CR3 0EL
7. The Dodo, Hanwell
Don’t believe dreams can come true? Head to Hanwell and visit Lucy Do, who got the micropub bug after chucking in a career in marketing. Two years later, she opened the Dodo, and it’s gone from strength to strength, even collaborating with the nearby Weird Beard brewery. This is a tiny little pub — you order from your seat to save space — but thoughtfully designed and oh-so friendly. The Dodo has become a community hub, and after a couple of hours spent in the company of Lucy and her partner Alex, you can feel like a part of the Hanwell Massive too. If Crossrail's got you contemplating a move to Hanwell, The Dodo might just seal the deal.
The Dodo, 57 Boston Road, Hanwell, W7 3TR
8. The Hop and Vine, Ruislip
At other end of the high street from the tube station — stroll past the Wimpy and the British Legion — sits perhaps the classiest of London’s micropubs. You can order a cheese board to go with your beer, for goodness' sake. In another age, this would have been a wine bar, maybe even a coffee shop, but today, we'll happily settle for its wide range of gravity beers (buy a growler and take some home) with a couple of keg beers too, as well as bottles and cans. On our visit, the owners had just returned from a holiday: "Welcome back — we missed you!” read a sign on the wall. It’s not just the beer that leaves you with a nice glow here.
The Hop and Vine, 18 High Street, Ruislip, HA4 7AN
9. Little Green Dragon, Winchmore Hill
Named after a long-gone pub down the road, it’s the regulars who make the Little Green Dragon what it is. And there are loads of them — the place was already heaving before the Campaign for Real Ale named it its London Pub of the Year 2018. The pub’s most eye-catching feature is a corner of old bus memorabilia — the owner dusted off a pair of old bus seats to install, and then customers donated artefacts such as flyers for long-gone coach trips to Spurs and Arsenal matches. A cosy little bolthole worth a long bus ride to get to.
Little Green Dragon, 928 Green Lanes, Winchmore Hill, N21 2AD
10. Gidea Park Micropub
Good beer is very much alive here. Our visits have ranged from a busy early evening to a quiet winter’s night — but the bar has never been anything other than welcoming. You can check what beers are available on its online beer board. Board games, dominoes and darts will keep you amused, and pork pies ward off an empty stomach. If you want to take a memento home, you can buy old pump clips with the proceeds going to charity. The local council originally refused permission for this to be converted from an accountants’ office — hopefully they can now see just how wrong they were.
Gidea Park Micropub, 236 Main Road, RM2 5HA
11. Upminster Taproom
Another micropub that overcame opposition from Havering Council (what is going on at that town hall?), the Upminster Tap Room is an excellent reason to jump on a train from Fenchurch Street. Housed in a hut-like building by a petrol station, it doesn’t look like much, but inside you’ll find a beer nirvana. The guv’nor serves you from one of the tables and everybody stops for a chat — on one of our visits, he found himself defending the concept of income tax to one of the regulars. Thankfully the battle he endured to get this place opened hasn’t curdled his good humour and his enjoyment of talking about music. There’s plenty of cider, wine and prosecco on offer too, plus flavoured vodkas. If you’re ever out around the Essex end of the District line, the only way is the Taproom.
Upminster Taproom, 1b Sunnyside Gardens, RM14 3DT
Also worth a mention
The borough of Bexley is the spiritual home of the London micropub. The Door Hinge in Welling was the first, with a back-to-basics, blokey vibe. It was followed by The Penny Farthing in Crayford and The Broken Drum in Blackfen. All are worth a visit, as is the Bexley Brewery’s micropub, the Bird & Barrel at Barnehurst. Elsewhere, opposite Hayes station — the one near Bromley — you’ll find the Real Ale Way, whose folk music nights are as much of a draw as its beer, wine and gin. In Eltham, The Long Pond is a friendly two-room micropub that is hugely popular locally; while over in west London, The Owl and Pussycat — a former children’s bookshop — sells its own beers from the Marko Paulo brewery, which is located behind the bar.
Slightly further afield
Just outside London — but still reachable on an Oyster card — is The Cotton Mill in Swanley, a micropub built out of a converted toilet. If it's sunny, you can sit on the little green outside. There's also a mobile bar for hire, built out of a horsebox. Pushing your Oyster card to the limit, Dorking — right at the end of the 465 bus route — is home to Cobbetts Beer Shop and Micropub, which only seats 12 people but sells a fantastic array of beers to drink in or take away. If you’re keen enough to make it out that far, treat yourself to a day out in Margate, which has plenty of micropubs — the one to definitely visit is the Harbour Arms, in a former fisherman’s hut. Accompany with a cup of whelks.
Not quite micropubs, but definitely microbars
Generally speaking, if you see a row of taps on the wall behind the bar, you’re in a craft beer bar, not a micropub. But a couple do blur the line and again, it’s south London leading the way. The Rusty Bucket in Eltham is converted from a long-closed 'proper' pub, sells both keg and cask, and has modelled itself on how micropubs work.
The cosy Beer Rebellion in Peckham has a similar atmosphere. In Anerley — down the hill from Crystal Palace Park — The Douglas Fir is the Gipsy Hill Brewery’s 'microbar', selling its own and other beers. And The Sympathetic Ear, at the Brixton end of Tulse Hill, is a small but perfectly-formed bar from the Canopy brewery.