I remember several years ago speaking with a fellow from London about the traditional British pub. He told me about "real ales" and also mentioned something about corporations taking over the pub scene. While researching pubs in London I began noticing the same menu's at many different locations and finally stumbled on the Taylor Walker brand. I really don't want to waste time while there so I'm wondering if there are any other pub conglomerates that I need to steer clear of?
Taylor Walker is indeed a Pub chain, Nicholson and JD Weatherspoons are also well known chains. There are also several other groups that own many pubs, but feature the name less prominently, so you might think of them as an independent pub. To a degree you can include Brewery owned or sponsored pubs like Fullers, Young's, or Samuel Smith's; but that is somewhat different.
As for avoiding the chain pubs, I am not sure it is sound advice. They have taken over many landmark pubs, offer good service and good beer. Even the food can be decent, except the menus are common among the pubs and some items likely prepared off-site and heated on-site (Meat pies, veal or lamb shanks), but many independent Pubs do the same. Overall, you can have a good experience. In particular, the Fuller's pubs have excellent food, very high quality, and are in some very historic places.
As for beer, you mentioned "real ales", ten years ago that was more of a selling point, but now, any decent pub has 4 to 6 cask ales on tap, the better ones 10 to 20. You will know a cask ale by the beer "engine" at the bar where they have to "pull" the beer up from a cask. I do find most traditional ales to have a high level of "sameness" (A Bitter, a Brown, a Golden ale..) all middle range in flavor, hops, and malt....maybe even "boring" if you typically drink a variety of American Microbrews. It used to be the only other alternative brews were rather bland lagers or a standard cider, but British microbrews and craft ciders have taken off, so take a look at some of the other taps. If I were to pick my favorite beer bar in London, it would be the Harp near Covent Garden, but there are many historic pubs worth a visit, regardless of who operates them.
Have you researched going to Historic Pubs? I am going to London this year, so I am going to do that and have a list of places to go to. Have you looked at the RS London book to see if he lists any good pubs?
It's true about corporate takeover of many pubs but don't avoid them as you'll miss such fabulous pubs as the Blackfriars.
One pub I enjoy that , as of November 2016, hadn't been taken over was the Princess of Prussia. Use fancyapint and beerintheevening websites to find a pub to your liking.
especially the goat....
You will find in London and indeed, in most places in the UK, that most pubs are owned by pub chains and breweries, as individuals can't afford the high costs of buying the prooerty or paying the rent. A pub in central London is likely to cost over £1,000,000. No-one makes any money on selling beer these days, as the miney is in the food.
There are a few real ale pubs around- check out Camra (Campaign for Real Ale) to see if there are any close to where you will be visiting.
There are some good chain pubs around.
plus "wine for the ladies"
or a tiny bottle of Babycham. Had a Bambi on the label, didn't it?
Thank you all for the excellent information!
And thank you, Emma, for my morning laugh.
Any suggestions on pubs not to miss? So far, I have a short list of pubs that are in areas I will already be in, so I plan to pop in for a quick one. Any opinions on these?
The Churchill Arms
The Admiral Codrington
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese
The Jerusalem Tavern
Jerusalem Tavern is wonderful but tiny. There are loads of great pubs in London. Among my favourites are The Kings Arms on Roupell Street, The Blackfriar, the Old Mitre by Ely Place, The Cittie of Yorke on Holborn (though that's Sam Smiths which is ropey beer) and The Old Bank of England on Strand. It's the sign of a misspent middle age that I could go on for ages.
I take exception to the idea that real ales are a bit samey. They are not, but often in busy city-centre pubs they are not particularly well stored or served (there is often not enough time to tap them properly or they can't retain areally good cellarman). That can lead to a loss if flavour. That isn't a problem at most of these, but in particular the Fullers pubs and The Jerusalems
...Jerusalem Tavern serve very good beer.
Sorry, accidentally pressed 'submit' too soon.
The Churchill Arms is a Fuller Pub. The beers and food are good.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese - I thought was ok, but in my opinion a little touristy.
The Jerusalem Tavern - good beer and not to pricey.
Emma, it would be the Windmill on Mill St.
All, thank you very much for the suggestions! I'm researching and plotting on the map as we speak!
I will chime back in on several things...
Some favorite Pubs?
I mentioned the Harp near Covent Garden, quaint in it's own way, not necessarily "Historic" or hugely traditional, it is cramped, but these guys know Ale and Cider, have a great selection, many lesser known breweries, good variety. Maybe the only drawback is after work it is spilling out into the streets crowded.
Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese....certainly a historic quality, worth the visit, limited to Samuel Smith beers, which are good, but I do like variety.
The Old Bank of England pub is neat in that it is the old bank of England, upscale, but worth a stop.
On the South Bank there are a couple old Coaching pubs, the Old King's Head and the George Inn, very ancient, again worth the visit.
