The Best 9 Pubs Near The South Bank And Waterloo

By M@ Last edited 10 months ago

Last Updated 26 July 2023

The Best 9 Pubs Near The South Bank And Waterloo
A map showing nine excellent pubs in the Waterloo and Southbank area of London
Map via Google MyMaps

You'd think the South Bank would be replete with good pubs overlooking the Thames. In fact, there are only two on the riverside that you could really call a pub (Doggett's and the Understudy) and one of those is edging towards bar territory. But head a few streets back from the river and there are treasures to be found. The wider area has a good mix of traditional boozers and modern craft beer dispensaries, often a bit hidden away.

Your author has drank in every pub in this area on multiple occasions, and the following list reflects his personal take. The area covered strays a little from the South Bank proper, but is loosely bounded by Westminster Bridge and Blackfriars Bridge, and south to Lower Marsh and The Cut.

The list below is presented in alphabetical order. Happy drinking!

See also:
The Best Pubs in Soho
The Best Pubs in Covent Garden

Brewdog Waterloo

Inside Brewdog Waterloo

London's largest pub? It has to be a contender. If you can call it a pub, that is. It could be classed as a bar or restaurant or, with that helter-skelter in the background, even a funfair.

The clincher for us is the beer choice. As with all Brewdogs, the ale selection is vast, mostly drawn from the brewery's own tipples. Not everyone's a fan of the company, but it's hard to argue that they don't do good beer.

The venue's in a very odd place. Approaching from Waterloo station, you have to go through the still-half-empty (at time of writing) Sidings shopping centre, where the footfall is limited. More potential punters come from the western side, where the popular Leake Street graffiti tunnel offers passing trade.

It's just about possible to order from the bar (we had to holler to get attention). The 'done thing' is to order from your table via QR or app. Such is the inexorable direction of 2020s drinking.

Like this: Brewdog's other mega-pub near Tower Hill is based on the same proposition, although without the helter-skelter.

Brewdog Waterloo, The Sidings SE1 7BH

Vaulty Towers

Vaulty Towers door sign

Another venue that straddles the line between bar and pub, Vaulty Towers on Lower Marsh sets itself apart as the area's best live entertainment pub. They do everything here, from regular comedy, DJ sets and blues nights to life drawing classes and a riotous take on the pub quiz. Every corner of the bar is decorated with theatrical salvage. It's bonkers. Vaulty Towers's offbeat name is the least of its eccentricities.

Menus are similarly playful. Currently, it's all about the wontons and mochi ice cream, but they change things round regularly. Drinks are also eclectic with their own take on a cocktail menu, a range of craft beers, wines, whiskies and a whole heap of gin.

Like this? The Camel and Artichoke on the other side of the road competes for quirkiest name, and is more of a 'proper pub' (plus beer garden).

Vaulty Towers, 34 Lower Marsh SE1 7RG

Doggett's Coat and Badge

The beer garden of Doggett's Coat and Badge pub beside Blackfriars Bridge on the South Bank

Ah, Doggett's. It's been around as long as anyone can remember, propping up the western side of Blackfriars Bridge with its thick brutalist walls. Don't expect anything to be sleek, modern or overly impressive. This is a down-to-earth traditional Nicholson's boozer, with nothing that'll trouble a beer-lover's eyebrow. (On our latest visit, they had little more than Pride.)

And yet there's something about the place that's endeared it to generations of Londoners and visitors. Perhaps it's the beer garden, which is relatively spacious compared to most central venues, and has a covered conservatory for grimmer weather. Or perhaps its the multi-storey drinking options. The two upper bars, when open, offer decent views of the Thames and a quiet perch away from the bustle of the downstairs bar (which disgorges directly onto the busy riverside walk). The pub's named after an historic river race, whose winner is presented with a coat and badge. Like the boats that compete in that race, Doggett's isn't the handsomest vessel on the river, but it's still a champ on its own terms.

Like this? Wander across the bridge to find an alternative — and far more beautiful — Nicholson's pub in the art nouveau shape of the Blackfriar.

Doggett's Coat and Badge, 1 Blackfriars Bridge SE1 9UD

The Hole in the Wall

The back bar of the Hole in the Wall, Waterloo with a pint of ale on the table

It doesn't look much from the outside, but the HitW is a much-loved local gem. The timeless pub has been here, in the Waterloo arches, since just after the second world war. It's notionally an Irish bar with a plenitude of Guinness taps and regular live music from the Emerald Isle, but otherwise the Irish vibes are low-key and the place just feels like a very good old-fashioned pub.

Part of the appeal is the beer range. As an independent, the Hole sources an ever-changing range of casks with six pumps a-go-go. And you can still get a pint for under a fiver — increasingly rare in zone 1. The action's split over two bars — the very old-school front bar and the more chilled back bar. There's also a contender for London's smallest beer garden out the back.

All of the above would be enough to win the Hole a place on this list, but it has another ace up its sleeve. Sitting beneath the viaduct to Charing Cross, you get a near-constant rumble from overhead trains, loud enough to shake the furniture. It all makes for a ludicrously characterful drink.

