We all have an opinion about London's best pubs. But what is the most famous? Which pub, among the many thousands, is known to the most people all over the world?
The question actually has more nuance than we at first assumed. Many factors can make a pub famous, including a prominent location, notoriety and crime links, historic interiors or sheer Instagrammability.
So what is London's most famous pub?
Most famous pubs, by public vote
"What's London's most famous pub?" we asked on both Facebook and Twitter. The results poured forth, like beer from a leaky cask. Here we present the top 10 suggestions as voted for by Londonist readers. Remember, this is a poll of what we perceive to be "most popular", not necessarily "the best".
10. The Coach and Horses, Soho
The most famous pub in London's most-famous centre of hedonism, the Coach and Horses is a surprisingly laid-back affair, and one of the few central pubs where you'll still find a carpet. Its reputation rests on its legendary former landlord, Norman Balon, famed for his foul-mouthed directness (his memoirs are called "You're Barred, You Bastards"). Under Balon's 60-year tenure, the pub became a regular drinking spot of journalists, including the much mythologised Jeffrey Bernard, which helped spread its name far beyond its own drinking circle. Not to be confused with the Johnny-come-lately Coach and Horses one block away on Old Compton Street. 42 votes
9. The Old Bull and Bush, Hampstead
A fine old pub half way between Golders Green and Hampstead. It's perhaps a bit too swanky and gastro (not to mention out of the way) to be super famous these days, but it got a high vote thanks to people remembering "the good old days", whatever those were. The pub gets a tiny bit of additional fame, thanks to its associations with a never-opened ghost station. Oddly, the nearby Spaniard's Inn got very few mentions. 43 votes.
8. The 10 Bells, Spitalfields
An attractive, always bustling pub. It would always score highly, given its proximity to Spitalfields Market and Brick Lane. Its inclusion in the list, though, mostly reflects its associations with Jack the Ripper (Mary Kelly, the last known victim, was drinking here shortly before her death). It won't be the last pub to make this list thanks to horrific connections. 55 votes.
=7. The Punch and Judy, Covent Garden
This one might come as a surprise to many Londoners, but the Punch and Judy is immensely well known among out-of-towners. Its location slap bang in the middle of Covent Garden market makes it a tourist favourite, and hence it got a large vote from that contingent. 57 votes.
=7. The George, Borough High Street
Almost always referred to as "London's last remaining galleried coaching inn", the George rivals Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese (see below) as central London's most atmospheric old pub. The location so close to London Bridge station and Borough Market guarantee it a large footfall. Despite being only mid-table in our reader poll, the AI interface ChatGPT reckons this is one of the four most famous pubs in London (see below for the others). 57 votes.
5. The Churchill Arms, Notting Hill
The one with all the foliage and lights. This is the pub which prompted this article. It is incredibly well known among Instagramers thanks to the overabundance of hanging baskets (and Christmas trees in the season). Its unique appearance has also seen the Churchill appear prominently in most tourist guides. But this Fuller's house may be a mystery to Londoners who aren't in those demographics. 60 votes.
4. The World's End, Camden Town
Frequented by generations of music lovers, the World's End has to be London's most famous live music pub. The venue's roots go back centuries, so it has historical credentials, to boot. The nearby Good Mixer and Hawley Arms had their turns in the spotlight, but the World's End keeps on chugging through the decades. 86 votes.
3. The Prospect of Whitby, Wapping
A lovely old riverside pub, downstream of the main tourist flow, but historic enough to draw a crowd. You'll find it in tourist guides, but it doesn't have a particularly touristy buzz, thanks again to its out-of-centre location. ChatGPT ranks it as one of the four most-famous pubs in London. 122 votes.
2. The Blind Beggar, Whitechapel
The Blind Beggar is a decent, down-to-earth pub with an excellent beer garden and gigantic koi carp. But we all know what it's really famous for. In 1966 Ronnie Kray walked into the bar and shot Georgie Cornell in the head. More than half a century on, the continual grim fascination with the Krays has ensured its survival when many other traditional East End boozers have waned. This place also seems to be particularly well known among non-Londoners. 134 votes.
1. Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, Fleet Street
The rickety old Cheese is ancient, rebuilt immediately after the Great Fire of 1666. Everyone has visited, from Dickens to Johnson to a baby elephant. We defy you to find a single tourist guide to London (from any century) that doesn't sing the praises of this timeless old pub — even ChatGPT reckons it's one of the four most-famous. 149 votes
Most famous pubs in London: our verdict
The publicly voted list above is a good approximation, but it's missing a few very obvious biggies. Using a little editorial judgment, we'd like to add the following:
The Anchor, Bankside
Yes, we'd rather be drinking at the Prospect of Whitby too, but surely... surely... The Anchor is the more famous riverside pub. It could hardly get more footfall, positioned roughly midway between Borough Market and Tate Modern. It must be passed by millions of tourists (and Londoners) each year, quite a few of whom pop inside. The same goes for several other pubs along this stretch, but the Anchor has the historical chops that get it into all the guidebooks. This would be our pick as London's most famous pub.
Lamb and Flag, Covent Garden
The winning combo of being very centrally placed and extremely old and historic should promote the Lamb and Flag to the A-list of London's best-known pubs. ChatGPT agrees, listing it alongside the Cheese, the George and the Prospect as one of London's four most famous pubs. Despite being a little on the small side, it somehow finds room for all-comers, which include tourists and Londoners in something like equal measure. Top tip: head upstairs for an oft-quieter space.
The Blackfriar, Blackfriars
The Blackfriar is noted for its eccentric monk-infused decor and rare (in London) art nouveau architecture. It's not the largest pub in town, but the open space out front allows for many more drinkers in warmer/dryer months. They flock in high numbers thanks to inclusion in just about every guide book, as well as a strong word-of-mouth reputation. Plus, it's a bit of a commuters' pub, thanks to its proximity to Blackfriars station.
