I Spent A Full Day Drinking At London's Worst Reviewed Pubs
London is the world’s capital; a cultural melting pot, an epicentre of mass tourism, and a gentrified and increasingly unaffordable hub to those that live here. The citizens of this great city face a rigid dichotomy about whether the Big Smoke’s cons outweigh its pros.
Because like all modern day metropolis’, London suffers from huge economic disparity; venturing into the world of investment bankers in Canary Wharf and Mayfair evokes an altogether different sensitivity than going for a stroll through Hackney or Peckham. It’s a city of curious polar opposites, which I guess only adds to its romanticism.
And no more is this inequality evident than in its countless pubs and bars, which act as a microcosm for London itself. At the very top, you have your exclusive, VIP only places where celebs love to hang out, and at the bottom, well, I’m not quite sure what happens at the bottom. Nevertheless, these were the ones I was most interested in, so with that in mind, I made a list of some of London’s worst reviewed pubs from TripAdvisor and Yelp – two of the most trustworthy sites on the internet – to see if they really were as bad as everyone was making out.
The Golden Heart
Here’s what people had to say about it:
“The devil is alive and well, she is the landlady here!!!”
“Absolutely appalling behaviour of the landlady – unnecessarily rude and confrontational. She needs calling out for what she is – a bully, to her own staff and customers. There is no place in society for this type of behaviour.”
Don’t go there… the risk of having the dragon ruin your night out are just too great!!”
Like most things under the glistening midday sun, The Golden Heart looked alright from the outside. However, given the reviews, I was wary of this tyrant of a grandma/landlady and the full-blown fisticuffs that could arise from one wrong move.
Upon entering, I was greeted by what can only be described as the aftermath of an intense programme of deforestation: wood, lots and lots of wood. I ordered an ice cold pint – the perfect remedy for blisteringly frosty hands – and sat down in a booth. As I did, my eyes began frantically darting around what felt like the insides of a 16th century naval ship to see if I could spot this Satan in the flesh.
She was nowhere in sight.
Still, The Golden Heart was more like a wooden panelled haven than the devil’s playground, serving as a safe house for despondent men to mull over their life’s regrets and reminisce about the one that got away.
I stepped up the pace of my pint supping (mostly because I was trembling out of fear of encountering this confrontational battleaxe) when a vacant looking man in the corner awoke from his boozy slumber and trundled over to the jukebox. What did this bitter-drinking renegade plump for? Liam Gallagher, of course.
If ever there was a cue to leave a place, it was this.
As I left the pub with an overly-aggressive Mancunian shouting down my lugholes, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed about the fact that this old bully/dragon/devil had eluded me. She must have been in the back plotting world domination or the demise of JD Wetherspoons, so I unfortunately never found out if she was as evil as everyone seemed to suggest.
Nevertheless, it was 1:00 pm and with the taste of that first ale on my lips, I set off into the world.
The Angel And Crown, Bethnal Green
Here’s some of the reviews:
“Whenever I walk my son past they shout ‘Go back to Poland’, even though I’m from Sweden. I genuinely believe it to be the East End’s worst pub.”
“Terrifying. Probably not the best place to rock up into being of a foreign persuasion and dressed like a hateful arts student. Every time I walk past this place there seems to be a couple having a domestic or a group of shouty men who look like they’re on the cusp of having a punch up.”
The pub gods were clearly on my side because I rocked up to the Angel and Crown in the Eden-like Bethnal Green and it was closed.
It’s just as well because I’m not particularly fond of getting my head kicked in by a bunch of xenophobic EDL brutes, so I got the hell on out of there and headed to the next stop on my second-rate pub tour.
The Covent Garden
Let’s take a look at what people had to say:
“We were told that the manager was watching us via a camera and we should behave ourselves, even though all that was happening was general chatting and drinking. When we left after deciding it was too awful to stay, he made personally rude remarks to a colleague before saying he would not apologise to us because he was just doing his job.”
“Keep away, incredibly dated and on entering the pub we were met with a toxic smell of incense. Felt extremely unwelcome and the atmosphere was very hostile. What a disappointment. We will never go here again.”
