Are these Kentish Town’s best two boozers?

Laura Richards, whose new book compiles a shortlist of 111 of the capital’s top watering holes, reckons so

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The Pineapple: Fruity old pub with a famous following

‘Passageways run down either side with alcoves warmed by an open fire and genial chat.’ Photo: Jamie Newson
Turquoise-coloured corner pub the Pineapple spells sanctuary to passersby in what is already quite the desirable neighbourhood in Kentish Town; all terrace houses, peace and quiet. A pineapple illustration swings proudly above the door, marking out a quirky anomaly in traditional north London.

The Pineapple has held this prominent position since 1868, and began as a haven to new locals working on the rail lines in the area. It held Easter bonnet competitions, fancy dress parties and even meetups for the local pigeon-fancier club.

It’s fair to say the typical patron has evolved from working-class grafter to middle-class settler, but you’ll still find devotees from those glory days occupying the cosy front section.

These are the ones who grouped together to save the pub in 2001 after landlady Mary Gately sold up on the false promise that the pub would remain. This group inspired a number of famous punters – from Jon Snow to Ken Loach – to speak up against the pub’s threatened closure, and within eight days of the story making the national press, English Heritage had granted a Grade II listing.

You’ll now find a plaque on the wall honouring that tumultuous time (‘The Pineapple War 2001 – 2002’). You’ll also find period features as you push back the theatrical curtain and face the imposing, old-fashioned bar backed with mirrors and lettering offering ‘wines, brandies, whiskies’.

Passageways run down either side with alcoves warmed by an open fire and genial chat. There’s a modern conservatory to the rear, the best place to tuck into an equally modern Thai menu. And an upstairs event space doubles as an occasional practice ground for comedians testing new material, from Josh Widdicombe to Katherine Ryan.

There’s even a cheese night (sans pineapple) on Tuesdays. The Pineapple stands out on the inside just as much as it does on sleepy Leverton Street. 51 Leverton Street, NW5 2NX.

Getting there: Kentish Town (Overground, National Rail). Hours: Mon–Thu, noon–11pm, Fri & Sat, noon-midnight, Sun noon–10.30pm.

Tip: You can catch comedy headliners doing more polished performances just around the corner at the O2 Forum Kentish Town.

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Southampton Arms: Public house perfection (plus pork)

‘Jazz records spin from a player at the bar, or there’s weekly piano sessions.’ Photo: Jamie Newson
Faded portraits of Victorian characters, church pews for seats, dim lights, creaking floorboards, a cash-only bar and a (slightly humming) toilet outhouse for the gents. It’s not sounding all that modern. Plus, the Southampton Arms’ tell-it-as-it-is signage outside simply offers: ‘ale, cider, meat’. But this modest Gospel Oak pub doesn’t need to make contemporary gestures to convince that it’s one of London’s finest places for a pint.

Shining white tiles draw your eye to the bar, where all the modern flourishes come into play. Landlord Peter Holt turned his attention to the beer when taking on the lease of this failing Courage pub in 2009. He championed independent UK breweries unlike anyone had done in the capital.

The imitators have come thick and fast since – the pub even makes note of a particular Stoke Newington rival on its website – but it remains London’s only ale and cider house strictly dedicated to UK indies.

Ten hand-pulls are given over to ales, while a further eight pour English and Welsh ciders, all of which come in dimpled jugs for an old-fashioned drink to match the semi-Dickensian setting.

And that aforementioned ‘meat’ is classic pub fare with piggy snacks including sausage rolls, pork pies, crackling, Scotch eggs and the Southampton’s much-loved hot pork baps.

Jazz records spin from a player at the bar, or there’s weekly piano sessions (more jazz, with the occasional trumpet accompanist). People vie for a spot by the open fire, especially if they’ve brought along the papers and their pooch (although any dogs in tow must get along with the pub’s cats, Pork Pie and Scratchings).

Otherwise, there’s the heated garden open until 10pm (at which point a leopard will be released, if the pub’s messaging is to be believed). With all that in mind, it’s hardly a surprise that punters struggle for a table on a drizzly Sunday. There’s no place quite as warming. 139 Highgate Road, NW5 1LE. More here.

Getting there: Gospel Oak (Overground). Hours: Mon–Sat, noon–midnight, Sun noon-10.30pm.

Tip: Feel less guilty about tucking into pork and pints with a trip to Hampstead Heath’s outdoor swimming ponds beforehand (perhaps not after, though).

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This is an extract from 111 London Pubs & Bars That You Shouldn’t Miss By Laura Richards with photographs by Jamie Newson (Cologne: Emons, £11.99). Grab a copy from Owl Bookshop or any other local bookshop in London.

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