The Royal Vauxhall Tavern
It's been London's most famous gay bar for as long as anyone can remember, certainly since the second world war. The RVT's fame also rests on its long tradition of live performance, and particularly drag acts. This is the place where Lily Savage quipped "They've come to help with the washing up," when police raided the pub wearing rubber gloves. It is now Grade-II listed in recognition of its importance to the LGBT+ community.
The Leaky Cauldron, Diagon Alley
London's most famous fictional pub is likely to be this wizarding hang-out from the Harry Potter series. It's located on Diagon Alley, whose location is a bit of a mystery to us muggles. However, the movie version of Half-Blood Prince places it just off Charing Cross Road, just here.
The Angel, Islington
Today, it's an indifferent Wetherspoons on the wrong site, but the traditional Angel was a famous landmark, as one of the main coaching inns on the approach to London. It found much, much wider fame, though, when it was chosen as one of the three maroon properties on the UK Monopoly board.
The Queen Vic, Walford
Another immensely well-known fictional pub, the watering hole from Eastenders is pretty much universally known among Brits, even those who've never visited London. We reckon the Leaky Cauldron would Expelliarmus it out of the water for international fame, however.
The question "What is London's most famous pub?" was interpreted on social media in different ways, with many answers highlighting pubs that are famous in certain circles, rather than to the population at large. We've included most of them below, in alphabetical order.
The Admiral Duncan, Soho: The famed gay pub, which sadly reached wider cognisance in 1999 after a fatal bomb attack.
The Archway Tavern: Historically one of north London's most famous pubs. It fell on hard times in recent years, changing name and owners several times, but has now reopened.
The Captain Kidd, Wapping: Perhaps the most touristy of the (all excellent) Wapping riverside pubs.
The Coal Hole, Strand: Atmospheric Strand pub with lots of passing trade.
The Cutty Sark, Greenwich: Best of the Greenwich riverside pubs, though surely not as famous as the Trafalgar?
The Dove, Hammersmith: Excellent riverside pub claiming to have London's smallest bar.
Dublin Castle, Camden Town: One of London's most famous small-gig venues.
The Eagle, Clerkenwell: Famous among foodies as "Britain's first gastropub".
The Elephant and Castle: The modern-day pub is the latest of several. The original gave its name to the area, hence it has a sort of big fame.
Faltering Fullback, Stroud Green: Not 'famous' among everyone, but draws pub connoisseurs from all over London.
The French House, Soho: A slightly cliquey, slightly quirky Soho institution where you can't order pints.
The Garrick Arms, Covent Garden: A theatre-going favourite in the heart of the West End.
The Globe, Baker Street: Heaving sports pub opposite Baker Street station, attracts many fans on the way to Wembley.
The Harp, Covent Garden: Multi-award winning real/craft ale pub very close to Trafalgar Square. Super-famous among beer fans, less famous among the wider population.
Hope and Anchor, Islington: Its fame has perhaps waned, but in the 80s, this pub was well known for its punk and pub rock scene.
The Lyric, Soho: One of the best craft ale pubs in London, right in the centre.
The Mayflower, Rotherhithe: A must-see for visiting Americans, given its connections to the pilgrim-conveying ship.
The Nag's Head, Peckham: Another fictional pub, from Only Fools and Horses (although it has since inspired a real pub of that name).
Ye Olde Mitre, Holborn: Usually billed as London's hardest to find pub. It isn't; but it is very charming and olde worlde.
The Plumber's Arms, Belgravia: Another pub notorious for its criminal connections, in this case Lord Lucan.
The Pride of Spitalfields: Caught in a timewarp bubble where it's still the 50s (1950s/1850s, nobody's sure).
Red Lion, Parliament Street: Once frequented by MPs, the historic pub now gets most of its trade from tourists.
St Stephen's Tavern, Westminster: The closest pub to the Houses of Parliament.
The Salisbury, Covent Garden: Punches above its West End rivals thanks to a glorious interior.
The Seven Stars, Lincoln's Inn: Glorious old pub in the legal quarters. Hardly London's most famous, but among its most charming.
The Sherlock Holmes, Charing Cross: Central location, plus well-known literary connection = kerching.
The Ship, Wardour Street: Another bustling Soho boozer.
Skehans, Nunhead: Regular award-winning Irish pub, famous amongst beer cognoscenti.
Spaniard's Inn, Hampstead: Fantastic ye olde pub on Hampstead Heath with spurious Dick Turpin connections.
The Star Tavern, Belgravia: Famous as the pub where the Great Train Robbery was planned.
The Stranger's Bar, Houses of Parliament: Not exactly famous, (it's for HoP staff and their guests only) but it's a bar where many an important conversation has taken place and, hence, one of London's most influential drinking spots.
Thomas a Becket, Old Kent Road: A watering hole has stood here since medieval times, and renewed fame came in the 20th century as a boxing venue. Sadly, the grand old building seems to change hands every few years and is no longer a pub.
The Winchester, Crouch End: "Let's go to the Winchester, have a nice cold pint, and wait for this all to blow over." Shaun of the Dead pub. Got 67 votes in our FB poll — though perhaps for the fun of the suggestion than because it's truly the most famous.
The Winchester Club, Notting Hill: Fictional pub from Minder which, for the benefit of younger readers, was an insanely popular comedy-drama of the 1980s.
The White Horse, Parson's Green: A bit out of the way for most Londoners and tourists, but earns its fame thanks to its 90s nickname of The Sloany Pony.
The World's End, King's Road: Originally from the 17th century, this pub gave its name to a whole corner of Chelsea.
All images by Matt Brown, who has drank in every (non-fictional) pub in this list!