Drink London: The 100 Best Bars and Pubs by Euan Ferguson
Frances Lincoln (2014)
Reviewed by Lorna Colwill

In the saturated market of drinking guides to the capital, Euan Ferguson’s little square book sits firmly as unpretentious, well-informed and quite perfectly illustrated.

Attending to the callings of cocktail lovers, wine connoisseurs and of course – real ale lovers, this densely packed, illustrated guide to the 100 best boozers in London happily meets the needs of all drinkers.

Spanning just 173 pages, Drink London offers a whistle stop tour of London’s finest drinking establishments, complete with maps. Chapters include: ‘Cocktails’, ‘Legendary Locals’, ‘Craft Beer, Ale & Cider’, ‘Liquid History’, ‘Wine & Spirits Specialists’ and the mysteriously named concluding chapter, ‘With a Twist’. The guide finishes with an index which doubly serves as a checklist, in what has the potential to encourage a catastrophically epic bar crawl of London. However, a quick read of the entries show that they promote quite the opposite. Drawing upon his knowledge as a prominent beer and pub reviewer for Time Out London, Ferguson’s writing shows a genuine respect for each bar and pub listed and encourages only a proper experience; be it the lazy Sunday spent in Paradise By Way of Kensal Rise, or the long evening whiled away in the ‘suntrap of a garden’ at Old Brewery. Each entry is illustrated, with a detailed description, recommendation of the ‘essential order’, contact details and a handy list of the closest tube stations.

Though Drink London carefully considers the best venue for a classic Manhattan (the American Bar at The Stafford, by the way), or an encyclopedic choice of Scottish distilled whisky, the real ale and cider drinker need not fear a wasted £9.99. As Ferguson aptly states in the introductory page of the ‘Craft Beer, Ale and Cider’ chapter: ‘before mixology, before pork belly with kale and confit potatoes, before house wine and alcopops and G&Ts, there was beer’. And for all the novelty of ‘Bacon, Egg and Fries Martinis’, it’s really the fervor for British pubs which gives soul to this book.

In ‘Legendary Locals’, Ferguson takes you to the cosiest corners of King’s Cross, Hoxton, Dalston, Whitechapel, Belgravia and more, to visit a myriad of low-ceilinged and wall-panelled locals each with their own history (including fabled pub The Carpenter’s Arms, supposedly once owned by the Kray Twins’ mum). Moreover, London’s pubs also take the spotlight in the chapter ‘Liquid History’. Although Drink London offers details of modern bars and “secret” basements, it also rightly indulges in the London’s pubs’ illustrated past. From the supposed visits of Tennyson and Dickens to Fleet Street’s ‘Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese’, to runaway felons taking refuge in ‘Ye Olde Mitre’, this chapter smartly drops the best bits of history and folklore, where many other London pub guides have overwrought and stagnated the subject.

But Drink London would not have you so vividly imaging a pint of bitter on a cosy November evening were it not for the photography of Kim Lightbody, responsible for all the images in the book. Drink London is marketed as “a new kind of guidebook, with stylish photography and elegant design”. Indeed, the images lacing the book transport you from Piccadilly to Peckham in the space of a few minutes’ reading. Lightbody’s images encapsulate that classic colour palette of dim lighting, warm wood and rich red so delicious to British beer drinkers and so essential to tourists’ imaginings of the classic London pub.

Four years on from its publication, this warmly visual and unpretentiously informative guide is still both practical to use and enjoyable to read, and could convince even the proudest Northerner to poke their head down South.

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