From there, I have to say that I have been in nearly a hundred pubs in London over four trips and when I go back I will stumble on another 10 that fit the bill for a perfect pub. There are also very good beer bars, more bar than pub, but have a great variety of cask ales, microbrews, and ciders (plus Belgian beers) so if you are a beer geek, skimp on history and go for quality.
You will also see the term "Freehouse" advertised, this is not necessarily "Independent" just that they serve a variety of brands as opposed to being tied to one brewery, so variety perhaps, but not necessarily better beer. Since changes to laws some time ago, the term is less definitive as many fewer Pubs are dedicated or brewery owned houses.
As for my use of the term "sameness", I do apologize to the dedicated group of UK posters on here, I do like British beers, but the core of cask ales is a standard line-up of a mild, a bitter, maybe a golden or a brown, all within a narrow range of malt, IBU, and ABV. In the last few years, I will admit, things have taken off and there are breweries doing a much wider variety, but my perspective is a US market that does (for better or worse) wack-a-doodle heavy hoppy beers, wild sours and funky beers, all types of barrel aged combos, to the point I can go weeks having no two beers that are even close in taste (and I admittingly drink too much beer) So I do not mean to be critical, just an observation.
Thanks Paul. The Harp, as well as 6 others just made my list! I'm amazed how many are within a mile of my hotel. I'm a huge beer drinker myself although I don't experiment too much. I learned to drink beer while living in Germany, so although I enjoy many different brewers, I tend to stick with plain old ales, pilsners and lagers. I don't enjoy the hoppdiggity mico-brews that are saturating the US. I think I'll like the "sameness" just fine!
Emma, we are staying at the Club Quarters at Lincoln's Inn Fields.
ooooh, you won't be a long walk from the Blackfriar.
Emma, you didn't care for the Thai at the Churchill? I usually go to Busaba Eathai because I don't know any better and I'd had the Churchill on the list for a different or better experience ever since I drove past there and was held in traffic so that they could have a delivery by dray. My uncle used to get his by dray when I was a kid so it took me back. If the food's rubbish I'll stay away.
How about a shortcut? Is there a website devoted to identifying traditional pubs? Hopefully by map? There must be a society or other group of devotees to the subject.
Nigel, may I take that as another vote for The Blackfriar?
Stan, look at this website from the Campaign For Real Ale people (http://www.camra.org.uk/).
It's called "What Pub?". https://whatpub.com/
Enter "London" in the search box. The results will be overwhelming.
Then refine your search.
You can also buy the book "Camra's Good Beer Guide". Here's the 2017 edition:
You can also buy "The Good Pub Guide" by Fiona Stapley; Penguin Books/Ebury Press, which lists pubs in the UK: https://www.penguin.co.uk/books/1110964/the-good-pub-guide-2017/
No maps, but plenty of good information:
Blackfriars is indeed a find, a listed historic site adjacent to the famous bridges and saved from redevelopment by the poet laureate of the day, or so the story goes. Narrow, wildly overdecorated, and with a very decent selection of beers (none of them hoppy enough for this drinker of IPAs), it is jammed to the gills at the end of the business day by young white-collared workers who seem to appreciate this defiance to their glass towers. Or maybe it's just thirst. “McPub” snobbishness aside, it belongs to a chain, Nicholson's pubs, which operates around two dozen watering-holes in London and claims to date back to the mid-1800s, old enough for anyone's sense of authenticity. I bought my first CAMRA guidebook around 1972, by the way.
The Ship on Little Turnstile is only a couple of minutes away. The beer's good and though I haven't eaten there, the food gets good write-ups. About 5 mins away is The Lamb on Lambs Conduit Street. Satisfyingly shabby and still with its Victorian snob screens over the bar.
The Sherlock Holmes Pub, Northumberland Street, St James's
The Swan, 66 Bayswater Road, across the street from Hyde Park.
Wow Emma! The pubs just keep on coming! Now my question is, just how many pubs can I visit in 6 days? LOL
Draft House Chancery offers a great selection of craft and draft beers. Scarfes Bar is worth visiting for its awesome atmosphere, though has only few local crafts. Both are close to the place you stay at. The first is in a 15min walk, and the second one is in approx 5min walk.
Every day has 24 hours in it LOL
6 days? Well, my last three times in London I was there about that time, and I had meetings most days. Even those days, maybe pop into a pub for lunch, then after work start walking to my hotel, see an interesting place, stop, have a beer, move on, maybe have something to eat someplace, do again, four places would not be unusual, 6 a full day. Days not working....figure Lunch, a break, late afternoon break, etc....maybe 6-8. That does involve a bunch of walking and about 8 to 10 hours of effort. Sounds like a lot of drinking, but paced well for an experienced beer drinker.
Paul, I like your style! Last time in Munich I did a 7 liter beer garden and fruhlingsfest crawl, 2 days in a row. I'm not trying to match that, but do have a little experience under my belt. Thanks for the help!
Ditto the Old Mitre! Also, Gordon's Wine Bar by Charing Cross Station is great (although not a traditional pub).