Clerkenwell

The Apple Tree is down the slope of Mount Pleasant from Rosebery Avenue and is a bustling Greene King pub with high ceilings - a mix of old and new. IPA and a guest from Bath Ales were on.

[Old China Hand exterior] <- Old China Hand exterior
Nearby at the Rosebery Avenue/Tysoe Street junction, is the Old China Hand Free House. Back around 2001 it was the O'Hanlons Brewery pub and very traditional but the brewery moved to the South West and the pub has been through a few changes since.
[Old China Hand interior] Old China Hand interior ->
It now has a very modern interior with some olde-worlde touches. O'Hanlons Firefly Bitter (3.9% £1.56/h) and Sunchaser were on.


[Jerusalem Tavern exterior] <- Jerusalem Tavern exterior
Further south, off Clerkenwell Road in Britten Street, is the unspoiled Jerusalem Tavern (St Peters Brewery). Its still looks like an eighteenth century coffee house. The beers are on an ususual dispense system, served from the rear of the bar. Cream Stout was £1.45/h.

The City

[Dr Butlers Head exterior] <- Dr Butlers Head exterior
Old Doctor Butlers Head (Shepherd Neame), in Masons Avenue, an alley west off Coleman Street, is a lovely old pub (rebuilt 1666) and surprisingly roomy. On my visit the Porter (£1.55/half) was superb.

The Crosse Keys, Gracechurch Street (JD Wetherspoon) is no longer open on Sundays - there are very few pubs hereabouts which are, which is odd as there are now many weekend visitors all year round. Sandwich & coffee shops have cottoned on this so why haven't pubs?

The small Red Car pubco is thriving, with the superb old-fashioned Bell in Bush Lane (just east of Cannon Street station, 11-10, closed weekends), the Castle in Holborn (below) and the Swan in Ship Tavern Passage, east off Gracechurch Street (11-10, closed weekends). I've never been able to get into the latter - it's always been too busy. It's one of the near-legendary pubs with what the media calls a 24 hour drinking licence - which of course means nothing of the sort.

Borough & Bankside

Around the edge of the wonderful Borough Market, in Stoney Street, are the Wheatsheaf (another Red Car pub, open 11-11 every day) [1] and the Market Porter. These continue to thrive, now joined by the Brew Wharf (with its own brewery) and the Rake.

The Brew Wharf is north-west of the market, off Stoney Street, and is more of a bar-restaurant than a pub.

[The Rake exterior] <-The Rake exterior
The Rake is in Winchester Walk (north of the market car park) and is tiny (about a third of the size of the Radegund) but there's a large seating area outside. It has a huge range of bottled beers and two handpumps featuring microbrewery beers, plus interesting keg beers. Closed Sundays.

Along Bankside, the Founders Arms is just west of Tate Modern and is a deservedly successful Youngs pub, open from 11.00.

Blackfriars

The Cockpit on St Andrews Hill (near the church) is a classic backstreet boozer, open every day (may close early at weekends), with the likes of Adnams and Pedigree.

[Black Friar exterior] <- Black Friar exterior
The Black Friar and its wonderful Art Nouveau decor remains a must-visit: it's by the north exit of the Blackfriars subway, opposite the rail station. On a recent visit, St Austell Tribute, Abbot, Landlord, London Pride and Adnams Bitter were on. It does breakfasts 10-noon.

[Black Friar interior]
Black Friar interior -> [Black Friar interior]

Fleet Street

Heading westwards up the slope of the valley of the River Fleet from Ludgate Circus, on the south side of the street, one passes the Punch Tavern and the Old Bell. They're worth a visit but frequently busy.

Further on is the Tipperary, an unspoilt, very traditional pub - a proper Irish pub, with all welcome. Open at weekends.

This once-thriving pub area seems to be on a downward spiral of pub -> wine bar/restaurant -> closure, with only a few pubs surviving.

Holborn

Ye Olde Mitre (Ely Place, off Hatton Garden) is as good as ever, with interesting guest beers, such as various Milds during CAMRA's Mild Month (May). It's the CAMRA East London & City Branch Pub of the Year (again).

[Castle exterior] <- Castle exterior
Nearby the Castle (Furnival Street, junction with Norwich Street) has ever-changing guests (on a recent visit, Banktop Smokestack, Dark Star American Pale Ale, Hanby Shropshire Stout) plus the regular Red Car Best Bitter, brewed by Nethergate. Open 11-10, closed weekends.

