London's pub and bar scene is astonishingly varied and rich - from glam roof terraces, underground dive bars, traditional boozers, snazzy themed cocktail joints, and some wonderful pub gardens for when the sun shines.

I was bought a Christmas stocking filler when I was a student here in London by my parents - a guide to London's best 500 pubs. Little did my folks know that I'd take the pocket guide up as a challenge and over the course of a couple of years, visit them all.

Dropping into a good pub or bar is still about the best way to feel the pulse of a city, to meet its local, and to enjoy the time-honoured ritual of washing down good food and conversation with a good drink...


 
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BARS AND PUBS
Remembering the opening of Europe's longest bar, at London's St Pancras Station
posted by Richard Green on 14/02/2017

Europe's longest bar, Searcy's Champagne Bar, has trains pulling up right alongside

You might have thought that St Pancras station was beautiful or quirky, but you would never have called it glamorous. Not until now, that is. With the opening of Europe's longest champagne bar - all 315ft of it, equivalent to four train carriages - St Pancras just got sexy.

I'm sitting at about the 180ft mark, on a brown leather banquette, heated to ward off the chill under the vast arches. The champagne is flowing, the oysters are sliding and, just feet away, behind a glass partition, a Eurostar train is easing its way down the platform - next stop Paris.

St Pancras International station is the UK terminus station for Eurostar services from Paris and Brussels

I confess that I'm from Derby, and St Pancras is my station. By that, I mean it's where the main line from Sheffield and the Midlands has terminated since it was built in 1868; where I alighted for college in 1983 (I never quite got around to going back on a permanent basis); where I ran along the platform, heading home for my brother's wedding; and where I queued in the cold, trying to get north in time for Christmas. It's not a place where I have ever drunk champagne.

Now there are more than 40 varieties from which to choose, from a glass of Jean-Paul Deville Carte Noire NV for £7.50 all the way to a bottle of Krug Collection 1949 for £2,700. There are just two bottles of that last one, kept in a nearby safe. Impulsives, please note - you'll have to allow 15-20 minutes after ordering for chilling.

If I'd asked for either of those drinks at the Shires - the old railway pub that was apologetically tucked away in a corner nook - I'd have got a black eye and 15 or 20 minutes of seeing stars. It was an unspeakably grotty place, serving scowls and poorly kept John Smith's bitter. The floor was sticky, the games machines were distracting and the meat pies were utterly miserable.

A crisp-suited waiter hands me the new bar's food menu, snapping me out of my reverie. There's a champagne breakfast at £17.50, with plates of canapés from £7.50 and open sandwiches from £6.50. Proper open sandwiches, these: not the train wrecks of mangled sausage, egg and ketchup that were scraped together at the old platform-side Traveller's Fare cafe, but "Gubbeen, heirloom tomato chutney on granary bread", no less.

The bar is on the platform level under the glorious Victorian roof

Ah, and here comes the 16.12 from Brussels, gliding along the platform. Through the windows, the passengers look excited, some a little stunned. They've had their Waterloo: nice though the curvy roof was, this entrance is as grand a station arrival as you'll find anywhere in the world. A little girl waves from the window and, caught in the spirit of the place, several diners on the next table wave back.

If I have one gripe, it's a selfish one: the country's and the Continent's gain is my loss. You see, next time I catch the train up to Derby, it won't actually depart from beside the champagne bar. No, no: services to the Midlands have been shunted to a new annex just beyond, where the vaulted ceiling, and the magic, stops.

Still, us Midlanders don't really mind being nudged out by Eurostar, and our platforms are only a short walk away. After some bubbly in style, the 12.04 to Sheffield will never be quite the same again. And who cares about the 12.04 to Sheffield, anyway? I'm definitely coming back here just to glam it up, sans train tickets.

***

The above article was published in the Sunday Times on the 18th of November 2007; the week of the bar's opening. Since then I have indeed returned - on many occasions - though usually when meeting friends and relatives visiting from the Midlands, including Sheffield.

