The Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) released a fairly brutal report early in 2016 indicating that 29 pubs closed every week across the United Kingdom. It’s hardly just a case of “people finally getting sick of warm beer” (how cheeky), but rather something of a molotov cocktail of rent pressure, the smoking ban, tax increases, price wars, and changing drinking habits. As for the latter, not only are the British drinking more at home, they’re drinking less beer than in the past, down from about 94 liters per head in 2003 to 67 liters in 2015.
Now, beer consumption has at least stabilized around that 67-liter mark since 2010, and CAMRA checked back in six months after their initial 2016 findings to report that pub closures slowed somewhat to “just” 21 per week. Still, The Pub has clearly seen better days.
Of course, most visitors will have no inkling of the industry’s challenges during a night out in London, where it feels like there’s always at least one pub just around the corner, and they all look packed, and everybody seems pissed. The city has in recent years become what is arguably Europe’s capital of modern craft beer, as well, with damn near 100 breweries and counting up and running in 2017, and more imported good stuff than ever peddled by specialist pubs and bottle shops. There may not be as many pubs, numbers wise, as there once were in London, but we’d say the city has reached a high point for high quality boozing, and it’s only getting better.
To help make sense of London’s changing beer world, we send you to seven of our favorite pubs, bars, and brewery taprooms, one for every day of the week.
MONDAY: EARL OF ESSEX
Every night is a perfect night for the Earl of Essex, but Weekend Remorse usually means thinner crowds and a more laid-back vibe than later in the week at this buzzy Islington boozer. Here a few bright tanks stand dormant behind the lovely bar, remnants of the days when The Earl brewed small batches of its own beers; perhaps the brewing is just on extended hiatus?
We hope so, but either way plenty of quality craft still flows from the pub’s 15 taps, the menu for which is infrequently updated with satisfying catharsis on Tumblr. The seasonal gastropubby fare has been something of a rollercoaster over the past few years, but thankfully seems to have leveled off in “above average” terrain after an extended rough patch with a new chef. The skin-on chips, served with aioli and dusted nicely with what we can only assume is crack, are among our favorites in London, and Sunday roasts are solid. Staff reprints the menus daily so that every dish has at least one pairing suggestion with beers listed on the board at the opening bell.
Sister pub The Kings Arms in Bethnal Green is well worth your time, too. 25 Danbury Street. 020 7424 5828. Open Monday to Thursday 12pm – 11:30pm, Friday and Saturday 12pm – 12am, and Sunday 12pm to 11pm.
TUESDAY: SHAFTESBURY TAVERN
With its elegant chandeliers, chesterfield sofas, open fireplace, and beautiful skylight, the back room of neighborhoody Shaftesbury Tavern is quite the showpiece. There’s a great vibe up front, too, one enhanced by a stellar (and free) jukebox and amiable staff. Beers from Dragonfly Brewery, brewed in Acton at The George & Dragon, are the specialty here, but they’re supplemented by taps/bottles/cans from a gaggle of London craft breweries that includes Beavertown Brewery and Hammerton Brewery. Sure, The Shaftesbury is part of the Remarkable Pubs chain, but “chain pub” doesn’t have to be a filthy word when it’s done well—right, BrewDog?
Cash and booze prices are at stake on Tuesdays for Quiz Night, which is led with good humor and aplomb by American expat Brian Seff, who also goes by his stage name Rick Right. Seff, who does stand-up comedy and appeared on The Pee-Wee Herman Show and Mork & Mindy back in the day, spins vinyl from his collection of over 30,000 (!) 45s up the road on Sundays at The King’s End in Crouch Hill, as well. A number of serious pub quiz sharks compete here, but if you lose the “preliminary quiz” you can always try challenging the winners to the “real quiz” outdoors.
WEDNESDAY: BREWDOG CAMDEN
London has been kind to the increasingly franchise-focused BrewDog brand, which since opening this flagship bar on a Camden backstreet in 2011 has expanded to Clerkenwell, Clapham Junction, Homerton, Shepherd’s Bush, Shoreditch, and Soho. BrewDog’s “hardcore beers for punks” ethos has worn more than a little thin over the years, and co-founder James Watts’s Business for Punks: Break All the Rules—the BrewDog Way is one of the corniest “books” we’ve paged through in recent memory. (“Chase every penny, pimp every pound,” Watt writes.) Corny marketing and nauseating personality aside, the Scotland-based brewery still consistently does wonderful things with beer.
