London has got to be the best city in the country when it comes to the good old fashioned pub, if nothing else purely because of the history behind so many of them. Among them there are hundreds of different names from classics like The Crown, to the more weird and wonderful names like the Laughing Gravy in Southwark.
But far and away the most popular pub name in London, and in the UK in fact with nearly 400 nationwide, is the humble Red Lion. By our calculations there are 24 pubs within the 32 London boroughs. The reason why can actually be traced back to royalty too.
When the Stuart King James I was in power in the early 1600s he decreed that the red lion, a symbol of the Scottish royal banner, be displayed on all pubs and other notable buildings – many lasting into the present day. So to celebrate the red lion name we thought what better to do than visit every single one in the city of London to show you just what they look like, and what you can get for your money there.
‘I went to James Blunt’s West London pub and it was so good I wanted to stay forever’
To document this solo odyssey – completed over a series of months – I grabbed a stranger outside of every pub to snap a picture of me, producing some very mixed results. I also made sure to picture myself with a drink at (nearly) every single one, with a few sad exceptions.
They’re in chronological order of when I visited but I’ve also taken the liberty of rating every single one of them, so read on to find out which is the best Red Lion in London:
1. The Red Lion – Leytonstone
Right in the heart of Leytonstone around the corner from the Tube station, The Red Lion sits with an impressive façade on the High Street, most of which sadly cut-off in this photo. Inside there’s a rundown but lovable and comfy interior with mismatched furniture and high ceilings giving a great sense of space.
Red Lion Sign: 4
Cheapest pint: £4.80 Pravha
Priciest pint: £5.80 Neck Oil
Food: Pub classics (V, Vg)
2. The Red Lion – East Ham
Lovely pub in residential area with American bar feel, very well put together with comfy booths as well as tables, atmospheric and comfortable on a cold night.
Red Lion Sign: 3.5
Cheapest pint: £4 Amstel
Priciest pint: £5.40 Neck Oil
Food: Pizza (V, Vg, GF)
3. The Red Lion – Hoxton
Whilst initially seeming to be a small corner pub, this laid back location hidden just out of the heart of Shoreditch extends up three floors, with a pool table, table football, and music pumping throughout the sprawling venue. To top it all off and really set it apart there’s a rooftop beer garden perfectly hidden, cementing The Red Lion in Hoxton as a real hidden gem.
Red Lion Sign: 4
Cheapest pint: £5.30 Pravha
Priciest pint: £5.85 Blue Moon
Food: Pizza (Vg, V)
4. Red Lion – Moorgate
A Greene King pub, it’s initially enticing with its bright and shiny appearance and nice fancy Red Lion sign. But once inside it all feels a bit artificial and soulless, a cookie cutter black, gold and brown City of London pub, if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. Predictably expensive too.
Cheapest pint: £5.50 Fosters
Priciest pint: £6.65 Camden Hells
Food: Classic pub food (V, Vg)
5. The Red Lion – Walworth
A no frills local in Camberwell, it looks excellent from the outside and does the job on the inside, somewhere to have a drink and watch the world, or the racing on TV. Also great value.
Cheapest pint: John Smith £3.40
Priciest pint: Stella £3.80
Food: Bar snacks only
6. The Old Red Lion – Kennington
An absolute stunner from the outside, with a Tudor style façade that filters down into some beautifully intricate windows. It gets even better inside and has been around since the 1750s with wood beams, an island bar, and new additions including a big conservatory and beer garden out back. It also has a great range of prices from dirt cheap to more premium beers.
Cheapest pint: Westway £3.90
Priciest pint: Headliner £6.10
Food: Classic pub food (V, VG, GF)
7. The Old Red Lion Theatre Pub – Angel
The best sports watching pub on the list, the Old Red Lion Theatre Pub is littered with football and rugby trinkets and features a big projector screen at the end of the main bar room, sofas and tables arranged in front making it a very attractive destination for summer tournaments, the beer garden out back also impressive.
Obviously the other unique feature is the theatre within the building which you can find upstairs hosting drama, music and more.
