A London Bar Crawl for Discerning Drinkers
Though known worldwide for its plentiful pubs, London excels in all forms of drinking establishments from Dickensian watering holes to world class cocktail lounges.
London is known worldwide to be a drinking town, and it’s one that likes to do so in public. This proclivity dates back to the Industrial Revolution when drinking became a social activity outside of prescribed working hours and outside of cramped living quarters. What this means for visitors is that they can easily take part.
The key to getting the most from your drinking experience—and actually your entire London experience—is to release this city on the Thames from its past. Yes, a major draw for visiting the U.K. is the fairy tale aspects of kings and queens and dark medieval alleyways, but London is also a global, modern city, which excels in all forms of drinking establishments from Dickensian watering holes to world class cocktail lounges. Here’s a standout list to get you started, spread over a day and a second evening.
After spending your morning sightseeing (Big Ben! Tate Modern! Borough Market! London Bridge!), head far east to this brewery/pizzeria/craft beer venue that’s the epitome of the reclamation of East London by hipsters, who are pushing deep into the boundaries of this vast city. Reclamation is evident in the furnishings, too: salvaged ladders have been up-cycled into seating and and rusty bed springs into light fixtures. This is no quaint, local pub. Beer is definitely on the menu but it’s their own, brewed visibly on site. Also on tap is a curated selection from other craft breweries. Suds of this sort are a recent development in the U.K., which had been restricted to what the big-time, industrial breweries offered at the pubs they owned. While embracing this drinking freedom, enjoy one of Crate’s hand-rolled pizza with toppings as creative as the warehouse space itself, such as Indian dahl with Greek yoghurt and sliced bananas. If it’s not raining sit outside along the River Lea and soak in new, young London. Bitesee Tip: You can take a tour of the brewery if organized in advance.
Unit 7, Queens Yard, Hackney Wick, London E9 5EN
0208 533 3331
Sun-Thu noon until 11pm, Fri-Sat noon until midnight
A journey back into the center of London is also a journey back in time when you enter the ornate Victorian interior of this traditional pub. Built in 1872, the Princess Louise is a warren of dark wood, glittery mirrors, and colorful tiling and stained glass. A series of semi-private drinking cubbies, originally created to maintain social divisions, radiate out from a central island bar, which pours a line-up of beers from the Yorkshire Samuel Smith Brewery, in bottles and on draft. If you time it right and you’ll mingle with the crowds coming from work and nearby academic institutions and feel the vibrant hustle of a real pub. If you’re looking for a quieter, more intimate experience, walk down to the nearby and smaller The Angel (61 St Giles High Street), which also has divided drinking areas with separate entrances. Also owned by Samuel Smith, it offers the same line-up of beers and food–pub classics, such as savory pies and fish and chips.
208 High Holborn, London, WC1V 7EP
0207 405 8816
Mon-Fri 11am-11pm; Saturdays Noon-11pm; Sunday Noon-6:45pm
This day ends with an evening tour of a distillery in the most unlikely of locations with the most likely of spirits. Sipsmith Distillery is located on a quiet, residential street in the tony West London neighborhood of Chiswick, and the spirit produced is gin, a high-octane tipple that is tightly linked to London’s history. Londoners are rediscovering their heritage distillate, and several urban micro-distilleries have popped up in recent years. Sipsmith was one of the first, in 2009. Sipsmith’s tour is an excellent, entertaining way to get reacquainted with this spirit and newly acquainted with Sipsmith’s “ladies,” three distinctive copper stills, Prudence, Patience, and Constance. Cocktails and samples of their different gins are included in tour, along with information on the basics of distilling and London’s gin-soaked history. Reservations are necessary. Afterwards eat dinner on Chiswick High Road (on some Tuesdays, the tour includes a special gin dinner), and then enjoy a nightcap at the pub next to wherever you are staying. Just be sure to get there before 11pm when most drinking establishments close.
83 Cranbrook Road, Chiswick, London W4 2LJ
0208 747 0753
Mon/Wed/Thu evenings at 6:30–8pm or select Fridays from 4:30pm – 6pm
40 Maltby Street
For sure Britain’s native drink is ale, but the the Brits have a strong appreciation for wine, too, and have historically influenced the global wine trade (see port and sherry). Thus, a wine bar in London should be no surprise. In a sparse but cozy spot, built into disused railroad arches in a section of London that until not long ago was characterized by abandoned warehouses, is where you will find 40 Maltby Street. Opened by Raef Hodgson, the son of parents who started legendary London spots, Neal’s Yard Dairy and Monmouth Coffee shop. Like his parents, Raef has a singular culinary vision: wines from small producers who do not use fertilizers or pesticides. The selection by the glass is hand-written each night on a chalkboard. On another are the hip bistro food offerings, French inspired but with an English sensibility and seasonality, such as smoked eel with new potatoes and horseradish. It can get crowded so come early to spend an evening under the arches.
40 Maltby Street
40 Maltby Street, London SE1 3PA
0207 237 9247
Wed, Thu 5:30-10pm, Friday 12:30-2:30pm, 5:30-10pm, Saturday 11am-10pm, Sunday 11am-5pm (Food service varies)
The American Bar
Why bother crossing the Thames from 40 Maltby Street for a bar that hardly sounds English? The answer is simple: The American Bar is one of the best cocktail bars, not only in London but in the world. Its art deco setting off the main lobby of The Savoy hotel enchants with an elegance of yore. But the experience is far from stuffy. The on-point hospitality is of the sort that makes everyone feel welcome and happy. Although it is renowned for preserving classic cocktails during American Prohibition and creating new ones, such as the Hanky Panky, its current line-up of cocktails, which take guests on a potable journey from the south of Britain to the north, have a hint of whimsy. With such a British focus, why the foreign name? It dates back to the 19th century when bars identified themselves as serving American-style drinks, which we now call cocktails. Yes, the drinks are expensive but with them you get a serving of history, elegance, and bowls of delightful snacks.
The American Bar
The Savoy, Strand, London WC2R 0EU
0207 836 4343
Mon-Sat 11:30a-midnight, Sundays noon-midnight