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London is famous for its pubs and bars, but with over 7,ooo drinking establishments it can be a daunting task to visit more than a small selection.
However the author of this book Drink London published by Frances Lincoln has impeccable credentials for the task, Euan Ferguson has been for the last four years, the principal bars and pubs writer for Time Out London. Even before this enviable post he had worked in the licensed trade for many years.
Out of the large number of drinking establishments he has visited, he has selected the 100 best based on following criteria ‘each one unique, memorable or simply unrivalled at what they do.’
The sections of the book reflect the huge variety available, therefore we have Cocktails, Legendary Locals, Craft Beer, Ale & Cider, Liquid History, Wine & Spirits Specialists, and finally With a Twist.
Within the last few years, London has become one of the Cocktail capitals of the world. This transformation is remarkable due to cocktails being once considered exclusively reserved for the rich and wealthy in the more swanky hotel bars and upmarket clubs. Cocktail bars are popping up all over London in all kind of venues and locations, part of the appeal of the cocktail craze is that bars have developed their own speciality cocktails using techniques what are commonly called ‘molecular mixology.’
Bartenders can achieve legendary status with their concoctions, Tony Conigliaro at the Zetter Townhouse has developed the Flintlock which literally goes off with a bang. Many of the new bars tend to cultivate an informal but trendy environment in the new ‘happening places’ like 69 Colebrook Row in Islington and Happiness Forgets in Hoxton. But the author is keen to point out that the hotel bars still have a lot to offer , the Coburg Bar at the Connaught is one that is highly recommended.
From a recent development in London ‘s drinking culture, the book then moves to the search for Legendary Locals, pubs that have built up considerable reputations over a period of time.
Their reputations are usually based on the quality of the beer or the friendly and comfortable ambience, but they often have a magic ingredient that makes them special.
The Queen’s Head in King’s Cross has preserved many of its Victorian features but there is nothing old-fashioned about its use of quality beer and cider. The Charles Lamb offers an intriguing mix of English and French beers and cider. The Wenlock Arms in Hoxton causes the author to wax lyrically and state it is ‘quite possibly the best pub in London’.
Legendary Locals are followed by another recent movement that has revolutionised drinking in London . Although a new movement, the growth of Craft Beer, Ale and Cider has its origins in the past.
London brewers in the past provided beer and ale to the home population and the British Empire, however the growth of the massive conglomerates reduced the number of brewers and many would say the quality and variety of beer. The growth of the microbreweries especially in London has sought to redress the balance by favouring quality over quantity.
More and more pubs and bars are using the new craft beers as a way to distinguish them from the crowd. Based in a historic coffee shop , the Jerusalem Tavern only became a pub in 1996 owned by Suffolk brewery St Peter’s. It has quickly gained a reputation for good beer and a pleasant atmosphere. Some of the microbreweries have developed their own pubs and bars, Camden Town Brewery Bar is one such example .
However for one of the best examples of the mix of old and new is the Euston Tap and Cider Tap, located in the old gatehouses of Euston station they provide commuters and locals with quality Craft beer and cider.
In the next section we find those pubs that have Liquid History meaning they are tied up with the history of London itself. Often world-famous due to their associations with some of London’s great movers and shakers, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese built just after the Fire of London is associated with literary giants Dr Johnson, Mark Twain and others. The French House was home to many of the writers, artists and thinkers in bohemian Soho of the 60s. The George Inn in Southwark is one of London’s last galleried pubs and in the past counted Charles Dickens as one of its customers.
Of course , drinking in London is not confined to Beers and Cocktails, the next section Wine & Spirits Specialists offer an altogether different drinking experience. You can try orange wine at Terriors, Japanese Whisky at Mizuwari, Rum at the Artesian and Gin at the Portobello Star. This is just a small section of the enormous variety on offer.
The final section is With a Twist that describes those establishments which do not fit into any other category because they have developed their own unusual quality. Irish pubs are not unusual in London but a genuine authentic Irish pub is more of a rarity , however the Auld Shillelagh in Hackney is probably the nearest you will find. At the other end of the spectrum is the Aqua Shard on level 31 of London’s tallest building, tea based cocktails are a speciality. In the deepest Fulham we have the Harwood Arms, a country pub with a reputation for good food and stag’s heads on the wall.
In a every changing London drinking landscape , Drink London offers a taste of the old and the new which reflects some of the incredible diversity on offer. Drink London is an invaluable companion to those who wish to find some of London’s best bars and pubs. This informative, well written book with plenty of attractive photographs really does offer something for everyone whether a Londoner or a visitor, as well as practical information , there is a checklist and a map to help you on your way. There are a large number of books that offer advice on drinking in London, this book is without doubt is one of the best with its insider knowledge and authoritative but friendly approach.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
If you would like to find out more about the book or buy a copy , visit the Frances Lincoln website here
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Ye Old Cheshire Cheese
Location – 145 Fleet St, London EC4A 2BU
Just off Fleet Street.
If there was a competition for the most famous pub in London, Ye Old Cheshire Cheese would be one of the prime candidates. Rebuilt shortly after the Great Fire of London of 1666, it has become associated with most of the great literary figures of London. Its greatest association is with Doctor Johnson who lived in nearby Gough square, but it also been frequented by Oliver Goldsmith, Charles Dickens, Alfred Lord Tennyson, G.K. Chesterton amongst others.
It was the location of the Rhymers Club in the 1890s which included Yeats and Oscar Wilde amongst its members.
In 1907, a visiting Mark Twain was appalled at his fellow Americans flocking to the pub as a shrine to Dr Johnson.As he sat in the Doctor Johnson room at the Cheshire Cheese he remarked.
“Look at those fools going to pieces over old Doc Johnson call themselves Americans and lick-spittle the toady who grabbed a pension from the German King of England that hated Americans, tried to flog us into obedience and called George Washington traitor and scoundrel.”
His friend Bram Stoker of Dracula fame gently mocked the American by saying “Read Johnson plentifully, I suppose,” knowing that he had never read any of his works.
The pub’s fame has seen it regularly visited by a wide number of famous people of the decades, and is a tourist attraction in its own right.
In the 1920s one of its most famous patrons a grey parrot called Polly died, this event was reported in hundreds of newspapers of the time. Polly’s fame was such that the bird was stuffed and put on display at the pub.
More recently the pub is the location for the American children’s book The Cheshire Cheese Cat by Carmen Agra Deedy, Randall Wright and Barry Moser.
A more adult themed history was revealed in the 1960s when a number of sexually explicit tiles were found in an upstairs room, dating from the mid- eighteenth century it suggests that the room may have been used as a brothel. The tiles were donated to the Museum of London.
The pub looks uninspiring from the outside but is a maze of small rooms and alcoves whose dark wooden panelling and smoky atmosphere from open fires transport you back in time. It was also made for visitors of a smaller stature, so beware banging heads on low beams on stairs and doors if you are above average height. If the pub is old, it has been suggested that some of the vaults underneath the pub are part of 13th-century Carmelite monastery.
Famous for being a Chop House over the centuries, food is still served and the Beer is relatively cheap by London standards brewed by the Samuel Smith Brewery.