In London, Camden is our preferred place to drink it (Shepherd’s Bush is 1b), in part because we know there’s always a decent chance that we’ll hear some Clutch and other choice rock booming in the background. Expect 20 taps split between BrewDog, Mikkeller, Stone, and/or any number of UK craft breweries, along with a deep bottle list anchored, of course, by the full BrewDog range. 113 Bayham Street. 020 7284 4626. Open Monday to Thursday 12pm – 11:30pm, Friday and Saturday 12pm – 12am, and Sunday 12pm – 10:30pm.
THURSDAY: THE FOX
If you’re in town on the last Thursday of the month hightail it over to Haggerston for The Fox’s monthly tap takeover, which spotlights one brewery (or sometimes a group of related breweries) on at least 10 or so of the bar’s 20 draft taps and handful of cask pumps. Draft pints are just £5 and cask pints £3.50 for the featured guest, and wings run 6 for £6 for 12 for £10. UK craft breweries dominate the bar’s everyday tap list.
The Fox is usually at or near capacity most nights of the week despite having a relatively spacious seating area, outdoor picnic tables, and small roof deck, so consider booking ahead. The kitchen, recently rebooted with a trimmed-down menu, still cranks out ace pub grub. We’re sad to see that staff has removed the fancy craft beer vending machine, but assume it was a pain in the arse to maintain. Sigh. 372 Kingsland Road. Open Monday to Thursday 4pm – 12pm, Friday and Saturday 12pm – 12am, and Sunday 12pm – 11:30pm.
FRIDAY: CRAFT BEER CO ISLINGTON
Of the seven (and counting) Craft Beer Co. pubs across London, this cozy boozer is easily our favorite. It looks every bit like a traditional British pub, one you might find in a small Lakes District village, but the difference is that CBC Islington curates one of the city’s finest beer lists. There are 26 draft taps, 10 well-kept cask pumps, and upwards of 200 bottles available here, with the taplist always covering a range of styles and strengths to ensure there’s something for every mood and occasion.
We’re a little heartbroken that the Forty Burgers kitchen stopped serving its sweet potato fries, but the house chips are a decent alternative (skip the parmesan & truffle oil chips) and we hear the range of seven burgers is proper. CBC Islington is a short walk from a number of other recommended spots, including The Three Johns, The Alma, The Taproom, and aforementioned Earl of Essex. 55 White Lion Street. 020 7278 0318. Open Monday to Thursday 4pm – 11pm, Friday and Saturday 12pm – 1am, and Sunday 12pm – 10:30pm.
SATURDAY: BEAVERTOWN BREWERY TAPROOM
Beavertown are the undisputed kings o’ the mountain that is London’s breakout brewing scene. Since 2011, it’s grown from a 650-liter Haggerston brewpub (which unfortunately closed in December 2017) to a proper Tottenham Hale brewery where demand exceeds the limits of its 24 12,000-liter tanks. In 2016, Beavertown unveiled its Tempus Project, a dedicated wood-aging facility with 450 barrels and a few foeders. That, friends, is impressive—and well-deserved.
Every Saturday the brewery opens its taproom, with all sorts of bottled, canned, and tapped Beavertown goodness served at palatable prices and complemented by a rotating lineup of food trucks and stalls. Keep an eye on the events page, too, because Beavertown bashes sell out fast.
Saturdays are open brewery days in Bermondsey, too, and thanks to Beavertown’s extended hours it’s not too much trouble making a full day of it and squeezing in field trips to both areas. Unit 17-18, Lockwood Industrial Park, Mill Mead Road. 020 8525 9884. Open every Saturday 2pm – 8pm.
SUNDAY: LONDON FIELDS BREWERY TAPROOM
Finally, wind the week down underneath the London Overground tracks at cheerful London Fields Brewery, where every Sunday night TJ Johnson and His Band jazz things up with swinging sets lasting from around 8pm until 10:30ish. Beers from this Hackney craft brewery are just fine—go for the Shoreditch Triangle IPA or whatever small-batch or experimental brew is on tap—and Sunday roasts do the Sunday roast job, though you’ll likely have to get here early because they do run out and the kitchen pretty much shuts down thereafter. We can’t think of any London watering hole in which we’d rather be on a Sunday evening. 365-366 Warburton Street. 020 7254 7174. Open late daily.