Sam Smith's: the owner of this thrifty pub chain may be an eccentric flouting some very odd rules, but if you're looking for a comely, no thrills London boozer on a budget, these 11 should probably be on your list.
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. So candied with tiles is this gin palace, you kind of want to lick it. The pub's divvied up into various nooks and crannies, and you may have to bide your time for the best perch (or any seat at all), but boy, is it worth it. After draining two or three extra stouts, gentlemen can relieve themselves at the Grade II listed urinals. That's tantamount to being allowed to piss on the BT Tower. A full-on treat of a pub.
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 (no swearing, no music, etc) The Champion is much like many other central London Sam Smith's pubs. What makes it stand out is its stained glass windows. They variously depict Victorian celebrities 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 the glass kaleidoscope dapples your table. As much as we love the nearby All Saints Church, we reckon this pub's windows are better. And its alcoholic offerings stretch further than communion wine.
The Champion, 12-13 Wells Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 3PA
3. The Captain Kidd, Wapping
On a dark and stormy night (so really anytime from October through to April) The Captain Kidd throbs with an almost-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 people who've never been before. Such is the feeling we get at the Cittie of York. Who wouldn't fall for that lofty vaulted ceiling 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. And a pint for under £5 in this part of London — how can you resist? 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 might be better off sourcing lunch from Sainsbury's. But when the weather's decent enough, how can you pass up the bizarre opportunity of slurping Alpine lager outside a olde world Swiss 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
We'd feasted on the George & Vulture's devilled whitebait and steak & kidney pudding before, without ever realising it was a Sam Smith's. This pimped up, restaurant version of the pub chain is something straight out of a Dickens novel, what with its decorative stoves, pristine white tablecloths and City back-alley location. Come here on a winter's lunchtime with a copy of The Pickwick Papers, and feast on steaks, sausages and various stodge — washed down with a bottle of claret. They also cook a Barnsley chop, which we're told is like a chop, but thicker i.e. better.
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 dangling over it, there is something even more antedilluvian 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 we and our drinking companions can see. Whenever we've visited for a quick pint of Taddy lager and a packet of scratchings, we've been the only people in the place. 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 various 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 roast pheasant with blackberry sauce, and woodland mushroom stroganoff. Or just grab a salty bar snack; a nervous bar girl 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, but not a Sam Smith's, so stuff it). When the weather's decent, see if you can secure a spot on the narrow balcony. In stormier conditions, watch the Thames thrash at the windows (genuinely, there's a sign warning you not to open said windows, lest the river cascade in).
The Angel, 101 Bermondsey Wall East, SE16 4NB
10. The Yorkshire Grey, Fitzrovia
Barry Cryer once noted that in the BBC's heyday (Broadcasting House lies round the corner), "I'm going to Studio YG" was code for "I'm going to get pissed down the local". 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, but 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, and a few bottles of oatmeal stout.
The Yorkshire Grey, 46 Langham Street Fitzrovia, W1W 7AX
11. The Anerley Arms, Anerley
In the capital, Sam Smith's focuses most of its efforts on central London, so it's a pleasant surprise to find a member of the chain due south east, in Anerley — something that, we admit, helps get this pub on our list. The Anerley Arms has the usual varnished, woody decor of any decent Sam Smith's boozer — in this case a curved, bar, studded all along the top with stained glass windows. But this place has something that many of London's other Sam Smith's are short on — the feel of a real local.
The Anerley Arms, 2 Ridsdale Road, SE20 8AB
Also read: 11 of the Best Wetherspoons in London