Take your ale with a ripping yarn at these timeless haunts.
As a "Fleet Street" reporter on UK national newspapers, I spent an alarming amount of time in London pubs. A good many of them have great stories to tell. Here are five of my favourites.
Borough High Street, Southwark (nearest Tube: London Bridge)
The 17th-century George Inn is a wonderful rabbit warren of a pub, with rooms for dining and drinking, and secret nooks for furtive trysts. Wooden floors creak and stairs are scuffed from the boots of millions of patrons who have visited during its 347-year life.
It was built in 1676 as a coaching inn, where travellers slept, ate and drank before boarding horse-drawn coaches to places throughout southern England.
According to the National Trust, which owns the property, it is the last pub in London to boast original open balconies or "galleries". It has two white-balustraded galleries, warped by centuries of London weather, as well as upper rooms with traditional wood-panelled walls.
The Trust also says Charles Dickens visited The George, favouring the coffee house which inhabited one part of the inn and mentioning it in his 1855 novel Little Dorrit.
Top drop: George Inn ale, a delicious beer brewed exclusively for this pub.
Whitechapel Road, Whitechapel (nearest Tube: Whitechapel)
This East End boozer has more than one story to tell. It is known chiefly as the place where notorious gangster Ronnie Kray strode in and shot dead his rival George Cornell in March 1966. The place is a lot safer these days but it has retained much of its gritty London feel, including limited ornamentation save for a blood-red ceiling. It also has a good beer garden with an alfresco dancefloor - including glitterball - and guarded by a tough East End cat.
The Blind Beggar was also the closest tap room (or bar) to the adjacent Albion brewery, where the first modern "brown ale" was brewed, so it may have been the first pub to serve it.
In complete contrast to guns and beer, this was also where English Methodist William Booth preached his first open-air sermon, before joining forces with his wife Catherine to jointly found the Salvation Army.
If you're wondering about the pub's name, it comes from an old ballad about a blind beggar and his dog. Both were local legends so revered that they were portrayed on the official seal of the area's former governing authority.
Top drop: Beggar's Relief, a refreshing lager that tastes a little like a Belgian wheat beer.
Wapping High Street, Wapping (nearest Tube: Wapping)
This cracker of a pub stands at Wapping Old Stairs on the north bank of the Thames. It is one of the reputed locations of the ominously named Execution Dock, where pirates used to be hanged. The actual location is disputed.
The gallows were just offshore in the river and the drop was shorter than most so the rope slowly strangled necks rather than instantly snapping them. The dead or still dying pirates were left hanging while three high tides washed over their bodies.
Some corpses were then strung up for months along the riverbank as warnings to any would-be Captain Kidds. In fact, Captain Kidd himself was also hanged here at Execution Dock.
There's an alleyway next to the pub leading to the stairs, which step down to a rocky river beach (at low tide) but take care because it can be slippery and you don't want to disturb the pirate ghosts.
As well asits history, the Town of Ramsgate must be the friendliest pub in London. On the night I dropped in, manager Bruno and the team served truly fabulous fish 'n' chips and made me feel like a regular. It's a proper local boozer!
Top drop: Award-winning Sussex Best bitter, a great example of a traditional south-coast beer.
Wine Office Court, off Fleet St (nearest Tube: Temple or Blackfriars)
This pub is especially cosy in winter. There are few things as soothing in London as warming your toes by the fire in the Snug bar while sipping a pint of Sam Smith's Old Brewery Bitter drawn straight from an oak cask. An earlier pub on this site was consumed by the Great Fire of London and this one was built (or "rebuilt", as the sign says) in 1667. Since then it has given shelter and sustenance to numerous literary giants including Mark Twain, W.B. Yeats and Charles Dickens, who wrote about it in his 1859 novel A Tale of Two Cities. It was also a legendary journalist hangout in the decades when many national newspapers had their offices in Fleet Street.
The Cheese is operated by Samuel Smith, one of the UK's oldest independent brewers. It uses only natural ingredients in its beer and does not allow music in its pubs.
Top drop: Old Brewery Bitter, a malty beer from Yorkshire's oldest brewery.
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Gate Street, Holborn (nearest Tube: Holborn)
This pub tells a tale of courage under fire. In the mid-1500s, shortly after the original pub was built (the current one dates from 1923), it became an underground Catholic church. Henry VIII had outlawed the religion and Catholics across the country were being persecuted. Some clandestine priests made The Ship their unofficial and highly secret base, so the faithful flocked to the inn for public pints and private Mass.
Spies were posted in strategic places outside to spot royal officials and warn the worshippers. Those inside would hide their hymn books and return to their ale, while the priests would leap from the part of the bar being used as a pulpit and squeeze into specially constructed hiding holes in the walls. Once the danger had passed, Mass continued.
Today the Ship's ground-floor bar offers an array of guest beers while the intimate Oak Room dining area upstairs has private booths and a roaring fire.
Top drop: A pint of golden Butty Bach ale from near Hereford in western England.
Pictures: Shutterstock; Matt Brace