Looking for the best pub in Covent Garden? We can categorically say that we've drank in every local boozer over the years. Here, then, are the ten pubs we'd particularly recommend (often for different reasons). They're presented in alphabetical order.
What counts as Covent Garden? For the purposes of this list, we're taking a slightly expanded view of Covent Garden, to include Seven Dials, and using Charing Cross Road, Shaftesbury Avenue, Kingsway and Embankment as our borders. So sue us.
How about Soho? We've got that covered in a separate guide to the 10 best pubs in Soho.
The Coal Hole
Fancy a drink at the Savoy, but can't afford the American Bar? Head to the Coal Hole. This glorious Nicholson's pub is built into the north-western corner and was (reputedly) a coal store for the wider hotel. It's a handsome little devil, with an interior that can't decide if it's medieval, Victorian or Edwardian. The prominent location on Strand, surrounded by theatres, ensures the place is always full, but there's usually room around the back, up in the gallery, or down in the charming basement (when open). The Coal Hole has had plenty of celebrity visitors over the decades, from Gilbert and Sullivan to Richard Harris. Guess which one of them had to be carried out on a stretcher after knocking back too many?
Like this? The art nouveau touches and busy location remind us of the Blackfriar.
The Coal Hole, 91-92 Stand WC2R 0DW
The Craft Beer Co.
In a list that is mostly composed of traditional boozers, we can't leave out the Craft Beer Co. One of a small chain, this thin corner-house was at the vanguard of the craft ale revolution a decade or so ago. It's still going strong and reckons to have the most draught beers and ciders in the UK, with a ditherer's nightmare of 45 different lines (including 15 cask beers). Seated space is at a premium on the ground floor, with a handful of window seats — most people spill outside. But head downstairs for more seating better suited to larger groups.
Like this? Craft beer fans might also consider the nearby BrewDog, which also has a large though mostly home-grown range of drinks, on larger premises.
Craft Beer Co., 168 High Holborn WC1V 7AA
The Cross Keys
Plants. Thousands of them. That's the first impression most people get of this curious timewarp pub on Endell Street. At the height of summer, you're never quite sure if you're walking into a pub, a garden centre or the Ewok village. No doubts are left inside. This is one of the most memorable pub interiors you'll ever see. Or just-about-see. The foliage prevents any intrusion of natural light, and you're left squinting in wonder at the collection of photographs, kitchenware, statuettes, musical instruments and nauticalia that decorate walls and ceiling. There's only really one seat — an epic banquette that tracks two of the pubs walls, attended by traditional round tables. Oh, and it's got a carpet. God, we love this place.
Like this? Mr Fogg's Tavern at the other end of Covent Garden also goes for the 'lots of random stuff dangling from the ceiling' look, but without so much authenticity. For a similarly genuine old-school boozer (with carpet), try the famous Coach and Horses in Soho.
The Cross Keys, 31 Endell Street WC2H 9EB
Gordon's Wine Bar
Never mind that it's called a wine bar, Gordon's *has* to be included in a list like this, for its utterly perfect interior. Best enjoyed in the depths of winter, there is no more cosy spot in the whole of London than a back table at Gordon's by candlelight. We wrote a whole love letter to the place here. Ironically, this snuggest of all bars also happens to have what must be one of the largest "beer garden" in Zone 1. (Only, of course, they don't serve beer.) So, rain or shine, snow or sun, this is one of London's great drinking experiences, and not to be missed.
Like this? You could do something of a local wine bar crawl by popping across the way to Champagne Charlies. It can't hold a candle to Gordon's (which does, in fact, contain a lot of candles), but it's still a decent wine bar in a cosy subterranean setting.
Gordon's Wine Bar, 47 Villiers Street WC2N 6NE
What can we say about the Harp that hasn't already been written? It's not only one of the best pubs in the area, but is also frequently voted among the best in London. Its long-standing reputation depends on its ever-changing and well-kept range of cask ales and ciders — something of a novelty in a pub ran by Fuller's.
It's not the largest of bars and can get quite crowded, but head upstairs for additional seating. The atmosphere is unpretentious, in keeping with the traditional décor – wooden fittings, old portraits on the walls, stained glass windows that can open fully when the weather permits and a sign declaring 'football-free zone' on the back door.
Like this? A short walk into Soho will bring you to the Lyric, which also combines a proper beer range with traditional settings.
