Next to the royals, London's pubs are England's most famous attraction. The city is bursting at the seams with pubs — over 6,000 at last count. Yet, with so many to choose from, finding good ones can be difficult.
Since pubs first appeared back in Roman times, people have talked about them, had fun in them, played in them, and relied on them for good food, drink, and companionship. Pubs have served as courts of law, churches, and auction rooms. Smaller towns often used them as mortuaries. Soccer had its birth in a pub, as rival inns battled against each other. So did cricket.
Music began in pubs, and great musicians, like Paganini, played in them. English literature became a part of pub life in Chaucer's Tabard and has continued to be linked to them ever since. Shakespeare frequented inns and alehouses and set many a scene in them. Dickens immortalized one of London's most famous pubs, the Spaniard's Inn on Hampstead Heath, in his Pickwick Papers.
Pubs have also been the haunt of the infamous highwaymen like Dick Turpin, who, legends says, kept watch in an upper room of the Spaniard's Inn for suitable wealthy travelers whom he could relieve of their purses. You, too, can join the legions of writers and artists, charlatans and comics, and ordinary people who enjoy pubs when you stay in London with Go With Oh.
If you know where to look, you'll discover some real gems. The barman's cry of "Coming, sir, coming" must have been invented with the pub itself. Though this may be a common point, pubs, themselves are as different from each other as night and day.
The local is still the mainstay of London's drinking establishments. This is a pub in a local neighborhood whose customers come in every day to socialize. It's the place where they meet their friends, catch up on gossip, solve the world's problems, and discuss the weather. Packed on weekdays, come evenings and weekends, they're almost empty. Though fine for a quick pint of ale, they're not too friendly to visitors. The stares you'll get from the local crowd will sometimes be chilly enough to freeze the froth off your Guinness.
There's another type of pub, the purist pub, which caters almost exclusively to visitors who are likely to go once and never again. You'll find them in tourist and shopping areas. All share two things: high prices and a total lack of concern for the customer.
Is there a middle ground? You bet. While franchises and chain businesses in the United States all look alike, those in London, especially pubs like Charrington, are all different. In fact, the brewing companies own or franchise the pubs as outlets for their beers. While Charrington is one of many, it's certainly one of the best.
There are perhaps 100 pubs in London that will meet your expectations of an English pub and will offer excellent service as well. They all have a general warmth that welcomes strangers as readily as the regulars, and on top of that have some special virtue that makes them stand out. Many of these are the older pubs that have been giving pleasure to customers for centuries. The above mentioned Spaniard's Inn is one of them, so is Ye Old Watling, located across from St. Paul's Cathedral on the oldest street in town. Not only is it on the oldest street, but it is the oldest pub in London, having been badly damaged in the Great Fire of 1666 and rebuilt by Sir-Christopher Wren.
The law limits when alcoholic drinks can be served. Most London pubs are open from 11 a.m. until at least 11 p.m. on weekdays and Saturdays and from noon to 11.00 p.m. on Sundays. And remember, there's no table service. You must go to the bar and get your drink — and pay for it immediately — that, too, is the law.