Whereas The Golden Heart had an ambiance (of sorts), The Covent Garden was devoid of all life and sentiment; it was like a dementor had just come in and reduced it to an empty shell. But hey, at least the toxic smell of incense hadn’t gone anywhere.
Despite being pitch black in there, I managed to locate the bar where I ordered a glass of white wine (terrible mistake) and found a seat upstairs.
I sat in the corner gulping my wine like an effeminate Aragorn or “Strider” in The Fellowship of the Ring, although, unlike in the film, there were no fanciful tales of the battles of old or hobbit folk chugging copious amounts of ale. I suddenly felt quite depressed, and just as I was about to leave, one of the barmaids who must have been watching me on one of the cameras a reviewer had referenced, came over and started speaking to me.
“You look sad, what are you doing in here on your own at this time?” she asked.
I couldn’t reveal my true agenda, so I replied with the first thing that came into my head.
“Girlfriend just dumped me” I responded.
What proceeded was a 30 minute conversation – and another disgusting glass of white wine – about this imaginary girl who had supposedly just broken my heart. After being convinced that there’s plenty more fish in the sea and that it’s my ex’s loss, I left the pub feeling a lot better than when I first went into it.
I won’t be returning there for a drink anytime soon, but if I ever need life advice, I know exactly where to go.
The City of Quebec
“This used to be a wonderful, safe place for gay men (especially the more mature gay men) to have a fun night out. How incredibly sad it is, that no longer does the bar I knew and loved no longer exists. “
“Management so rude and former regular patrons made so unwelcome. There seems to have been a sea change in clientele, attitude and a severe lack of tolerance. So sad.”
Apparently, the dizzying heights that so-called ‘gay pub’ The City of Quebec once seemed to enjoy have been resigned to the annals of history.
Every eye in the place followed me as I made the long walk down the centre of the pub like a death row inmate who was off to meet his maker. Everyone in there reminded me of “Bootstrap Bill” Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean; part of the furniture and never likely to leave.
‘Dead man walking, we got a dead man walking‘ I said to myself as I sat down at the least offensive table in there (which I later realised had an army of bad-tempered ants crawling all over it), mindful not to disrupt the precarious status quo and bring any more attention to myself.
Juxtaposed against this sombre environment was a playlist bursting with floor-fillers and feel-good classics. ‘Rocket Man’ by Elton John was the pick of the bunch, but the dulcet tones of The Pet Shop Boys did manage to alleviate my mood somewhat. Were the unresponsive men in here enjoying this playlist? Not outwardly. Was I enjoying it? Too much.
Make no mistake, though, this was a proper shit hole, perfectly summed up by a woman who opened the door nearest to me and poked her head in from the street before turning to someone outside to say ‘nah, keep looking.’
My G&T couldn’t go down quick enough.
As I was readying to leave, the manic bloke who had been hammering the fruit machine throughout my time there hounded me for some loose change. I duly obliged, pouring a load of coins into his hands without so much as a thank you.
I didn’t stick around to find out if he’d won off it, but if he did, and you’re reading this, mister, I want my share of the profits.
As I tottered out, I pondered what the real city of Quebec was like. If it’s anything like that pub, I can confidently say that I will never, ever go there.
Here’s those bloomin’ reviewers again:
“Where to start on this place. A full bin bag sat in the middle of the floor waiting to be taken out. A mangy cat launching itself at you and scratching away. Decor from the early part of last century. Drug dealers glaring at you as they conduct their business from the bar. Flies and dirt everywhere. Shambolic, a health hazard, and ought to be shut down.”
“If you really hate yourself drink here. The doorman was a real intimidating guy that had a problem with me because my friend asked someone for a cigarette. Then a regular started threatening to kick my head in with the bouncer towering over me. Lol what a night, give it a go if you think you hard enough. My girlfriend is still in tears.”
The buzz from the alcohol was beginning to take its toll on me as I stumbled over to North London and the heart of Finsbury Park.
A more feeble and less intoxicated man would have been disheartened by the lack of personnel in The Blackstock, but I wasn’t about to let that dampen my spirits.
Having said that, the hotchpotch of random furniture which was presumably picked up at various car boot sales and sparingly positioned across a huge room, did unnerve me slightly, as did the lone DJ stood in a booth who was playing to an empty dance floor. He’d close his eyes every now and then, and I figured it was either him pretending he was playing in front of a packed out crowd at Space, Ibiza, or, he was praying for the sweet release of death.
