I've always liked the pubs hidden down the alleyways and side streets of big cities. Finding them feels like you're peeling back the surface layer of the metropolis to find a hidden gem inside, whether that gem be shiny or a little bit of an uncut diamond in the rough of a dive bar. Something about just having a few of these in your back pocket can make a bustling city YOUR city. The Midnight Pub is the internet's version, although I prefer the Small Alley entrance in Gemini space!
Of all the places that I've lived, London has the most. Dive down a side street from one of the main drags and you can find yourself in another world. If I were to choose only four in London though, they would be the four below. It's no accident that they lurk in the shadows of railway stations, where regulars in the know find solace in the space between work and the commute:
- The Ship and Shovell aka (to me anyway!) "The Pub of Two Halves", one each side of Craven Passage alleyway between Charing Cross and Embankment stations. I like to approach it from Villiers Street, and will pop into the half on the left if it's open, enjoying a fine Badger Brewery beer. Once I was even lucky enough to find the nook free and hide there with my pint.
- The Ship Tavern - Turn left out of Holborn station down Kingsway, take the first alleyway on the left away from the foot traffic (Gate Street) and you'll find it on the corner of a couple of alleyways. Established in 1549, it's a small slice of history, though often too busy and cosy to stay for more than a pint!
- The Hole in The Wall is nestled under a railway arch down the easy-to-miss dingy Mepham Street alongside Waterloo Station. This one is special to me as my Dad introduced me to it a couple of decades ago and I like to drink a pint of Young's Ordinary there in silent toast to him as the place rattles from the trains passing above... every now and again life aligns and I get to buy him a pint there!
- The Doric Arch (formerly The Head of Steam) hides by the bus stops outside of Euston Station, up a flight of stairs in what looks to be a drab office building. Don't let that fool you though - inside it is a perfect commuter pub with plenty of railway memorabilia and beer options - just don't miss your train!
There are plenty more alleyway and side street pubs that hold spots in my heart in other cities I have lived in or visited. The Retreat in Reading. The Hillgrove Porter Stores in Bristol. Whitelock's in Leeds. The Hotel Utah Saloon in San Francisco. The Albany in Cardiff. The list goes on...
...which alleyway pubs will you be returning to when you get the chance?