Impress your drinking buddies with SquareMeal’s pick of the coolest pubs in London. Whether it’s the clientele, the décor or the food and drink offering, each of these pubs has the cool factor. Each of the pubs featured in SquareMeal’s list of cool pubs in London have been tried and tested by food critics and our own customers, so check out the reviews and book a table online with SquareMeal today.
George & Dragon Hackney Road
2 Hackney Road, London, E2 7NS
Fears about the conversion of this former LGBTQ hangout to luxury apartments after its 2015 closure have proved baseless, and the George relaunched in July 2016 without fanfare. It’s now decorated like a Georgian squire’s candlelit country parlour, complete with ye olde battered milk churns by way of seating. The new licensee (who also runs handsome Hoxton boozer, The Prince Arthur) focuses on Kentish ales; various Shepherd Neame brews such as Bishops Finger, Whitstable Bay Pale Ale and Spitfire appear on tap. Otherwise, order New York ‘hard’ cider Angry Orchard, or choose from a range of quaffable vino. Whether the old wild crowd will take to the place is moot. Also moot is the purpose of the back bar’s plethora of premium hooch: Opihr and Tanqueray Rangpur gin, Reyka vodka et al. Hopeful, we ask for a recommendation. ‘I’m no good at cocktails, me’ grimaces the barman, before scuttling off.
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The Amersham Arms
388 New Cross Road, London, SE14 6TY
This imposing, scruffy boozer opposite New Cross station scores top marks for effortless cool. The Amersham Arms houses a random assortment of antique radios, binoculars, kitsch crafts & old radios. It appeals to a motley crowd of Goldsmiths students, young artists, & media professionals priced out of more salubrious areas. Proper ales & draught lagers compete with £6 cocktails at the bar; order two of the same & pay only £1.50 extra (Mon-Fri 5-10pm & all day Sunday). Cheap bar food includes burgers, sandwiches, Saturday breakfasts & Sunday roasts. The large back room & upstairs gallery play host to regular DJs, monthly ska nights, film screenings & exhibitions. Every month there’s a jumble sale of vintage clothing & bric-a-brac, accompanied by DJs, live bands, tea, cake &, of course, booze.
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The New Rose
84-86 Essex Road, London, N1 8LU
Priding itself on a lack of gastro pretensions (unusual in N1), this laid-back pub with a rock & roll edge welcomes a mixed bunch of old-timers, students & at-home locals, from the scruffier reaches of Essex Road. There’s a devil-may-care attitude & a down-at-heel gentility to the place. Friendly staff are happy to chat as they serve pints of local ale, or Jägermeister shots from the machine at weekends, when DJs set up on the decks in the corner, occasionally sneaking out to join grinning pals on the dance floor. The menu has undergone a shake-up, emerging as a sort of Euro-US mishmash, where salt-cod croquettes & aïoli might precede southern-fried chicken with coleslaw & chips followed by sticky toffee pudding. Oh, & there’s karaoke on the last Sunday of the month – you’ve been warned.
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49 Dean Street, London, W1D 5BG
The French' could be a Gallic film set. Imagine the scene: Jean Gabin hatches a plot as Piaf warbles ‘Padam, Padam', while Ginsberg & Gainsbourg talk existential twaddle over bottles of Sancerre. These days, you can still soak up the Gitanes-stained ambience in the elbow-to-elbow, street-level bar, or puff Gauloises with the poseurs on the pavement. In the commendable absence of live music, gaming machines, blaring TVs and other pub irritants, the assembled company enjoys Breton cider and beer by the half pint only – although pastis is the tipple of choice for the hardcore crowd (more is sold here than in any other bar north of Calais, apparently). It's said that the Anglophobic Général de Gaulle composed many of his rousing wartime calls-to-arms in the dining room upstairs.
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The Commercial Tavern
142-144 Commercial Street, London, E1 6NU
Having presciently acquired the freehold long before Shoreditch’s meteoric rise, the owners of this oddball tavern – Maria and Michael, arguably E1’s most eccentric landlords – sold it at a humongous profit, we hear. New brooms Barworks have kept most of the original loopy decor in the main bar and in the bonkers-baroque salon upstairs: a magpie mix of flea-market tat, dusty French chateau chic, kasbah kitsch, lurid 1960s pop art and Popeye cartoon wallpaper. Hence, a huge sigh of relief among old Shoreditch hands was palpable when The Commercial’s doors reopened in autumn 2016. What is new, is an improved selection of wine and beers – Thornbridge’s grapefruity, floral malted IPA, Jaywick, is among those on tap – and a menu that offers sourdough pizzas with such toppings as burrata, spiced lamb, five cheeses or piquant chorizo. The previous landlords’ priceless banter will, however, be much missed.
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The George Tavern
£30 - £49
373 Commercial Road, London, E1 0LA
Shadwell’s unkempt George Tavern may not be much to look at, but it has become a formidable cultural powerhouse under the aegis of artist-musician landlady Pauline Forster. It’s in a pretty dodgy-looking locale and, frankly, it fits right in with its graffiti-ed loos, ramshackle smokers’ patio and scuzzy vinyl upholstery. As a boozer, it’s basic. Cheap grub (£5 lasagne or cottage pie) and inexpensive drinks (the usual crowd – Guinness, Stella, generic spirits) are less of a draw than the scene itself. The George is best known for live music, but there’s a gallery and a range of spaces for theatre and cutting-edge performance. Both staff and venue are friendlier than they look.
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The Golden Heart
110 Commercial Street, London, E1 6LZ
Landlady Sandra Esquilant’s house is an example of how many boozers looked in the inter-war years, yet it polarises opinion. For every tribute along the lines of ‘characterful, true original, diamond packed with interesting arty types deep in absorbing conversation’ (Tracy Emin and Sarah Lucas are fans), you’ll find detractors who lambaste the place for its cliquey, pretentious poseurs, warm beer, slapdash service and rude staff. That said, we’ve always been made to feel welcome by the pub’s eccentric host – her theatrical outbursts simply add to the evening’s proceedings. Order a bottle of well-affordable wine or a pint of Adnams and contemplate why so many precious boozers like this have been wiped off the drinkers’ map.
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The Duke - Roger Street
£30 - £49
7 Roger Street, London, WC1N 2PB
If it’s peace & quiet you’re after, The Duke could be just the ticket. On the corner of a mews & an equally tranquil Bloomsbury backstreet, it rarely gets overrun by passing trade; instead it plays host to a genial bunch of civilised regulars. The good-value, one-page menu offers the simplest of dishes – perhaps deep-fried, herb-crusted goats’ cheese served with cranberry sauce ahead of battered cod & chips, a homemade Duke’s burger, or char-grilled sirloin steak with pan-fried new potatoes. But the real hits are on the blackboard – a weekly roster of pies, sausages & fish, bolstered by a daily line-up of puds to keep the regulars guessing. Agreeable staff positively encourage lingering, & it’s easy to while away a few hours in one of the cosy booths.
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