The pub is a venerable English tradition, one that has become increasingly rare as time has gone on. There was a great boom of them at one point or another, but as bar culture tightens its grip on Britain’s shores, it looks as if the days of dominance are over for this great establishment. Even now, some of the oldest London pubs are probably wondering where it all went wrong. A pint of stout in a leather mug now gives way to a syrupy cocktail in a tall glass, and the idea of a malty beer sends shivers down the spines of many a city worker. It wasn’t always like this.
No, at one point, pubs were Britain’s primary drinking holes. Dark, warm and cosy, they represented an ideal escape from the horrors of the world, a dingy little hole where one could bury their hand in the sand until the drink kicked in. The best ones were welcoming and warm, with tankards reserved for regulars and bar staff who knew your name. The oldest pubs in London were the ones who honoured tradition and realised that you were all kindred souls: men and women hoping to get away from it all for a while. Comforting fires and thick rugs were standard, as were bar stools that were solid and dependable, a vital trait for when that moment of dizziness first kicks in.
The time might be right for a comeback though. The Dalston crowd has decreed all this americanisation of our drinks industry a travesty and, with the righteous anger burning bright behind their thick rimmed glasses, have set about reviving beer. Whilst the Europeans will roll their eyes, this hipsterish bunch could well bring beer back to the masses. It’s not their efforts that we’re focussing on, it’s the efforts of the oldest pubs London can still offer up to us. If we’re going to understand how the scene will develop, we need to know how it all began.
The White Hart
Supposedly the oldest pub in all of London, the White Hart is something of an issue for historians. Its claims are shaky, but there’s enough evidence to make things difficult. It’s impossible to say that this is conclusively the oldest licensed premises, the issue is whether or not it should be considered the same building that was ravaged by fire and almost entirely rebuilt. It is however, certainly one of the oldest, hence its inclusion on this list.
A generally traditional pub, it makes some token efforts at nightlife with a club evening. Whether or not such behaviour is appropriate of a pub claiming to be a stalwart of tradition is up to you to judge.
The White Hart is located at: 191 Drury Ln, London
To find out more please visit: http://www.whitehartdrurylane.co.uk/
Like many of the early inns, this one was to have been built and maintained by monks, hence the divine nature of the name. Many are surprised by this connection to the clergy but traditionally monks have been involved in the brewing of beer for centuries, so them providing a place of hospitality makes a lot of sense. Inside it’s pleasingly traditional, with dark leather and wood making up the majority of the furnishings and good beer available on tap. An easy choice for our list of the top 10 oldest London pubs.
The George Inn
A galleried coaching inn, now kept by the national trust, this place is pure history. A gorgeous building and one that has made considerable efforts to retain its roots as a real inn, it’s a shining example of a lost time, where bed, board and a plate of hearty food were available beside your pint. As one of the oldest pubs in London, it revels in its history and we certainly aren’t complaining.
The George Inn is located at: 75-77 Borough High St, London SE1 1NH
To find out more please visit: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/george-inn/
The Hoop and Grapes
One of the only surviving timber pubs from the 17th century, this place has a history that many find appealing. A relic that somehow survived the great fire of London, it’s continued its existence without great fanfare. It could have so easily become a gimmick but, thanks to the sensible decision making of the owners, it’s stayed true to its roots rather than becoming some themed monstrosity.
The Hoop and Grape is located at: 80 Farringdon St, London EC4A 4BL
To find out more please visit: http://www.thehoopandgrapes.co.uk/
A place of fantasy, rather than history, it’s true that this is one of the oldest pubs in London. What is less believable is that this was the drinking hole of many infamous figures in history, including the daring highwayman Dick Turpin. Regardless, it’s still an excellent example of the power of the past infusing a relatively simple setting with a bit of magic.
Spaniard’s Inn is located at: Spaniards Rd, Hampstead, London NW3 7JJ
To find out more please visit: http://www.thespaniardshampstead.co.uk/
The Red Lion
Here since the 15th century, the building was at one point demolished and rebuilt, making this a debatable inclusion on our list of the top 10 oldest London pubs. However, the continued operating of the site’s original function makes us consider it worthy of a spot, even if it does bring back memories of Triggers old broom conundrum: if you replace the handle and brush of a broom, is it the same broom?
Ye Olde Mitre Tavern
The name is a bit of a giveaway, this is indeed one of the oldest pubs in London. It’s also one of the most fiendishly difficult to find, its entrance cunningly hidden from plain sight and only accessible via a series of winding alleyways.
The pub that Pepys saw London burn in, and the same one Shakespeare supposedly frequented. It was rebuilt twice over the past few centuries, but it has always remained a pub and as such is valid for this list. It’s incredible history makes it an easy inclusion.
The Anchor is located at: 34 Park St, Southwark, London SE1 9EF
To find out more please visit: http://www.taylor-walker.co.uk/pub/anchor-bankside-southwark/p0977/
As with so many others, it was an inn long ago but was rebuilt due to damage in the fire. The essential building is the same though. Once called the pound, it updated its name in the 17th century to match the new unit of currency.
The Guinea is located at: 30 Bruton Pl, London W1J 6NL
To find out more please visit: http://www.theguinea.co.uk/
The White Swan
Tucked away on the outskirts, this pub has largely been spared the encroaching force of modernisation and change. It was also lucky enough to escape the fires that ravaged the city. The beer is good and the food is definitely passable, if nothing special. Situated in an idyllic location, white washed and traditional, it’s the perfect conclusion to our list of the top 10 oldest pubs in London.
The White Swan is located at: 108 Fetter Ln, London EC4A 1ES
To find out more please visit: http://www.thewhiteswanlondon.com/