Like this? The Wellington, just across Waterloo Road, is another traditional pub with an arched ceiling, enlivened by the rumble of nearby trains. The mural of the British Army firing on the French made this pub a lot more interesting when the Eurostar used to stop next door. For an another good local Irish pub, try the Crown and Cushion on Westminster Bridge Road.

The Hole in the Wall, 5 Mepham Street SE1 8SQ

The Kings Arms

The Kings Arms waterloo with people stood outside

Oh, the memories we've got in this place. The Kings Arms is easily the best local in the Waterloo area. Its timeless interior is a perfect match for the movie-set surroundings of Roupell Street. The place has always been busy, but now even more so thanks to increased attention from the Instagram generation. After snapping away at the roofline and classic cars of Roupell Street, they're finding this traditional pub is just as photogenic. One of the finest cask selections in the area, too.

We distinctly remember coming here in the final years of the 20th century and being blown away to find that this traditional pub had — of all things — a Thai restaurant built into its rear conservatory. Such things would become commonplace in the following years, but it felt very special at the time. The Thai kitchen's still there and, by all accounts, still impressing new customers.

Like this? The street with the arch in the photo is Windmill Walk. Follow it to its other end and turn left on The Cut to find the Anchor and Hope, which is the area's most gastro-y of gastropubs.

The Kings Arms, 25 Roupell Street SE1 8TB

The Mulberry Bush

Inside the Young's pub the Mulberry Bush, with a shot centered on the bar with a prominent red column to left

It won't take long to go round this Mulberry Bush. The long-standing Young's pub is a pint-sized option, but one that packs a lot in. The main room is a hotch-potch of different table styles and seating, with a couple of cosy corners for those planning a session. A back conservatory space is more roomy than it first appears. And you can always spill out onto the front if it gets busy.

The pub is a bit quieter these days, since the adjacent ITV studios closed down, robbing the pub of an almost literal captive audience. One street back from the riverside, it gets far less passing trade than, say, Doggett's. But that's in the drinker's favour, as you're more likely to find a comfortable table from which to enjoy your Young's ale. A good all-rounder, this one.

Like this? Another backstreet, good all-rounder is the White Hart over on Cornwall Road.

The Mulberry Bush, 89 Upper Ground SE1 9PP

Prince William Henry

The beer garden of the Prince William Henry on Blackfriars Road

We're straying just over the border into an area that might better come under our Bankside list, but it's worth it. The Prince William Henry is one of the more eccentric pubs in the area with a layout that defies easy description. First comes a sizeable beer garden that features a fake red phone kiosk and a random set of stocks. Next comes a kind of lean-to conservatory with ample seating. And then the bar itself; a low-key 1970s affair for most of its run, but with a snug library corner that seems to have been imported from a different pub. All very unorthodox, but endearingly so.

The beer is all-keg with a pronounced favouritism for Beavertown tipples (four or five strains, which go beyond the ubiquitous Gamma Ray and Neck Oil).

Incidentally, the pub's named after King William IV who, pre-crown, went by the name of Prince William Henry. We're not sure why it took this name, given it was the Noah's Ark until 1975, but there we go.

Like this? The nearby Lord Nelson on Union Street has a very similar vibe - named after a Georgian-era celebrity, built into an unpromising 70s building, and with an eccentric interior.

The Prince William Henry, 216-219 Blackfriars Road SE1 8NL.

The Understudy

A half pint of craft ale on a wooden table in the understudy bar at the national theatre

Est. 2014 declares the neon sign behind the bar. It's hardly hoary, but The Understudy already feels like a dependable old friend on the South Bank. It's part of the National Theatre complex, but has the vibe of an independent craft brewery. Large tanks line the southern wall, while the dozen or so keg lines feed in liquid magic from local breweries (Gipsy Hill seems particularly well represented).

The interior is stripped-back functional, with the theatre's customary concrete walls and basic wooden furniture. It's always elevated, though, by the background music, which on our most recent visit ranged from Joni Mitchell, Elliott Smith and The Shins. In the summer, the extensive outdoor seating is quickly snapped up. It's pretty special that you can get such a sturdy range of craft ales right here on the riverside, where any old mainstream beer could sell well.

Like this? The other local craft haven, Beer Hawk, closed in early 2023, so head west to our final choice below...

The Understudy, north-eastern corner of National Theatre, SE1 9PX

The Waterloo Tap

Inside the Waterloo Tap. A fairly empty bar, with beer choice on a blackboard menu

If you're looking for a quiet, warm, cosy pub, then don't come here. The Tap is all big windows and perchy bar stools, with a constant din from passing crowds and overhead trains. That said, it's not without some visual charm, built into an old brick railway arch. The main draw here is the beer. With 26 lines, both cask and keg, it has the largest choice in the area (and one of the largest in town), including both household-name beers and obscure imports.

The venue itself is pretty small, but long bench-tables outside provide a sizebale drinking footprint.Hard to resist if you're walking towards your train at Waterloo.

Like this? Try sister pub the Farringdon Tap. It has a similar selection of beer, and nestles under Holborn Viaduct. Also, the more famous Euston Tap, which sits within one of the old entrance buildings to Euston Station.

The Waterloo Tap, Sutton Walk SE1 8RL

All images by Matt Brown