Cheapest pint: Fosters £4.90
Priciest pint: Gamma Ray £6.80
Food: Flying Burritos – Indian style burritos (V, VG, GF)
8. The Red Lion – Kingly Street
Doesn’t look much from the outside other than an unassuming sign, but inside there’s a stunningly old pub with a real authentically old feel to it including fire places and plenty of wood panelling. Manages to avoid the cramped and overly shiny city pub feel that other central Red Lions fall foul of.
Cheapest pint: Alpine £3.10
Priciest pint: Pure Brewed £6.50
Food: Pub classics (V, VG)
9. The Red Lion – Mayfair
A very polished Fuller’s pub in the heart of Mayfair, this is probably the only central pub in this list that manages to pull off the painfully common sparkly gold and black look, mainly due to it’s carved wooden interior, though slightly cramped.
Cheapest pint: Seafarer Ale £4.85
Priciest pint: Peroni £6.70
Food: Bar snacks only
10. The Red Lion – Parliament Street
Whilst attempting to be a bit glossy and upmarket in its prime position just over the road from Downing Street, this Fuller’s pub falls short, not looking particularly special from the outside and only marginally improving inside. Expensive pints top all this off to make this Red Lion probably the worst of the lot for me.
Cheapest pint: London Pride £5.60
Priciest pint: Camden Off Menu £7.35
Food: Pub classics (V, VG, GF)
11. The Red Lion – Crown Passage
This is another of the best city pubs. Only a tiny little one, it feels warm and comfy with a colourful interior and looks excellent from outside tucked away in the narrow Crown Passage, only adding to the sense of history to the place.
Cheapest pint: Craft ale £5
Priciest pint: Mosaic £6
Food: Bar snacks only
12. The Red Lion – Stoke Newington
Stoke Newington’s Red Lion is situated in a prime position on the High Street and I happened to be in there on a sunny St. Patrick’s Day, when sadly for them authentic Irish pub the Auld Shillelagh over the road was cleaning up the punters. Nonetheless this particular Red Lion had a friendly hipsterish feel, including a pub dog making the rounds getting attention from drinkers. It also featured the most expensive pint so far, and maybe the most expensive pub pint I’ve ever seen actually.
Cheapest pint: Estrella £4.60
Priciest pint: Garage Soup £8
Food: Pizza (VG, V)
13. The Old Red Lion – Holborn
The Old Red Lion in Holborn suffered from the same issues as the Moorgate Red Lion, it felt very grand and wood panelled but somewhat soulless, maybe it’s the location and I just have a thing against city pubs, but it lacked something for me. That said the pub itself is undeniably historic with friendly staff and a great selection of pints.
Cheapest pint: Tribute £5.60
Priciest pint: Neck Oil £6.80
14. The Red Lion – Woolwich
This one was quite the trek to get to for me, but I was happy to find the trip worth the effort. The Red Lion is a well put together local boozer with reasonably priced drinks and a very cheap Neck Oil, classic pub food, and regular live music. It also has a generous amount of outdoor seating front and back, perfect for summer.
Cheapest pint: Fosters £4.30
Priciest pint: Neck Oil £5
Food: Grill and Pub classics (V, VG, GF)
15. The Red Lion & Sun – Highgate
Without doubt one of the most unusual layouts I came across on this marathon, the Red Lion and Sun has a kind of airlock of a front beer garden covered in a clear plastic tent and filled with heaters, allowing you to sit outdoors even in the cold. The indoors is more conventional, with gastropub dining tables and another cosy garden out back.
Cheapest pint: Five Points £5.70
Priciest pint: Neck Oil £6.90
Food: Changing seasonal pub food menu (V, VG, GF)
16. The Red Lion – High Barnet
A very clean and tidy pub, the Red Lion in High Barnet has a few different selling points, from live sport, to a carvery and pizzas. Most notable on the outside but sadly not captured by the photographer I wrangled to snap me in the street is the giant (lifesize?) red lion that hangs from the wall above the sign, tantalisingly just out of shot here.
As part of the Stonehouse Chain the pub serves a pretty straightforward selection of pints, and the prices are fairly reasonable too.