The bar looks and feel pretty much as it did when it first opened, though I've found that sitting at the tables down the side of the train can mean slow service sometimes, especially at the beginning.

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Getting there: St Pancras International Station is served by the Kings Cross St Pancras tube station, which is on the Circle, Victoria, Piccadilly, Northern, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines. See https://tfl.gov.uk/tube for station and tube line info.

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More information: see Searcy's Champagne Bar and St Pancras Station. And for info on the many bars and restaurants nearby - especially up at the fashionable Granary Sqaure, see www.kingscross.co.uk


 
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BARS AND PUBS
A beer garden that's stranded at high tide, the place where the Mayflower set sail from, and the world's smallest bar. London's best waterside pubs...
posted by Richard Green on 24/01/2017
 

Sunset on the terrace of the White Cross in Richmond. Photo My Bathroom Wall

There is nothing better on a Summer's day to seek out of of London's many river and canal side pubs and bars. There are dozens of them, all grand for watching life on the water and for enjoying its cooling atmosphere. Here are five corkers...

The White Swan: a magnificent village pub in Twickenham overlooking Eel Pie Island and the grounds of Ham House. It's delightfully bucolic, brimming with bonhomie, and has the cutest garden terrace and grassy slipway at the front - ideal for summer lounging by the Thames. The terrace is surrounded by water at high tides - only for an hour or so - and a marooned sup is part of the summer fun. The clientele are a friendly bunch of dog walkers, rugby and rowing types - though it turns raucous on Twickenham match days and at the July pub-run raft race. www.thewhiteswanlondon.com

 

The Mayflower: pick a nook and prepare to be seduced by London's cosiest riverside drinking den. The flickering of antique lanterns gives the perfect glow and high-backed alcove seating makes chatting to strangers deliciously unavoidable. The pub is tucked away behind the Brunel Museum in Rotherhithe, by the wharf where the Mayflower ship set sail from in 1620, en route to Plymouth and the Americas. Its authentic patina has been augmented with blocks & tackle, splays of candlesticks and other assorted nauticalia, while the overwater terrace is a plum summer drinking spot and has a heated marque over it in winter. www.mayflowerpub.co.uk

 

The Palm Tree: this rollicking East End boozer is right by the Regent's Canal and surrounded by the Mile End Park. Step back in time and marvel at the bygone fittings; pleated red curtains above the horseshoe shaped bar, an ancient cash register that still goes "kerching", and an East End Fives dart board - peculiar looking with just 12 segments. Punters include students from the nearby Queen Mary University and plenty of East End characters. Foremost of whom are Valerie and Alf: they've run the place since 1977, dispensing exquisitely timed quips and good humour. There's live jazz and crooning for knees ups and sing-alongs at the weekends.

 

The Crate: opened in 2012 in a former factory by the Lea Navigation and Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the Crate is a rambunctious hipster hangout. Hackney Wick has the largest number of art studios in Europe and the clientele are suitably à la mode, here for the outstanding brewed-on-site beers, seven flavours of stone-baked pizza, and the superb cultural craic. Inside is trendy too, with exposed breeze block walls, light fittings of bare bulbs in bedsprings, and unisex toilets. Outside, the large area of trestle tables heaves in summer, facing the canal boats and graffiti art. www.cratebrewery.com

 

The Dove: well-heeled locals and lucky passer's by stop here for the Fuller's ales and good food served across three small rooms and a handsome conservatory. There's a barrel of history and quirk on offer too, with walls smothered in photographs of old London. Enter the unmarked door to the right - and outside - of the main entrance and you'll squeeze into the smallest bar in the world - just 4ft by 8ft. The music sheet on the wall in the main bar is Rule Britannia, written in 1720 by Dove regular James Thomson. Other tipplers of note have included Charles II and Nell Gwynn, Alec Guinness and Dylan Thomas, James May and Bill Bailey. The beer's local too, and you can see the chimney at Fullers Brewery from the two-tier terrace. www.dovehammersmith.co.uk


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