Jack Kerouac once described the city of London as “an independent man puffing his pipe in a pub.” While that might be somewhat dated now, one pertinent point remains prescient—the good old pub. Contrary to what Mark E. Smith might have said about The Fall, he would certainly agree that pubs are this nation’s saving grace.
And it’s been that way forever too, even William Blake who was born back in 1757 once wrote: “A good local pub has much in common with a church, except that a pub is warmer, and there’s more conversation.” These holy watering holes are the backbone of Blighty. In this horrible grey, wet and crowded land, they are just about the only thing that stops us from sneaking off someplace more habitable.
Everyone shares these sacred places—even our celebrity friends. Now, it would seem that plenty of stars even own them to boot. While men in tweed who drink a half of bitter once a fortnight in a local pub might bemoan this move – and they do probably have a point on this occasion – a blanket rule should not apply to all the public houses under the ownership of notable personage.
We staggered our way around London’s celebrity pubs to separate the cash-in duds from the cracking quaffing quarters in our capital. Admittedly, there is very little point to this pub crawl criteria, however, with over 3,500 boozers located in the city, choosing the right one can sometimes be a struggle, so we figured we’d put the lure of stardom to the test.
The best celebrity-owned pubs in London:
The Grapes – Sir Ian McKellen
Sir Ian McKellen, now there’s a man you can trust. The Shakespearean thespian was never going to sully a traditional pub with hiked prices or gaudy décor. The Gandalf actor fittingly took charge of a pub that goes back to the times of the bard, when he took over the Limehouse put at 76 Narrow St in Poplar.
Perched on the riverside, the pub has a good pub smell, it has a good pub feel, and it has good pub pints—it is, in short, a good pub. In the week it also has a good pub quiz which apparently McKellen often either hosts or partakes in when he’s not off galivanting as a wizard or some other thespian pursuit. The 500-year history of this place is joyfully palpable, and yes, that does include a slightly dated vibe to the timeless home of the needy patrons.
Mikkeller Bar – Rick Astley
There is one golden rule in Rick Astley’s two part-owned pubs in conjunction with the craft brewer Mikkeller: No puns about never giving drinking up. If you’re going to delve into his back catalogue for gags, then at least evade that one. Otherwise, the casual setting of the crafty bars in Shoreditch and Exmouth Market are basically come as you are and enjoy the Nordic feeling ambience and brilliant beers.
As Astley said of the boozers himself, “It’s so cool that there will be brewing on-site. Mikkel and his crew only do things the right way, and I love being a small part of that.” It is certainly a bar for the beer puritans, but it never feels like a clubhouse either. The whole place is a great laugh, and, as we all know, good times and beer will be Together Forever.
The Fox & Pheasant – James Blunt
You might expect a pub owned by James Blunt to only serve one drink, but the quaint and classic Fox & Pheasant actually has a Steller back catalogue of booze. Stowed away in a quiet corner of Chelsea, this Victorian establishment only carries a tinge of the fancy embellishments that you might expect from a man who wants to be buried in Ibiza where he drives his rickshaw around to the clubs.
Aside from the mussel velouté’s, which let’s face it, are par for the course in Chelsea, Blunt and his wife Sofia have gotten themselves a delightful little watering hole here. There’s a conservatory out the back for a plush summer meal, but for a cloudy winter slumber, the front of house is beautiful too.
The Bryan Adams pub debacle
While the pubs listed above might show celebrities how to go about being the proud owner of a London pub and investing in its heritage, Bryan Adams perpetrated the worst crime of all—he shut a pub down! Apparently, when the so-called rock ‘n’ roll star bought a house in Chelsea a good few years back, he was displeased by the noisy patrons a few doors down, so he bought that too. Rather than soundproofing the gaff and letting the good times roll, he reportedly simply shut it down and lived a morbid life of sober peace and quiet. He has been vilified by surrounding denizens ever since… and shutting the pub down annoyed them too.