‘My Top 10’: North London pubs and bars

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Booze writer Euan Ferguson knows a thing or two about watering holes. Here’s his personal selection


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1. Earl of Essex, Islington

Away from the crowds of Islington’s main (and mainstream) drinking thoroughfare, Upper Street, is a sight to cheer: a prominently displayed wooden board advertising the twenty choices on tap in this handsome house. Visit two days in a row and it’ll look completely different – the offer changes all the time. A smart garden through the back provides the Earl with an extra dimension in the summer months. Check out its Instagram for a photo of the beer of the day. 25 Danbury Street, N1 8LE

2. Southampton Arms, Gospel Oak

On a somewhat lonely stretch of Highgate Road, after the busy bit and before the posh bit, this brilliant place is the epitome of everything that’s good about pubs. It’s spartan but warm, with pews for seats and timeworn brown wood everywhere you look; a welcome lack of ironic taxidermy or flock wallpaper means you can concentrate on the delicious beer and cider. As one of London’s first new wave of pubs devoted to the best of British breweries and cideries, there’s an amazing range – often including a mild, which isn’t always seen this far south in England. For more on Southampton Arms, head here. 139 Highgate Road, NW5 1LE

Table in the Earl of Essex
Islington’s Earl of Essex. Photo: Drink London

3. High Cross, Tottenham

All across London, former public toilets are being pressed into alternative use: many of them now service the other end of the digestive cycle and have become bars and restaurants (see also Ladies & Gentlemen in Kentish Town). This handsome little pub occupies an above-ground 1930s building right by the high road, and it’s just about perfect – cosy, classic, friendly and convivial, with a great selection of local craft beer and hearty dishes emerging from the tiny kitchen, and a mini terrace for sunny evening pints. 350 High Rd, N17 9HT

4. Scottish Stores, King’s Cross

In the not-so-distant past, the Scottish Stores was the Flying Scotsman, a pub within an easy baggage-wheel of King’s Cross railway station, famous for its strippers and not much else. It was always a bit rough around the edges, reflecting the transitory and licentious nature of its neighbourhood. But times have changed, and now it’s a beautifully restored arts-and-crafts pub with loads of great beer and even a roof terrace, high above the non-stop streets of King’s Cross – it may not be bucolic, quite, but before a few hours on a stuffy carriage to the north, it’s just what you need. So good you might miss your train.For more on Cally Road boozers, head here. 2-4 Caledonian Road, N1 9DU

Auld Shillelagh in N16. Photo: Drink London

5. The Pineapple, Kentish Town

In an area embarrassingly rich with good pubs, the Pineapple stands head-and-shoulders higher, and not just for its wonderful throwback name (imagine how exotic the spiky fruit must have seemed to Victorians used to domestic damsons or plain old plums). Thanks to motivated locals it survived an attempt in the early 2000s to develop it into apartments. It’s an easy-going place that’s at once jolly, cosy or comforting, suiting drinkers sociable and solitary alike; Kentish Towners are kept busy with live comedy, a fiendish quiz, seasonal singalongs and a cheese-celebrating night called…Cheese Night.For more on The Pineapple, head here. 51 Leverton Street, NW5 2NX

6. Auld Shillelagh, Stoke Newington

The staff are all Irish, the customers all seem to be Irish, the pennants and pictures on the walls of this narrow boozer are all Irish. At weekends a live band fiddles and strums away in the corner. There’s not much other than Guinness to drink, although enough of it must be sunk here to fill Galway Bay. Among London’s many Irish-ish pubs, the Auld Shillelagh stands out as a genuinely foot-tapping, hand-clapping, glass-clinking Emerald Isle gem. It’s enough to make you yearn for the old country, even if your experience starts and ends with a 0735 Ryanair flight to Dublin. 105 Stoke Newington Church Street, N16 0UD

Outside of the Holly Bush pub
Hampstead’s Holly Bush. Photo: Drink London

7. The Holly Bush, Hampstead

Of all the perfectly lovely pubs in perfectly lovely Hampstead village, the Holly Bush is the most… perfect. Climb through steep and winding lanes away from the post-Heath throng and you’ll be rewarded by a warren of tobacco-coloured rooms and a few well-kept Fuller’s beers; it has been an inn since 1800 and looks every year of it in the best possible way (although the building is older). Combine it with a trip to the nearby seventeenth-century merchant’s dwelling Fenton House. A quick fact with which to bore your drinking pals: the whole London Underground network is at its deepest point below the Holly Bush – 68.8m. 22 Holly Mount, NW3 6SG

8. Booking Office, King’s Cross

Housed in the former ticket office of St Pancras station and now part of the magnificent Renaissance hotel, this Victorian cathedral of cocktails is surely one of the most visually impressive places to drink in London. At ground level is a sweeping marble bar, but look up and you won’t fail to be awed: architect Sir George Gilbert Scott’s gothic room soars with ecclesiastical arches, buttresses and leaded windows. The Victorians built pretty special pubs, but their stations were something else. St Pancras Renaissance hotel, Euston Road, NW1 2AR

The railway tavern
Dalston’s Railway Tavern. Photo: Drink London

9. Super Lyan, Hoxton

Ryan Chetiyawardana, aka Mr Lyan, shook the London cocktail scene to its core with the opening of White Lyan on this same site, an off-the-beaten-track former pub in Hoxton. It had no branded bottles, no ice, no fruit, and it freaked out the squares; he closed it at its peak, then opened the swankier Dandelyan, recently declared the world’s best bar. Now it’s back, with pioneering no-waste restaurant Cub upstairs, and this equally sharp bar in the basement. The cocktails are maybe less radical than before, but you’ll still be drinking things that’ll fill you with wonder. With helpful pointers like ‘Fresh’, ‘Rich’ and ‘Tropical’, they combine everyday elements with fantastical ones (the Bloodshot Negroni has bourbon, Campari, beef tea, vermouth and mandarin spritz). 155 Hoxton St, N1 6PJ

10. Railway Tavern Ale House, Dalston

In a Georgian backstreet on the Islington/Hackney borders, an old pub was given back its proper name in 2012 along with a subtle sprucing up to emphasise its handsome 1950s features. Now, it brings to mind somewhere JB Priestley would have settled into for an afternoon half and the crossword while his driver waits outside. The vintage Underground art and carriage-compartment-brown wood transports you to a gentler age; the superbly kept ales and craft beers bring you pleasantly back up to date. 2 St Jude Street, N16 8JT

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Drink London by Euan Ferguson, £9.99, grab a copy here.

Have you got a personal Top 10 (of anything)? Email us: info@kentishtowner.co.uk

Main image: Auld Shillelagh, Drink London Quarto


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