Start at The Harp in Chandos Place (WC2N 4HS). Itís a great real ale pub and has not surprisingly been voted CAMRA Greater London Pub of the Year 2010. Always busy, always a pleasure; enjoy the beers, the atmosphere and the sausages! Itís a Welsh Harp, not Irish, apparently.
Directions: Turn right out of the Harp and head for The Chandos on the corner of St. Martinís Lane. Note the fantastic architecture of St. Martinís in the Fields, designed by James Gibbs and completed in 1726.
The Chandos is a strange pub in many ways, the interior was crafted by Sam Smithís in the 1980ís, forming some nice booths, enhanced by leaded windows. Smithís only cask ale, Brewery Bitter, is available at about £2 a pint, so an economical stop, especially for the West End. If you prefer lager there are a couple of gooduns, but give the Wheat Beer a try, very refreshing. Take a look at the cooper at work at the top of the building.
Directions: Leave the Chandos and head up St Martinís Lane, with the church behind. Pass the London Coliseum, opened in 1904, home of the English National Opera with its precarious globe. Itís the work of Frank Matcham who designed many music halls and theatres. On the right before you get to the Salisbury is Goodwinís Court, worth a look at the pretty bow-fronted houses.
On the left look for The Salisbury. This magnificent pub shines and sparkles. Take a long lingering look and see all the amazing cut glass mirrors. Note the double ĎS,í this pub was originally know as the Salisbury Stores. If itís busy try the little bar off St. Martinís Court. If you are lucky youíll get a seat with the lovely Art Nouveau nymphs. Good beer here too, a Beautiful Beer Platinum Award no less.
Directions: Continue up St Martins Lane, pass Stringfellows (please) and head into Upper St. Martinís Lane, on the left find...
The Two Brewers, a smart pub behind a garden of hanging baskets. Itís a nice pub, a complete contrast to the Salisbury, quite plain by comparison. This was done out after the big boom days of the late 19th century, a much more sober time is all senses. Here actorís photoís beam out, lots of forgotten faces, stars in their day, some still hanging on. Good ales here too, from the West Country on our last visit. Friendly and polite staff a bonus. They say their fish and chips are the bets so perhaps an opportunity to refuel?
Directions: Leave the Two Brewers and head for Seven Dials, where seven streets converge. On each of the corners was a pub. Take a look at the monument here, it was originally a sun-dial on a column, but was removed in 1773 because it had become a meeting place for criminals. This area in the early 19th century was notorious for its slums, murder and robbery were commonplace. Charles Dickens used his observations of the area for Bleak House. Go up Mercer Street, cross Shafesbury Avenue and go right into New Compton Street and left into St. Giles High Street.
Now The Angel may not be strictly in Covent Garden, but itís a short walk and youíll appreciate its old fashioned charm. This Ďold maní pub is the antidote to the bar, thereís nothing remotely cool about it, apart from the beer. Itís the sort of pub your grandfather would recognise, so be grateful for the experience, theyíre rare. If you can snaffle the cosy snug, you can pretend youíre in a 1960ís episode of Coronation Street. Alternatively, have a game of darts in the public bar. Again, the only real ale is Sam Smithís Brewery Bitter.
Directions: Turn right out of the Angel, cross New Compton Street and turn right into Shaftesbury Avenue, almost immediately cross into Monmouth Street, pass all the nice boutiques and continue back down to Seven Dials, Upper St. Martins Lane, pass the Two Brewers, then turn left into Long Acre, right into Rose Street, left into Floral Street, then look on the right for a narrow passageway, follow this down to our last pub.
The Lamb and Flag, Rose Street, claims to be the oldest pub in Covent Garden; this area escaped the Great Fire and the pub has been licensed since 1623, which adds credence. On the surface the pub is early 19th century, but a bit of investigation reveals older parts, buried under later additions, English Heritage estimate it to be late 17th early or 18th century.
Famous customers include the 17th century satirist and poet Samuel Butler and his contemporary John Dryden, who was savagely attacked in the alleyway beside the pub, allegedly at the instigation of one of Charles IIís mistresses. Later in the early 1800ís it was known as the Bucket of Blood, because of the prize fights held here. Charles Dickenís is claimed to be another customer, which seems fair as he knew the area and used its squalor as material for his novels.
History aside, itís an interesting, atmospheric pub and certainly looks the part. It can get very crowded though, so be prepared. Be careful in the passage as you leave!