Cheapest pint: John Smith £3.60
Priciest pint: Peroni £5.35
Food: Carvery and pizzas (V, VG)
17. The Red Lion – Enfield
When I visited, The Red Lion in Enfield had just been taken over by new owners with some big plans. The pub, though rough around the edges has the perfect layout for events even with its own dancefloor and they’ve been lining up some big DJ and MC sets for the next few months, as well as trying to win back some of the pub’s former regulars.
Cheapest pint: Fosters £3.70
Priciest pint: Moretti £4.90
Food: Bar snacks only
18. The Red Lion – Barnes
A Fuller’s pub, this particular red lion is unusual looking with a balcony out front and a pair of real red lions either side of the main entrance to greet you. Inside the pub is beautifully decorated and cosy with plenty to choose from to eat and drink, although you’ll need a deep wallet.
Cheapest pint: Amstel £5.55
Priciest pint: Siren Soundwave £7.55
Food: Grill and pub classics (V, VG)
19. The Red Lion – Isleworth
The Red Lion in Isleworth was one of the pubs I was particularly looking forward to, with it’s unique design and penchant for live music. But I was thwarted upon arriving at 1pm on a Wednesday and finding it closed despite Google saying it opened at 11am. My smile was comically wiped from my face when I realised it was closed after travelling two hours to get there.
Cheapest pint: n/a
Priciest pint: n/a
20. The Red Lion – Ealing
The Red Lion in Ealing looks great from the outside and is even nicer when you go in, with old fashioned pub furnishings and a gorgeous beer garden out back. The place is also full of history, having once been a filming stage for Ealing Studios around the corner. It’s not super cheap, but also not unreasonably expensive.
Cheapest pint: Carlsberg £4.90
Priciest pint: Craft ale £6.50
Food: Neapolitan pizza (V, VG)
21. The Red Lion and Pineapple – Acton
The Red Lion and Pineapple was once two separate pubs that combined to make this hybrid mega-pub. Now a Wetherspoons, the pub still manages to stand out and feel somewhat unique, mostly down to it’s impressive 360 degree island bar and very colourful interior.
Cheapest pint: £3.49
Priciest pint: £4.90
Food: Wetherspoons (V, VG, GF)
22. Ye Olde Red Lion – Cheam
Possibly the oldest Red Lion, hence the name, Ye Olde Red Lion is around 450 years old and you can feel it as soon as you step inside. Low ceilings, wooden beams, fireplaces and tiny doorways all punctuate the cosy village pub. It’s also nice and cheap with some lovely grub.
Cheapest pint: Carling £4
Priciest pint: Brewdog Planet Ale £5.35
Food: Pub classics and grill (V, VG, GF)
23. The Red Lion – Wallington
The Red Lion Wallington is reasonably cheap and has a decent amount of history itself, dating back to the 1700s. Playing live sport in the front bar with extra seating in a back room, there’s also a nice beer garden outside for warmer days.
Cheapest pint: £4.10 Doom Bar
Priciest pint: £5.95 Neck Oil
Food: Bar snacks only
24. The Red Lion – Bromley
The final stop on my tour of London was one of the best looking, with a wall of books, some classy wooden panelling and a bright green ceiling. Tucked away in a mostly residential area the Red Lion in Bromley has a relaxed hidden gem type feel to it, definitely one to seek out if you’re in the area.
Cheapest pint: Kronenbourg £4.60
Priciest pint: IPA £5.30
Food: Pizza (V, VG)
So there you have it, the product of several months of hard drinking. To recap, in case you forgot on the way through, my best red lion in London lies south of the river, in Kennington. The Old Red Lion not only looks incredible from outside but it’s just as atmospheric inside with dark wooden beams straddling the ceiling and plenty of space to relax by a fire with a reasonably priced pint.
On the flipside of this is the pub that left me least impressed. The Red Lion on Parliament Street was a disappointment in several ways, especially for a pub in such an enviable position just yards from the centre of power in this country. From an uninspired black and gold colour scheme outside to an artificial and soulless interior, this red lion doesn’t roar it whimpers.
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