Guinness. Darkness, my old friend. The liquid embodiment of the Emerald Isle. While one is enough, seven never hurt, and there’s a reason Guinness has become the staple offering of pubs across the world. Perfectly sweet, perfectly bitter, Guinness is, quite simply, the perfect pint – when it’s done right, that is. The fact remains that not all Guinnesses (or Guinnae) were created equal, and in a city like London, the gulf in quality between a good Guinness and bad Guinness is particularly pronounced.
So, to mark the sacred occasion of St. Paddy’s Day, I went and sampled some London’s very best.
What sets the following list of establishments apart is not just serving a good Guinness. It begins, and frankly ends, with a genuine appreciation for the art form that Guinness drinking is. From there, they have fostered an environment conduicive to Guinness consumption, treating it as a delicacy, and pairing it with both food and atmosphere befitting of this lofty rank. Each has also successfully preserved the tradition of Guinness, while managing to adapt it to a modern setting.
Without further ado, here is a list of where to get the best Guinness in London:
Guinea Grill, Mayfair
What a lovely little corner of the world this is. The pub has a quality that you simply couldn’t engineer if you tried. Intimate, but not cramped; old fashioned, but not dusty – it’s the exact kind of enclave you could enter for a quick one at lunchtime, only to happily eat and drink away an afternoon and stumble out come the evening without a tinge of regret.
The pub backs onto an alleyway in Mayfair, hidden rather nicely. There are three Guinness taps and the broody goodness is served in an old-school glass, without the indentations. My pint had a perfect head and took a couple of minutes to fully settle, which I always think is a good sign. When it did, it was delicious.
To mark the occasion and respect a long standing Irish tradition, I had three cheeky oysters with my Guinness. Delicious as they were, they frankly only whetted my appetite for everything else on the menu. Quality, traditional pub food, I reckon I could’ve eaten it all.
The Toucan, Soho
Anyhow, it was time to move on. Few places, if anywhere in London, can boast a Guinness history like The Toucan. While they’ve got other beers on tap, ordering anything other than a Guinness would be a weird decision, and the bartender didn’t even ask me what I wanted upon arrival.
The walls are covered in Guinness memorabilia and a pair of the famous, eponymous Guinness toucans are visible from the front. The inside is small and in places a bit cramped, and I did find myself having to really swirl my pint to maintain the head, but if you’re in search of an immersive celebration of Guinness, there is nowhere in London that can really match Soho’s The Toucan.
Coach and Horses, Covent Garden
You could probably make a ranking out of pubs named Coach and Horses alone, but few have the history or atmosphere of the Coach and Horses in Covent Garden. A proper old pub with an Irish flavour, they unsurprisingly do a top tier Guinness, and the one room space is a great place for a pint in town.
On top of the great Guinness, the Coach and Horses boasts an impressive looking selection of deli sandwiches, and had a jar of Colman’s mustard on each table – a sign of real quality in my books.
It’s another pub to which the idiom ‘They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore’ applies. An old-school boozer, it earns extra authenticity points because when I went for a piss, I encountered two Irish blokes arguing over the where exactly in Tipperary a woman they knew was from. It was a fitting conversation to walk in on.
The George, Fitzrovia
A wonderful pub that does a wonderful pint of Guinness. Its walls boast some of the impressive literary and poetic minds to have frequented The George in the past, but it does not rest on past qualities alone.
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The pub on this list that I have spent the most time in, and perhaps the one least known for its Guinness, The George goes under the radar slightly. I’m also a big fan of its slight Dr Seuss theme and coasters.
Also, additional points for a fantastic quote from Joe E. Lewis that hangs above one of the urinals. It reads: “I distrust camels, and anyone else who can go a week without a drink.”
Sheephaven Bay, Camden
Camden’s a funny place. One minute you’re walking along Camden High Street and it’s bustling, hectic, bohemian London. Then, you turn off, and you’re suddenly on peaceful little roads with beautiful houses and pastel coloured front doors that probably cost £2,000,000.
The Sheephaven Bay pub is on one such road, without any of the fanciness and the surrounding houses. That’s not to say it’s not lovely, but, like all good pubs, it’s maintained a bit of gritty character. It’s only a fiver for a double measure of spirits, which isn’t bad for the location, but it is of course the Guinness I was after and it didn’t disappoint.
Another pub with the old-school Guinness glasses, Sheephaven Bay is a proper Irish pub that knows what it’s doing and does it well: men, sports, and Guinness.
Gibney’s, Old Street
A hidden underground gem, Gibney’s is just around the corner from Old Street Station, found underneath an impressive looking Irish restaurant called Daffodil Mulligan’s. It’s the kind of place you’re not going to encounter by accident, and the combination of a sleek design and the fact it doesn’t open until 4 o’clock during the week, Gibney’s feels less like a traditional Irish pub and more like a modern Irish bar.
That’s not to say it doesn’t preserve traditional charm – it’s got more than enough to still be among the best boozers on this list. The bar is beautiful and they’ve got the old fashioned Guinness taps. They also had a lovely little bar menu that looked fantastic and, based on the nice restaurant upstairs, almost certainly is.
The Cow, Notting Hill
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A fantastic pub, just down the hill from Westbourne Park tube station, The Cow is one of London’s best pub restaurants. They’re famous for their Guinness and for good reason, but, they, too, do a fantastic job of food. The kitchen is right in the middle of the pub, and they chef up some fantastic courses that go perfectly with a side of Guinness. (Their crab tagliolini, in particular, is divine, and they are another institution to have mastered the oyster and Guinness combination).
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