It’s the eternal question on the lips of locals and backpackers in London alike – where can we get a cheap pint in this pricey city? With most pubs in the center of town now charging around (cue collective horrified gasp) £3.50 a beer, we felt it was our duty to sniff out some affordable pubs around Soho.
And lo and behold, the £2 pint is not just a myth – thanks to the (frankly marvelous) chain of pubs owned by the Samuel Smith’s brewery.
And they’re not just cheap and cheerful. Housed in a collection of attractive historic buildings, they offer a slice of traditional British pub life as well as bargain prices.
We started out in Holborn one fateful Friday night and staggered between the best of the Sammy Smith’s in the area. All in the name of research, of course!
1. The Cittie Of Yorke, 22 High Holborn. 5.30pm. This lovely little pub is a bit of a hotspot after work and typically crowded with lawyer types from nearby offices. The medieval wood interior is pleasantly gloomy and there’s a surprising amount of space when the large cellar is open downstairs. Intimate booths line the edge of the main bar and so many cases are discussed in there at lunchtimes that it’s rumored they’re soundproof…
2. The Princess Louise, 208 High Holborn. 6.30pm. Further along the same road lies the next on our list, the beautifully restored Princess Louise. Although relatively unremarkable from the outside, the interior is a sumptuous feast of Victorian design, with carved wood detail and smoky mirrors. The main floor is split into tiny private bars accessed by doors the approximate size of a hobbit which become something of a challenge after a couple of pints.
3. The Crown, 51 New Oxford Street. 7.45pm. Situated right in the middle of Bloomsbury, The Crown is just as traditional and attractive but has the added benefit of a large, shady outdoor seating area. It shares the lively space with neighboring cafes, creating continental-style al fresco drinking during the summer months. Well, sort of. Yes, it was raining when we were there. And yes, we still sat outside…
4. The Angel, 61 St Giles High Street. 8.30pm. By this point things had begun to get a little bit messy… But even our blurry eyes could appreciate The Angel’s simple charm with its little coal fire for the winter and an old-fashioned feel. The crowd are mostly dedicated regulars, making this the quietest pub on our list and perfect for a peaceful pint or two in this bustling part of London.
5. The John Snow, 39 Broadwick Street. 9.15pm. Progressing past a handful of sex shops and through increasingly kitsch, sleazy streets into the heart of Soho (and past a policeman or two) brought us to The John Snow. Named for the renowned Victorian doctor and public health pioneer of the same name, it stands on the site of a water pump which the good Doctor once identified as the source of a cholera outbreak in London. Nowadays, it’s rather less of a health hazard and, due to its great central location, is often packed with patrons spilling out onto the surrounding streets during the summer.
6. The Glasshouse Stores, 55 Brewer Street. 10.30pm. We made it to the final stop fairly successfully (although one of our number had to make a quick dash back to The John Snow to rescue his bag). The Glasshouse Stores is at the other end of Soho, near Piccadilly Circus. It may look tiny from the street but inside there are actually three floors and a billiards table… With buckets of ‘olde worlde’ charm and a handful of ale-drinking regulars, it’s the perfect antidote to the busy (and expensive) tourist bars that surround it.
So there you have it – a bar crawl that’ll get you quite a bit of change from a £20 note! If that sounds appealing (and really, it should!), then here’s an interactive map of the route we took.
And this is only scratching the surface, for there are actually a total of 32 Sam Smith’s pubs in central London. All of them are good old-fashioned English pubs with no unnecessary gimmicks, and, far more importantly, all of them serve cheap and tasty beer!