The Definitive London Travel Guide HTML version

Pubs and Bars
Pubs are one of England's most enduring social institutions, and
have outlived the church and marketplace as the focal points of
communities, with London's fringe theatre, alternative comedy
and live-music scenes still largely pub-based. At their best, pubs
can be as welcoming as their full name, "public house",
suggests, offering a fine range of drinks and filling food. At their
worst, they're dismal rooms with surly bar staff and rotten
snacks. One thing you can be sure of, however, is that most
pubs and bars remain smoke-filled places where drinking
alcohol is the prime activity.
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London's great period of pub building took place in the Victorian
era, to which many pubs still pay homage; genuine Victorian
interiors, however, are increasingly difficult to find, as indeed are
genuinely individual pubs. Chain pubs can now be found all
over the capital: branches of All Bar One, Pitcher & Piano and
the Slug & Lettuce are the most obvious, as they all share the
chain name, whereas J.D. Wetherspoon pubs and the Firkin
chain do at least vary theirs.
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Pub food , on the whole, is a lunchtime affair, although
"gastropubs", which put more effort into their cooking, are
increasingly offering meals in the evening, too. The traditional
image of London pub food is dire - a pseudo "ploughman's
lunch" of bread and cheese, or a murky-looking pie and chips -
but the last couple of decades have seen plenty of
improvements. You can get a palatable lunchtime meal at many
of the pubs we've listed in this section, and at a few of them
you're looking at cooking worthy of high restaurant-standard
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Though pubs may be constantly changing hands (and names),
the quickest turnover is in bars , which go in and out of fashion
with incredible speed. These are very different places to your
average pub, catering to a somewhat cliquey, often youngish
crowd, with designer interiors and drinks; they also tend to be
more expensive - we've listed a fair few.
England's licensing laws are likely to have changed by the time
you read this, as after more than a century of draconian
restrictions, the government has finally caved in and liberalized
English opening hours. This should allow pubs and bars to stay
open way beyond the standard 11pm last orders, so the times
listed may well have changed significantly.