I wrote this piece on London's most traditional pubs for Gridskipper, the Gawker Media Travel blog, as part of a series of weekly travel round-ups in my role as London Correspondent.
For every splendid Victorian pub in London, there's a crapload of identical chain bars serving overpriced, badly kept beer in quirky glasses, or pretentious refitted "gastro" pubs likewise lacking in local color or traditional trappings. But you're in safe hands now, because this post will guide you from one gloriously decked-out historical London pub to the next (all in the same day if you're game), where inspiration is just another drink away. If you need an excuse, consider these words from London's fourth-best playwright and Shakespeare's pal, Ben Johnson: "Drink today, and drown all sorrow; You shall perhaps not do it tomorrow; Best, while you have it, use your breath; There is no drinking after death." On that note, mine's a pint.
55 BRITTON ST, ISLINGTON, GREATER LONDON, EC1M 5, UK
This 300 year-old boozer in Clerkenwell is a rustic little gem. The tall glass frontage gives it the look of a Dickensian shop, and the tiny interior is back to basics tavern -- wooden floors, painted brown walls, and old hardwood tables and stools. It's the one pub in London owned by the St. Peter's brewery, who create a range of old-world inspired ales naturally flavored with blackcurrant, gooseberry, and grapefruit.
174 QUEEN VICTORIA ST, LONDON, GREATER LONDON, EC4V 4, UK
At the North end of Blackfriars Bridge, the Blackfriar boasts one of the most striking pub interiors in the city. It's art nouveau innards are inspired by the medieval history of the location, with mosaics depicting monks, plus vaulted ceilings and private wooden booths. The pub gets a bit crammed with office workers in the evenings, but it makes for a fine spot for afternoon or weekend drinking.
LAMBS CONDUIT PASSAGE, CAMDEN TOWN, GREATER LONDON, WC1R 4, UK
On a quiet street in refined and regal Holborn, this welcoming pub with dark wood ceilings, quaint fixtures, and green tiled frontage feels like a set from a RichardCurtis film, in that it's so close to being a perfect pub it doesn't seem real. A bit further from the center of town than the other places on this list, but well worth the trip for the friendly bunch of locals, old-world atmosphere, and traditional fittings.
31 ENDELL ST, CAMDEN TOWN, GREATER LONDON, WC2H 9, UK
The grand frontage of this pub is completely covered with hanging baskets and plants, which prepares you for the interior, similarly stuffed with old paintings, Beatles memorabilia, plastic fish, and copper kettles. There's barely a spare square inch of wall or ceiling, but that serves to make the pub homely and comfortable. The beer is sometimes below par and the service a little chilly, but the Victorian decor is the real deal, and you'll struggle to find a more traditional pub in Covent Garden.
18 BATEMAN ST, LONDON, GREATER LONDON, W1D 3, UK
This tiny little Soho drinking den oozes historical atmosphere. The walls are covered in green and yellow tiles, the lighting is flickery, and the creaky wooden staircase is a museum piece. It leads up to a separate dining area that smells of shepherd's pie called the Orwell room, named after the great man reputed to be a regular here. Best visited on a cold evening for a pint of Harvey's and some of their award-winning sausages.
MILL ST, LONDON, GREATER LONDON, W1S 2, UK
This popular pub close to Regent Street dubs itself, a tad loftily, the Institute for Pie Excellence. But they have won a heap of awards for their pies, especially the steak & kidney, so we'll let them off. There's a pleasant local vibe within despite its centrality, the Young's beer is good as ever, and the food is pure English pub and filling as hell, with all mains priced under a tenner. Shropshire ham egg and chips, Windmill fish pie, and traditional fish and chips are on the menu alongside the pies, and you can get further supplement your gluttony by tucking into sides like greens with bacon or mushy peas.
43 WEYMOUTH MEWS, PADDINGTON, GREATER LONDON, W1G 7, UK
Tucked away down a side street behind the Embassies of Portland Place, this charming little establishment feels more like a quaint country pub than a city boozer frequented by diplomats and plastic surgeons from nearby Harley Street. The inside is cozy and homely with dusty pictures of old cricketers hanging on the beamed walls. The Sam Smith brewery operates here, serving their range of decent, low-priced beers. It makes for a peaceful drinking haven on weekends thanks to its clandestine location, despite being only five minutes from Oxford Circus.
ARGYLL ST, LONDON, GREATER LONDON, W1F 7, UK
The drinking area within this pub is divided by awesome Victorian etched-glass partitions known as "snob screens" for their original purpose of keeping the social classesapart. Today, they do the job of making the pub more pleasant by sectioning off the crowds. And crowds there always are, because this is the closest boozer to Oxford Circus and consequently heaving with shoppers and tourists. But that shouldn't deter you from popping in for a drink, marveling at the remarkable interior, and thinking that if you could transport the whole place about half a mile north, it would probably be the best pub in the world.