London is home to thousands of pubs. But which are the best ones for political geeks? Excluding the bars in the Palace of Westminster itself, here’s our pick of the most interesting political pubs:
Where better to begin than Westminster’s legendary Red Lion (SW1) – a favoured evening spot for politicos, pundits and civil servants for decades? The pub has politics in its very structure: one of several Westminster pubs to have its own division bell – used historically to alert half-cut parliamentarians when it’s time to vote. And as you’d expect, it’s been home to plenty of political intrigue over the years.
Back in 2017, Dianne Abbot came here for a few quiet drinks – only to find herself hitting the headlines the following day. After skipping a crucial Brexit vote (one that had split the Labour frontbench), she claimed to be suffering from a terrible migraine. When photos emerged of Abbot in the pub the night before, the lobby had a field day: had the Shadow Home Secretary’s ailment been self-inflicted, they asked, or was she helping Labour’s leader avoid his own headache?
The Red Lion isn’t Westminster’s only local. The Westminster Arms is popular too. It might also be worth checking The Feathers on Whitehall – back in August, surprised punters chanced upon a discarded copy of Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan. The confidential document had presumably been left behind by a tipsy aide.
London mayor hopeful Rory Stewart was famously mocked by the press when he cited Pret A Manger as his favourite London pub. But which politicos would have given a better answer?
Labour’s Keir Starmer swears by The Pineapple (Kentish Town, NW5); an old style boozer with a cosmopolitan Thai kitchen attached. Left winger Ian Lavery has been spotted drinking at The Black Prince (Kennington, SW9). The Prince, which has reportedly become a regular haunt for Labour lefties, describes itself – perhaps rather fittingly – as ‘a traditional pub for modern times’. Meanwhile Nigel Farage favours The Westminster Arms (SW1) – a curious choice for a man who likes to rail against the Westminster bubble.
If there’s one thing that can lure even the busiest politician into a pub, it’s the chance to bolster their image with a press-friendly photoshoot.
Back in 2014, George Osborne chose to publicise the Treasury’s decision to reduce beer duty by posing for photos pulling pints – in the famous Red Lion no less. You’d be lucky to catch him in there nowadays.
During his London mayor campaign, Zac Goldsmith visited The Lamb Tavern (EC3) in the historic Leadenhall Market, where he famously seemed utterly unaware of how to hold a pint glass (a gaffe that prompted immediate comparisons to Ed Milband’s bacon sandwich moment). Meanwhile, back in the coalition years, Nick Clegg and Vince Cable teamed up behind the bar at The Queens Head (W1) in Soho in an unconvincing attempt to quell rumours about leadership wobbles within the Lib Dems.
There’s a more famous category of pub snaps of course – those heavily contrived photoshoots you see during state visits from foreign leaders. Of course due to security protocols, these would never take place in London, but are surely worthy of a mention. Think David Cameron and Xi Jinping sipping ales in 2015 (The Plough in the Chiltens) and George W Bush’s fraught pub lunch in Sedgefield (The Dun Cow) – sixth months after the start of the Iraq war.
A few pubs which also merit a mention: The Hope (Smithfield, EC1) was where the head honchos from the Remain campaign drowned their sorrows on the morning of 24 June 2016. Like most Smithfield pubs, it’s used to serving early, being one of the favoured drinking spots of the meat market traders (who typically clock off at around six in the morning).
West London pub The Jameson (Hammersmith, W14) likes to rebrand itself as The Trump Arms whenever the President is in London – the landlord being a self-confessed super-fan of the Donald. Perhaps he took his inspiration from Maggie’s (Chelsea, SW10) – a kitsch 80s nightclub named after the Iron Lady itself? While The North Nineteen (Archway, N19) recently had an 8ft mural of Jeremy Corbyn’s face painted on its outside wall. Make of that what you will.