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An Opinionated Guide To London Pubs by Matthew Curtis. Guest post by Matt Brown. 

london pubs“FACTS NOT OPINIONS” commands the pediment over the Kirkaldy Testing Museum on Southwark Street. It’s the Age of Enlightenment in three words. A succinct message that champions measurement, data and scientific reason over the chaos of speculation. Hoxton Mini Press would reverse all that. Its series of ‘Opinionated Guides’ are steered by the sentiment that “INFORMATION IS DEAD. LONG LIVE OPINION”. That would be terrifying if Hoxton Mini Press had oversight over national health, or was attempting to drive an articulated lorry around a one-way system. Fortunately, though, the publisher’s responsibilities extend no further than furnishing us with a guide to London’s pubs – an arena where good opinion really is a boon.

An Opinionated Guide to London’s Pubs hits the spot in its selection. Every pub in the book (and I’ve drank in all but two of them) is a humdinger. It takes skill and dedication to draw up such a winning list because everybody has a different idea of ‘what makes a good pub’. Many readers of this blog will no doubt favour ye olde-style drinking dens with a bit of history and selection of real ales; but just as many pub-goers prefer a more polished, modern feel accompanied by chilled keg beers and a proper wine list. For some, the idea of children in pubs is anathema, while others specifically seek out family-friendly venues. Drawing up a list of ‘best pubs’ is therefore fraught with difficulty. The 52 selected here are collectively about as rounded as it gets. In fact, I want to buy author Matthew Curtis a pint because we seem to have exactly the same taste in boozing establishments.

cock tavern

theflask2

The historically minded drinker will find most of the usual good recommendations, such as The Mayflower, Prospect of Whitby, The French House and The Flask (the Highgate one), while the more touristy options like The Anchor and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese are sensibly left out. The book really shines when it highlights some of the more community focussed pubs outside of the centre. Local gems such as Kentish Town’s Pineapple, Nunhead’s The Ivy House, and Mile End’s unforgettable Palm Tree are all well-known in serious drinking circles, but will be new and — dare I say — life-changing discoveries for more casual readers. Most of the inclusions are independents, though room is still found for the occasional Sam Smith’s or Young’s establishment. The Outer Boroughs are sadly under-represented, with just one entry (Tottenham’s bijou The High Cross), but it would be unrealistic to expect coverage of those realms in a book of just 52 ‘best pubs’.

True to the series’ mission statement, information is sparse. Each entry gets just one paragraph and address. No phone numbers, opening times or the rest of the froth (which can easily go out of date in any case). But if I might venture an opinion, the publisher is being a bit cheeky calling this an ‘opinionated guide’. The only opinion is in the initial selection of pubs. It’s like calling a museum curator ‘opinionated’ for only displaying their best treasures. A bit odd.

What we have instead is a wholly positive, finely distilled tour through what are – genuinely – some of the capital’s finest boozers, all beautifully presented with some deucedly good photography. It’s an affable, pocket-sized drinking companion whose 52 pubs would make an admirable one-a-week bucket list (including the Well and Bucket). In a year when pubs are on the ropes like never before, there is no better time to discover and visit the finest. You can rely on this book to show you the way. Fact, not opinion.

An Opinionated Guide to London’s Pubs (160pp) by Matthew Curtis with photos by Orlando Gili is published in paperback by Hoxton Mini Press. Cover price £9.95.

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Matt Brown is editor-at-large of Londonist, co-author of Londonist Drinks (Batsford) and reckons to have drunk in at least 1,000 of London’s pubs. Also a very long-standing member of London Historians.

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