ALE Winter 2000 No. 300

Central London Pubs - part 2


This area of London has a "buzz" about it these days, with many new attractions - see London SE1. The planned Thameslink 2000 development will affect the area for good or ill.

The famous Borough Market (besides being a treat in its own right for its amazing range of fresh food) is opposite two of the area's best pubs for real ale, the Wheatsheaf and the Market Porter. Just across the road from the latter is the Old London Bridge Brewery, a newish microbrewery on the premises of the former Bishop's Brewery.

The Wheatsheaf in Tooley Street is an unspoiled little old boozer, with Public and Lounge Bar entrances. It's under direct threat from the Thameslink plans: a new viaduct through it. At any one time it stocks four or so real ales, with Milton Brewery, Lidstone and Old London Bridge Brewery featuring prominently. Pub grub is available at least some of the time.

Almost next door is the Market Porter, which has an impressive "beers to come" list and around six ales on at any one time. Breweries from the south-east are well-represented, such as Harveys, Brewery On Sea, Swale and OLBB. GWR real cider is also available. There's an extensive pub-grub menu.

[George Inn]

Another noteworthy pub is about five minutes walk away, the George Inn in the High Street. As the last galleried coaching inn for many miles it's owned by the National Trust and run by Bass under the Nicholson's brand. A specially-commissioned Restoration Ale (3.7%) from "Bishops Brewery Southwark" (now OLBB?) is the most interesting beer on, the others being familiar national names, such as London Pride.

Down by the river, near the Tate Modern, is Young's Founders Arms, built in 1979 but only this year really taking off in a big way. It can get swamped by visitors by noon but if you can get in, it has several Young's beers and a good range of food.

[Anchor] The Anchor in Bank End, by the riverside walk and just off Park Street, has a lot of history: for instance Shakespeare's acting company used to frequent the site. The pub has rooms on multiple floors and has the likes of Pedigree, Directors and 6X on.

[Shipwright's Arms] Other pubs worth mentioning are the Royal Oak (Tabard Street, a Harveys pub) and the Shipwrights Arms (Tooley Street), which is going through a period of uncertainty at the time of writing, having been a regular outlet for OLBB beers. There's also a JD Wetherspoons, the Pommelers Rest in Tower Bridge Road.

Covent Garden & Theatreland

Unsurprisingly there's a wide range of pub types here, responding to the varied needs. Ignoring the usual branded pubs such as All Bar One, there are some real finds hereabouts.

One point worth noting: unlike the typical British town/city drinking circuit, this area still attracts all types of people, making it feel much safer.

The star attraction at the moment is the Porterhouse (Maiden Lane, south of the Covent Garden piazza), owned by the Dublin brewery of that name and serving their fine beers - it opened this summer and has been advertising in What's Brewing for many months. Whilst CAMRA purists would say many of the beers are not strictly real ales, being served under pressure, it's well worth ignoring that and trying some. Bearing in mind they're imported and the premium prices in the area, Oyster Stout (4.8%) is 2.80 and the Red Ale (4.4%) is 2.70. The pub is on three main levels with lots of wood and brasswork and a variety of seating. The piped music can be rather loud but one can sit away from it. There's a reasonable menu, seemingly incorporating the beers wherever possible! A speciality of the house is a tray of beer samples.

Another interesting addition to the scene is the new Freedom Brewery pub-restaurant in Earlham Street (opposite the infamous Belgo Centraal), selling the real lager products brewed on the premises and at the Fulham brewery. Beers include Pilsner, Red, Honey and Wheat.

West of there and up from Cambridge Circus is the upper part of Charing Cross Road and the Moon Under Water, a typical huge JD Wetherpoons in what used to be the Marquee Club. Beside the usual bland beers they do have guests such as Fraoch heather ale (85p/half), if you can stand the wait. [Footnote]

In the south-west corner of Theatreland is the Ship and Shovell, either side of Craven Passage just as it enters Arches Arcade (under Charing Cross Station). This small pub stocks Badger beers such as Tanglefoot in its two quaint halves. It's closed on Sundays.

Down the other end of the Passage is the Sherlock Holmes, sporting appropriate memorabilia - it doubles as a museum for the collection of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London. The beer selection tends towards the familiar: London Pride, 6X, Fullers IPA, Boddingtons and Old Speckled Hen.

[Coal Hole] On the Strand is the Coal Hole (Nicholson's). The place is physically impressive: it's part of the Savoy site and has a very high ceiling with wooden beams and plaster reliefs. There's a gallery area to the rear. However the beers are the familiar ones such as Old Speckled Hen. It closes at 8pm on Sundays.

[Edgar Wallace]
Further eastwards along the Strand and down Essex Street is the Edgar Wallace ("Hawkins & Co."), featuring Adnams beers such as the newish Fishermans (1.20/half), as well as Youngs and Boddingtons. Nearby are other famous pubs such as the George, the Cheshire Cheese and the Old Bank of England.

Now a surprise: a small, friendly Hogshead! North of the Strand, in Wellington Street at the junction with Exeter Street, is this small pub (the ground floor is slightly larger than Cambridge's St Radegund) which apparently by some accident got branded as a Hogshead. It has the usual trappings such as the Try-Before-You-Buy offer and doubles as a Costa Coffee. On a recent visit it had Buchanan's Best Bitter, Kimberley BB and Brakspear's Bitter, along with some usual suspects such as Pedigree. Beware: it seems to close early on Sunday evening.

Some other notable pubs in the area include the Cross Keys (Endell Street), the Sun (no. 21 Drury Lane), the Lemon Tree (4 Bedfordbury, west of the piazza), the Lamb and Flag in Rose Street (off Garrick Street) and the Coach & Horses (just up from the Hogshead). These tend to be packed out!

Part 3 of the article covers two further areas for real ale pubs in Central London: the City of London and Bloomsbury.

See also the Spring 2001 Update.

Footnote - The Moon Under Water

Jeremy Paxman, in his book The English, refers to the essay by George Orwell in the Evening Standard of 9th December 1946, titled The Moon Under Water. [Another reference gives this as being in the Tribune of 9th February 1944.]

In the article Orwell described the perfect city pub: down a side street, busy but welcoming, quiet enough for conversation and unmodernised Victorian. He finished by explaining it didn't exist.

Paxo then points out that it now supposedly does, in the form of the Wetherspoon's pubs of that name, which feature hundreds of young people getting aggressively drunk on frothy, imported American beer.


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