Explore London’s West End: The Ultimate Guide to the Best Pubs and a Wine Bar

This article is part of FT Globetrotter’s guide to London
“Shall we meet for a drink somewhere central?” Most people living in London have been asked this question at one time or another, and so endured the blankness that follows and an inability to conjure up the name of a suitable venue — no matter how long you’ve called the capital home.
For this reason we’ve compiled a list of our favourite pubs in the West End.
Before you scoff, the task was not as easy as it sounds. For a start there are hundreds to choose from, and we do not claim to have visited all of them. In areas such as Soho, the centre of the West End, it can often seem like there is one on every corner. This is also London’s unofficial party quarter, amplifying the difficulty in narrowing it down.
Then there is the definition of what constitutes the West End, an issue that has been hotly debated — with or without a pint in hand — for decades. ‘First things first: are we actually in the West End?’ Our authors begin their valiant quest by tackling a contentious issue Most would agree it is loosely defined as the theatre and shopping district that lies to the north of the Thames and to the west of the City. But beyond that, the boundaries become hazy. Some would say it stretches as far north as King’s Cross and all the way west to Hyde Park. Others would draw a tighter circumference. Does it include Fitzrovia, Bloomsbury and Marylebone? Or is Oxford Street the boundary? Even the authors of this guide could not quite agree.
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It is important to say, you can have a great night in any London pub, in the right company. But what we’ve tried to do within our subjective map is to curate a list the places where we’ve most enjoyed a memorable drink with family, friends and colleagues.
Some have remarkable histories, perfect locations, particular specialisms in beer or an atmosphere you just won’t find anywhere else. Or a combination of all these. If you think we’ve missed somewhere — and we know you think we have — leave a comment below.
Browse by pub via the list below

The Harp (Covent Garden)

47 Chandos Place, London WC2N 4HS

Good for: A cosy Victorian atmosphere

Not so good for: A big gathering

FYI: Open Monday–Sunday, 11am–11pm; Sunday, noon–11pm Website; Directions

‘One of the true gems in the West End’: The Harp The pub dates from the late 18th century Despite this pub’s central location behind St Martin-in-the-Fields church, a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square, you could easily miss it, given its narrow frontage with stained-glass windows partially covered with hanging baskets.

But this venue, known as The Welsh Harp until 1995, is one of the true gems of the West End and has a long history going back to the late 18th century.

The characterful central London pub has a loyal clientele . . .  . . . and is a worthy multi-time winner of Campaign for Real Ale awards Squeeze past the handful of tables to the bar — above which hundreds of beer mats have been stuck to the wall — and you’ll notice the place is lined with old mirrors, oil paintings, pastel drawings and cartoons. See if you can spot a painting of Elizabeth Taylor and a print of Oscar Wilde. 

The pub, owned by Fuller’s, serves an esoteric array of beers and was the first London pub to win the Campaign for Real Ale national pub of the year competition, in 2010. It has also won Camra’s west London pub of the year on no fewer than nine occasions. 

Upstairs in The Harp is cosy Georgian-style lounge When we dropped by, there was a pale ale from the East London Brewing Co, Neotropic from the Bristol Beer Factory, Pica Pica oatmeal stout, Hophead by Dark Star and Whispering Grass IPA by Pig & Porter. It doesn’t serve food other than snacks. 

There’s a narrow winding staircase lined with yet more paintings that leads up to a Georgian-style lounge room with eight small tables. In the late afternoon, The Harp is often heaving with drinkers who spill on to the pavement outside.

Lamb & Flag (Covent Garden)

33 Rose Street, London WC2E 9EB

Good for: Ye Olde London vibes

Not so good for: Embracing modernity

FYI: Open Monday–Friday, noon–11pm; Saturday, 11am–11pm; Sunday, noon–10.30pmWebsite; Directions

Head to the Lamb & Flag for a hit of ‘Ye Olde London’ nostalgia Tucked away down a side street, the Lamb & Flag oozes history and claims to be the oldest pub in Covent Garden. 

Its precise origins are a little unclear. One sign outside the pub says it has served drinks since 1623. Another inside says the earliest recorded use of the premises as an inn comes from 1772, when it was called The Cooper’s Arms.

Either way, a sign above the alley invites the traveller to “rest and refresh yrself” in an “ancient tavern” enjoyed by luminaries such as Charles Dickens and Samuel Butler. Here too, or hereabout, was where the poet John Dryden was almost murdered by rogues hired by the Earl of Rochester in 1679. 

Thankfully, long gone are the days when the pub was nicknamed ‘The Bucket of Blood’ because all of the bare-knuckle prize fights held there The owner Fuller’s plays up to these historic origins, with old cartoons and pictures on the walls, which are also festooned with strings of Union Jack flags. 

The pub’s reputation for staging bare-knuckle prize fights in the 19th century earned it the nickname “The Bucket of Blood”. 

But none of the punters were fighting (with or without gloves) on the day the FT passed through, taking note of a well-stocked bar. Drinks on tap included Seafarers English ale, Dark Star’s Hophead golden ale, Stroud Brewery’s Budding pale ale and Fuller’s Golden Rays ale. 

At the bar, there are snacks on offer — not cheap — including chicken and chorizo bites, truffled mac and cheese croquettes, and crispy squid. Upstairs in the restaurant, there is also a regular menu of main courses including sausages, beef burger, pie of the day and fish and chips.

The Cask & Glass (Victoria)

39–41 Palace Street, London SW1 5HN

Good for: A swift after-work pint

Not so good for: Big gatherings

FYI: Open Monday, noon–10pm; Tuesday–Friday, noon–11pm; Saturday, noon–8pmWebsite; Directions

The Cask & Glass’s petite proportions mean the action often spills outside (weather permitting) © Marco KesselerIf The Cask & Glass isn’t the smallest pub in London — which is the owner’s claim — then it’s hard to imagine an even tinier rival. With only a single bar and a handful of chairs, The C&G has the feel of a private living room.

This local is Victorian in more than one way: first opened in 1862, it’s also not far from the eponymous train station. 

It is the epitome of a no-frills pub, with no obvious pretensions at greatness. This, of course, is the secret of its charm. Sometimes less is more.

Pint-sized: the pub is said to be the smallest in London The Cask has carefully tended flower boxes festooning its black-painted exterior in the summer and is just around the corner from Buckingham Palace — although it is very much not on the tourist trail. The pub was originally called the Duke of Cambridge but changed its name in 1962. 

On a shelf overhead there are historic empty bottles of Shepherd Neame ales such as Early Bird and Bonnie Brown Ale. The walls are decorated with pictures, including sketches of Victorian-looking gentlemen. Look out for the bull’s-eye windows.

Drinks on tap when we visited included Whitstable Bay’s blonde lager, Bear Island’s East Coast pale ale, Orchard View cider, Moretti and Guinness.

The basic food offering consists of toasted sandwiches and tortilla chips.

Admiral Duncan (Soho)

54 Old Compton Street, London W1D 4UD

Good for: Late-night karaoke fans

Not so good for: Real-ale aficionados

FYI: Open Monday–Thursday, 1pm–11.30pm; Friday–Saturday, noon–midnight; Sunday, noon–10.30pm Website; Follow Google News


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