The Ship (Gate Street, behind Holborn Tube station) had a beer festival for most of May with e.g. Theakstons Mild (£1.50/h), Paradise and Smiles Original. On a moderately busy Saturday evening it had the Eurovision Song Contest on telly - a change from sport! The decor features the Law and sailing.


[Princess Louise interior] Princess Louise interior ->
The Princess Louise (High Holborn, west of Holborn Tube station) is one of the three Sam Smiths pubs in the area (the Cittie of York further east and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street being the others). It's in the CAMRA National Inventory so any refurbishment attracts concern. The recently completed one fortunately is superb: the original internal wood and etched glass partitions have been reinstated, creating a variety of attractive spaces. (It's now much more like the Duke of Argyll further west, behind Oxford Circus Tube station, also NI.) And best of all, the Old Brewery Bitter, often an indifferent beer, is in superb condition here and still 93p/half!

[Princess Louise interior]

[Princess Louise interior] <- Princess Louise interior


Strand & Law Courts

West of Fleet Street, this area is unusual relative to the pubs further west in that here the pubs can be quite quiet after 8pm weekdays, instead of being invariably packed out. They tend to be shut at weekends though.

Opposite the Royal Courts of Justice is the George, which has been a nothing place for years but is now part of David Bruce's Capital Pubco and much improved. There are comedy nights and a guest ales (e.g. Sharps Doom Bar).

The alley east of the pub leads to the Devereux Arms, a distinctly above-average Punch pub, spacious and welcoming. There are ever-changing guest beers such as Camerons Fireside Ale stout (4.3%), O'Hanlons Yellow Hammer (4.2%) and Highgate Fox's Nob (4.4% £1.47/h).

The next pub along the alley is the Edgar Wallace (Enterprise), which gets packed for footy but otherwise is very civilised mid-evening onwards. It features eight guest beers under the SIBA scheme - always some interesting ones, such as Vale Gravitas, Acorn Darkness and Skinners Heligan Honey.

North of the Courts, in Carey Street, is the superb Seven Stars (closed Sundays): Harveys and Adnams. (Its sister pub is the Bountiful Cow in Eagle Street, just north of High Holborn.) There's also an average JD Wetherspoon, the Knights Templar.

Covent Garden

There's the wonderful old Lamb & Flag in Rose Street, between Garrick Street and Floral Street, and the magnificent Salisbury, at the St Martins Lane/St Martins Court junction, with its etched glass and other classic decor (CAMRA National Inventory), both Charles Wells.

[The Harp exterior] <-The Harp exterior
Hovever the standout pub here is the Harp in Chandos Place (from the Strand, outside Charing Cross Station, it's at the top of Adelaide Street). It's very friendly and there are always some interesting guest beers (e.g. Salem Porter, Hobgoblin, Wickwar Long John Silver), besides the usual Tim Taylor Landlord, Harveys Sussex and other popular beers. The main bar is often packed but there's a comfy first floor seating area (sometimes used for radio/TV sports). It's the Society for Protection of Beer from the Wood (SPBW) Greater London Pub of the Year 2008 and once again the CAMRA West London Branch Pub of the Year. Open from 11.

The nearby Marquis of Granby was boarded up for about 18 months but has reopened as the Marquis with minimal changes, though with a reduced range of real ales.

South from the Strand, down Villiers Street, and at the far end of Arches Arcade, is the Ship & Shovell. Now both halves of the pub, on either side of Craven Passage, are used in evenings (rather than just lunchtimes), so it's much easier to get in for the excellent Badger beers. However it seems to be closed on Sundays once again.

Another busy pub is the Nell of Old Drury, in Catherine Street, off Aldwych, with the likes of Adnams and Tanglefoot.

The Cove at the north-west corner of the central market building in the Piazza specialises in Cornish beers but is usually packed.


So overall, despite closures, there is a significantly more diverse real ale scene than five years ago, with guest beers being used to make pubs stand out. Some pubs are resisting having prices well over £3 a pint but that can't go on much longer.
Ian Kitching

This article was written around May 2008 and prices have edged up since then, with 3 a pint being more common.

January 2009 Update

[1] The Wheatsheaf closed on 7-Jan-2009 after a long battle to survive the Thameslink rail plans.