The Camden Eye.
The Spread Eagle, Camden Town.
The World's End, Camden Town
The Mortimer Arms, Tottenham Court Road.
The Nutshell, billed as "the world's smallest pub," in Bury St. Edmunds
The Rising Sun.
British pubs being the fixture that they are, I could have photographed hundreds. We had a pub lunch and some very good local beer in The Vine, in Kentish Town, which, like many now, has become a "gastro-pub" serving fancy - and even healthy - food instead of the steak-and-kidney pies and Cornish pasties of yore. The pubs labeled "Free House" are "free" because they aren't tied to any particular brewery; so that's where you can often get excellent local beers and ales. I know next-to-nothing about British beers, so I won't say any more about that; just that I very much liked every beer I drank there!
Hors d'oeuvres and Guiness, at The Vine
Two pubs were across from each other close to where we stayed. There's an enforced closing time of 11:00 pm, but it was still extremely noisy and crowded every single evening, and the shouting and arguing often went on well into the night. The drinking scene in London is pretty stunning. Because smoking is banned from pub interiors now, the spilling over of the crowds into the streets is even more extreme than I remember from before. Public drunkenness and rowdy behavior are common, including vomiting and pissing in the streets, especially among (but not limited to) the young, and don't seem to faze anyone except the naive visitor.
We were staying in a lovely B&B in a real neighborhood of North London, rather than the more sanitized tourist areas of posh, central London we had been in previously. That was partly out of choice, and partly because hotel prices were astronomical. And so we got a real view into everyday (and every night) life. There were huge crowds of young people around the tube station every night, but especially on weekends, and a strong police presence. Apparently this has been a favorite site for drug dealing, and the police were cracking down. I wasn't nervous about my own safety, but I was surprised by the roughness of both sides -- the kids, and the police -- and the chaotic atmosphere which, by Montreal standards, seemed to verge on being out of control. I wondered about the relationship of alcohol to the overall social culture, and how this has affected the youth, but the crowds at the pubs were always mixed in age as well as sex, and the people we'd hear and see outside our windows at night were often older.
Camden Town Station at night (click for larger view)
I'm fond of the pubs myself, and was glad they were still in place. London has changed quite a lot since we were there last, about eleven years ago. We found it less quintessentially British, and more global; noisier and more aggressively competitive in the mold of the largest American cities; full of international franchises but studded with exciting new architecture. The food was an international mix, and uniformly terrific; the transit system is huge and works with amazing efficiency. London has always been crowded and seemed even more so. We sensed a vibrant energy everywhere we went, although everyone spoke about the economic problems and great difficulty for young people to find work.