The Harp, 47 Chandos Place WC2N 4HS
The Lamb and Flag
Arguably the most famous pub in Covent Garden, the Lamb and Flag is perpetually a-bustle. It's one of those rare pubs that appeals to both tourists and to Londoners. Such are the crowds here that the beautiful interior is sometimes a little tricky to admire. But head upside to the Dryden Room, which usually has a spare seat or two. The booze is good, too, with something like eight draught ales from which to choose, though they're all from the Fuller's range. The food is of the traditional pub grub variety.
Dryden (who a plaque records was once mugged in the adjacent alley) is not the only literary type to have frequented the pub. Its close proximity to Stanford's book and map shop ensures a regular influx of cartographically minded folk following an evening talk (though perhaps less so now the shop has moved a block or two away).
Like this? The Old Coffee House in Soho has a similar vibe, with tourists from Carnaby rubbing shoulders with seasoned locals, and a comparable ye-olde-wood interior.
The Lamb and Flag, 33 Rose Street WC2E 9EB
Phoenix Arts Club
We've restricted this list to 'proper' pubs rather than straying into the territory of bars and clubs... but we can't leave out the Phoenix. It's ostensibly a members' club, cabaret venue and 'secret basement bar', but head down in the early evening and they'll let anyone in. The interior has a pubbish feel to it, with theatrical nicknacks all over the walls and pub-style seating.
This being a theatre bar, it's had some pretty impressive clientele. Patrons have included (according to the website) Princess Michael of Kent, Keira Knightley, Jude Law, David Soul, John Hurt and Janice Dickinson, presumably not all at the same time. Look out for the novelty furnishings, such as theatrical spotlights, decrepit ceiling tiles, and airliner seating.
Like this? The Phoenix is one of a kind, with no comparable spaces nearby.
Phoenix Arts Club, 1 Phoenix Street WC2H 8BU
Welcome to London's largest brass cavern. The interior is a maze of wooden walkways, booths and balconies, with shiny orange piping everywhere that conjures the feel of a ship's engine room. All very lovely, and you'll always find a table, though it's a tricky one to meet mates in. Indeed, the Porterhouse once claimed to be London's largest pub — a boast that's been sunk by a clutch of oversized Brewdogs. The beer menu is also vast. This isn't so much about the kegs and casks — the offering is well above average, but not as well-stocked as, say, the Craft Beer Co. (see above). Instead, it's a near infinite range of bottles that won this place fame. Still, the various tipples from the Porterhouse brewery (in Dublin) are worth exploring, and the oyster stout remains as reliable as ever.
Like this? The Waterloo BrewDog also does the vast, multi-level, exposed ducting thing (even more so) and offers its own large range of beer. They've got a slide, too, which the Porterhouse can't muster.
The Porterhouse, 21-22 Maiden Lane WC2E 7NA
The Punch and Judy
Londoners might raise an eyebrow... this is a pub often left to the tourists... but the Punch and Judy does offer unique charms that justify its inclusion in the list. For one, there's the balcony, up the stairs and overlooking St Paul's Church and the plaza. It's the perfect spot to watch the street performers — and perhaps even a Punch and Judy show, which has its origins in the square. The associated bar is stuck in a weird 80s timewarp and could do with a lick of paint and the attentions of an upholsterer, although it does have a kind of tatterdemalion appeal.
Meanwhile, the cellar bar is all distressed brickwork and cosy corners — an under-appreciated hideaway on a cold winter's day, when the tourist crowds aren't so numerous. It's a Greene King pub, so don't expect any great novelty in the food and drink selection. But there's enough here that it shouldn't all be left to the visitors.
Like this? If you're happy to splash out, the nearby Royal Opera House's Piazza bar also offers balcony views of Covent Garden from five floors up. The snug basement, meanwhile, is admittedly done better by Gordon's Wine Bar, or the Coal Hole (see above).
The Punch and Judy, Covent Garden Piazza WC2E 8RF
You'd bet a shiny tuppence, from the dim wooden interior, that this place is a Sam Smith's pub. In fact, the Salisbury is the best of a bunch of Greene King pubs in the area. The Grade II-listed building exudes Victorian charm, with its cut-glass panels, bronze nymphs, and a moth's ecstasy of shaped-glass lamps. It's so smart, that CAMRA declared it "an historic pub interior of national importance". That's your main reason for visiting the Salisbury. The beer and food are all perfectly serviceable, but nothing exceptional.
Like this? It's not as ornate, but the Chandos at the foot of St Martin's Lane also revels in a cosy interior, with numerous booths and cubby holes to enjoy (head upstairs for the quieter bar). This one is a Sam Smiths, and so lacks a website.
The Salisbury, 90 St Martin's Lane WC2N 4AP