People are protective over pubs. Working up the list of the Standard’s 50 favourites, the line I’ve heard most has been “well, did you include…?”, often swiftly followed by “it has to be in there”. Pubs matter, because so much of our life happens in them: the after-work swift half that comes with a case of the 4ams, the lazy Sunday afternoons, the family catch-ups, the first kisses. At their very best, pubs remain the great leveller; somewhere all of us, in whatever mood and with whatever resource, can share. A great pub has both bin men and chairmen, artists and piss artists.
It was in this egalitarian spirit that yesterday’s list was chosen. These things are not an exact science: we didn’t enslave ourselves to Excel, building columns of the craftiest beer lists or the biggest gardens. There were no points added or deducted for wine lists, music or newspaper clippings on the walls. In George Orwell’s last essay for the Standard, 1946’s The Moon Under Water, he details 10 rules for his dream pub. We worked with none.
All have a good choice of drinks, fair prices, and all welcome the motley crew of old and young, rich and poor, drunk and sober
Well, one. Over the past decade, deliberately trawling London to find the great pubs, one thing was in sharp focus: the very best places do not look to codify their guests’ experience. They do not insist upon anyone taking a seat and tucking into a roast, or proclaim lager to be unfulfilling. And so what marks the list is that everywhere on it has breadth; all have a good choice of drinks, fair prices, and all welcome the motley crew of old and young, rich and poor, drunk and sober, that give a place atmosphere.
This is why, for instance, the Harwood Arms didn’t make the cut. Michelin-starred for a reason, it is fundamentally a restaurant, and a destination one at that (few, if any of us, just happen to be wandering the suburbs of West Brompton). The same is true of the excellent Waterman’s Arms in Barnes, or Clerkenwell’s Eagle. A list for those and those like it will follow in the new year.
All this to say, the list is built on opinion — but it has been shaped by Londoners. When, for instance, the first version appeared in 2017, we were rightly crucified for overlooking Blythe Hill Tavern. Visits followed. This year it’s number two. So let us know where we missed. Next round’s on us.
David Ellis is the editor of Going Out