The thing that most unsettled me about this pub/club/bar though, was the two whippersnappers that were running around like it was a giant playground.
As I ordered a drink, I asked the barmaid who was responsible for them, to which she replied that they were hers and she was “looking after them.” I sat down with yet another G&T and let the situation unfold.
These kids had clearly been necking the Fruit Shoots and gobbling up the strawberry laces because they were going ape shit. They were running in and out of the men’s toilets like I usually do when I’ve broken the seal, using the urinals as some sort of pissy climbing frame.
I was pretty perturbed by this kind of behaviour, but the ‘babysitter’ seemed genuinely unfazed by it all.
The next thing I know, they’re milly rocking, dabbing, and twerking while the ‘DJ’ continued to stick to his big beat manifesto. The kiddies particularly seemed to enjoy ‘Ignition (Remix)’ by R. Kelly, but then again who wouldn’t, it’s a great song.
They came over to me a few times which worried me no end because a) I’m terrible with kids and b) I was half-cut, so in an attempt to distract them, I half-jokingly yelled to the DJ, ‘put the Cha-Cha Slide on!’
With mixing skills to rival those of Fatboy Slim, he put the timeless early 2000’s hit on and the kids were onto the dancefloor like a flash. The Blackstock was going off – to the ‘Cha-Cha Slide’, no less – and it was all my doing.
The place had undoubtedly peaked, and realising that I’d diverted everyone’s attention away from me for a moment, I slipped off into the night sky feeling particularly proud of my party-starting efforts.
The Rose and Crown, Clapham
“We came into the pub on Sat night and were greeted by the most awful smell – it was somewhere between disinfect and toilet – we had to leave immediately.”
“The Rose and Crown pitches itself as being different from the the rest of the expensive bland, Clapham pubs pitching themselves to either local bankers or the influx of the weekend crowd. In a way it succeeds, not glamorous in any way at all and 90% full of drunk ‘blokes’ (and the previous comment about it smelling is correct). Where it fails is the bar staff, many of whom would die rather than be polite or let alone smile. If you want to be treated like cattle you may as well go somewhere else.”
If I was feeling buzzed in the previous place, then by the time I rocked up to the Rose and Crown I was well and truly off my tits.
It was about 9 o’clock now, so you can understand my hazy thinking process and lackadaisical efforts given the amount of time I’d invested in this little adventure.
The pub itself really wasn’t that bad. It was dated, yes, but it was fairly cosy too, reminding me of The Woolpack in Emmerdale. It was filled with a load of 50-something men huddled together in their checked shirts, Trespass gilets, dad jeans and reddish-brown shitflickers. It was like a Jeremy Clarkson lookalike convention, and I stuck out like a sore thumb.
People were sat going about their business, some playing chess, some playing Connect Four, and overall the vibe was fairly welcoming. That was, until, a bunch of rowdy banker types came in to sully my perfectly tranquil state.
Was this the worst pub in London? No. Were these the worst group of men in London? Perhaps.
With the faint whisper of ‘Josh’ emanating from the closest Chicken Cottage, and the prospect of a chicken burger on the horizon, I staggered out onto the cobbled streets of Clapham and made my way home.
As I stumbled around with disgusting amounts of mayonnaise around my face, I reflected on the day.
While all the pubs were unquestionably bad, I personally found that there’s an odd satisfaction about drinking in places that are under no illusions as to how shit they are.
The atmosphere in every last one of them was miserable, but it turns out that misery really does love company, because for the most part, I was literally, absolutely fine drinking in them.
I also came to the conclusion that the opinions found on the likes of TripAdvisor and Yelp have to be taken with a pinch of salt; often, they’re just a forum for people with nothing better to do than to vent about one-off bad experiences.
Admittedly, my hammered state had affected my overall mood and skewed my final impressions, but still, at the very least these places sold alcohol – how bad could they really be? Not very, apparently.
While I’d definitely think twice about taking a date to any of the pubs I visited, what I will say is that if you happen to fancy a slightly obscure, mildly entertaining pub crawl with your mates, I’d strongly consider referring back to this article.
Images via iStock