Sam Smith's: the owner of this thrifty pub chain is admittedly an oddball who's strictly banned phones and naughty words from all his establishments. But if you're looking for an atmospheric, old school London boozer on a budget, these 11 pubs probably have what you're looking for. (Just don't Instagram them.)
1. The Princess Louise, Holborn
As far as tiles are concerned, The Princess Louise gives the Alhambra, 19th century Manchester and Topps Tiles a run for their money. In fact, so candied with tiles, chocolate-coloured wood panels and decorative frosted glass is this gin palace, you kind of want to... lick it? (They've probably banned that too.) The pub's divvied up into various nooks and crannies, and you may have to bide your time for the best perch, but boy, is it worth it. After draining two or three extra stouts, gentlemen can relieve themselves at the Grade II listed urinals. How many other artistic masterpieces are you actively encouraged to piss on?
The Princess Louise, 208 High Holborn, WC1V 7EP
2. The Champion, Fitzrovia
With its earthy wood panelling, man-in-a-box lager and puritanical rules, the Champion is much like many other central London Sam Smith's pubs. What makes it stand out from the crowd is its remarkable stained glass windows. They variously depict Victorian celebs including WG Grace, Florence Nightingale and Edward Whymper, the first person to climb the Matterhorn. What a delight to sip a bottle of cherry beer while coloured light from this glass kaleidoscope dapples your table. As much as we love the nearby All Saints Church, we reckon this pub's windows are better.
The Champion, 12-13 Wells Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 3PA
3. The Captain Kidd, Wapping
On a dark and stormy night (so really anytime from September through to April) The Captain Kidd throbs with a delicious sense of foreboding. Snuggle up on a settle (or if it's crowded, huddle round a barrel) and watch the grey ooze of the Thames out of the window. It'll transport you back to a time of pirates and smugglers, and — after a couple of pints of cider — it's easy enough to imagine a galleon full of cutthroats and scallywags sailing by. The patio, also overlooking the river, is wonderful in the summer too.
The Captain Kidd, 108 Wapping High Street, E1W 2NE
4. Cittie of Yorke, Chancery Lane
Certain boozers give you a swell of pride as you introduce them to newbies. Such is the feeling we get at the Cittie of York. Who wouldn't fall for that lofty vaulted ceiling that's like the nave of a church? Who wouldn't swoon at those confessional box-like booths with their miniature palladian windows, ideal for indulging in clandestine drinking sessions? If they're full, the cellar bar, with its 'In Vino Veritas' legend writ across the door, will do the trick. We are, we admit, sad that those gargantuan barrels kept behind the bar are presumably empty.
Cittie of York, 22 High Holborn, WC1V 6BN
5. Ye Olde Swiss Cottage, Swiss Cottage
If you stretch the truth a little, then here's the only Sam Smith's pub that gives its name to a tube station. There is nothing particularly outstanding about the Swiss Cottage on the inside — indeed, if you're to believe some of the food reviews on TripAdvisor, you're better off sourcing lunch from the nearby Sainsbury's. But when the weather's decent, how can you pass up the unique opportunity of slurping Alpine lager outside a mustard-hued olde world chalet from a north London traffic island, while watching National Expresses chug by?
Ye Olde Swiss Cottage, 98 Finchley Road, NW3 5EL
6. The George & Vulture, Bank
The most unique Sam Smith's 'pub' in London isn't really a pub at all; with its darkened dining rooms heated by decorative stoves, pristine white tablecloths, and waiters shepherding about humungous steaks and pies, this is something straight out of a Dickens novel. No really, the George & Vulture literally is out of a Dickens novel — it features in The Pickwick Papers, and is possibly the 'melancholy tavern' Scrooge eats in just before he receives the haunting of a lifetime in A Christmas Carol. The prices are steeper than your average Sam Smith's but then this isn't your average Sam Smith's. Come for a special occasion to feast on sausages, offal and various stodge, washed down with a bottle of claret.
The George & Vulture, 3 Castle Court, EC3V 9DL
7. The Crown and Sugarloaf, Fleet Street
Nestled in a lamp-lit corner off Fleet Street, with the spire of St Brides looming over it, there is something even more antediluvian about the Crown and Sugarloaf than its other Sam Smith's peers. In fact, we can't help but feel it's a ghost pub — one that only manifests itself when you seek it out. Certainly, whenever we've visited for a quick pint of Taddy lager and a packet of scratchings, we've been the first people in. Understated this pub may seem, yet the mosaic floor, veined marble counter top and gin palace mirrors, make it one of the most unspoilt pubs in central London.
The Crown and Sugarloaf, 26 Bride Lane, EC4Y 8DT
8. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street
The bouquet of history smacks you round the chops the moment you step into this 17th century boozer (or maybe that's the smoking curling off the open fire). On a chilly winter's eve, there are few places in the city we'd rather frequent than this swarthy, multi-layered drinking den. Order a stout at the front room bar, and descend through the labyrinthine levels of the pub, picking up sawdust on the bottom of your shoes as you go. For restaurant-quality food, The Chop Room offers cockle-warming braised pheasant with bacon, and puds drowned in custard. Or just grab a salty bar snack; a rookie barmaid, and self-proclaimed inexperienced-cutter-of-huge-pork-pies, once accidentally cut us the heftiest hunk you've ever set eyes on. It remains one of the best days of our lives.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, 145 Fleet Street, EC4A 2BU
9. The Angel, Bermondsey
An unexpected but welcome premonition to the thrifty drinker, the Angel appears on the banks of the Thames shortly after passing through the gentrified stretch of Shad Thames. It makes a tempting stop-off for many a person en route to the Mayflower in Rotherhithe (a far prettier pub, with better beer, so make sure you visit that too). When the weather's decent, see if you can secure a spot on the Angel's narrow balcony. In sqaullier conditions, watch the Thames thrash at the windows (genuinely, there's a sign warning you not to open them, lest the river cascades in).
The Angel, 101 Bermondsey Wall East, SE16 4NB
10. The Yorkshire Grey, Fitzrovia
The great Barry Cryer once noted that in the BBC's heyday, "I'm going to Studio YG" was code for "I'm going to get pissed down the local". (Broadcasting House is seconds away, round the corner.) We come in here every once in a while, hopeful of seeing Alan Partridge pitch to an exasperated BBC exec. In the meantime, we're satisfied enough perching on a stool and watching the comings and goings of this pint-sized, often bustling, Samuel Smith's. Not as lavish as the Princess Lou, or grand as the Cittie of Yorke, the Yorkshire Grey exudes a cosiness, no doubt helped by the roaring fireplace, a few bottles of oatmeal stout, and the slight chance of running into David Attenborough.
The Yorkshire Grey, 46 Langham Street Fitzrovia, W1W 7AX
11. Town Wharf, Isleworth
This multi-tiered pub on the banks of the Thames is similar in format to the Ye Olde Swiss Cottage; the big difference is it has the picturesque backdrop of Isleworth, surely one of London's prettiest towns. Sit out on the decking for more than a couple of minutes and you'll also notice another of the Town Wharf's unique features — it sits directly beneath a Heathrow flight path. Order in a cheap round of drinks, download a flight tracker app, and watch London's tourism trade in full swing.
Town Wharf, Swan Street, Isleworth TW7 6RJ