The evolution of the British pub beer garden has been a strangely slow and jittery one. Even three decades ago, the majority of boozers felt the only effort they needed to make with any precious outdoor space was to ensure the beer barrels were piled up safely and place a rotting picnic table near the fire exit.
Then, somewhere around the mid to late 90s the beer garden grew up a little. Sun umbrellas plastered with lager slogans became ubiquitous and some hostelries even toyed with the radical notion of installing a BBQ. Then the smoking ban hit and pub gardens became giant al fresco ashtrays with heaters, filled, in any weather, by those who simply couldn’t contemplate the idea of a pint without a nourishing ciggie.
Now, pubs are going to need to try harder (or at least, try in the first place) to make their patios, gardens and car parks more palatable as, from the 12 April, this is the only part of the property where they're allowed to serve those precious pints. Here are some of the finest beer gardens in London, where ‘outdoor space’ means more than just a patch of concrete with a dog bowl.
The Prince, West Brompton
Like an explosion at an Interflora depot, the rooftop bar at this chi-chi Fulham hostelry is fairly festooned with hanging baskets, floral arrangements and wall flowers. The long, pale green tables and benches all sit amid this riot of bucolic excess and the drink and food options are similarly delicate and thoughtful. This isn’t a packet of peanuts joint; rather choose from the three different street food vendors plying their trade here. There’s Rudie’s Jerk Shack, Filth & Co serving sybaritic burgers and, best of all, Boludo, cooking up Latin street food classics including the Argentinian classic ‘choripan’ chorizo sausage in toasted ciabatta with chimichurri, rocket and red peppers.
Duke of Edinburgh, Brixton
OK, so the views from here are nothing special (you’ll get a couple of apartment buildings and a railway line) but the Duke of Edinburgh is renowned among Brixton-ites as being the only pub for miles around which actually has a large outdoor space. And we mean really large. The Duke can hold a good couple of hundred people in its al fresco space, which you can book up to a maximum of six people. The pub has also got the ‘Your Round’ app in operation, so you can order from your table, and the drinks are supplemented by some outstanding Caribbean cuisine from the White Men Can’t Jerk team, which includes an uncommonly fine jerk chicken served with rice & peas, coleslaw, jerk sauce and pineapple scotch bonnet jam.
The Scolt Head, De Beauvoir
This small, wedge shaped garden is a charming little oasis amid the urban choke of De Beauvoir and owners Rich and Rosie (who named the pub after a small island off the coast of Norfolk) reopened it on 12 April. If you’re planning an after-work trip, be warned that the pub has decided that, at least until May, anyone booking an evening table in the garden has to order a full meal. It’s not a huge problem, however, as the grub is delicious; mains include smoked trout with egg and watercress mayo on focaccia and turkey and bacon burgers. And have no fear if it rains, it has a ‘jumbrella’ parasol that covers half the garden.
Spaniards Inn, Hampstead
The Spaniards Inn has been there, backing onto Hampstead Heath, since 1585 so nobody should be too surprised that this handsome outpost has survived Covid. Charles Dickens and John Keats both used to drink here but, these days, the crowd is younger and often accompanied by dogs, exhausted from a ramble on the heath. The lovely beer garden is strewn with fairy lights come nightfall and the menu is rich in upscale (albeit quite pricey) gastropub fare including shallot and Armagnac tarte tartin and pan roasted venison with spiced squash puree.
The Stag, Belsize Park
This uber-classy Hampstead old timer has what have been referred to as ‘Ibiza style’ chalets around the edges of its garden. This is a tad overstated. It’s hard to imagine Tiesto with his champagne in one of these more humble hideaways, but there’s no doubting this is an impressive outfit particularly in terms of outdoor table service – something this pub was doing long before Covid. There’s always a decent selection of real ales on here and, best of all, it's also going to be accepting walk-ins from 12 April for a maximum of six people.
The Castle, Tooting
Young’s pubs rarely get our hearts racing on the dining or drinking front but this behemoth of a boozer in Tooting has a major advantage when it comes to the former car park turned immense garden: the recent addition of chalet-style huts (some of which have their own drinks fridges and fire places). These can be booked for a cosy, and definitely non-soggy, afternoon or evening of long overdue post-Covid catching up. It's also offering a canny ‘step into the office’ deal where, if you’re working from home you can book a table here during the day and you’ll get brunch and unlimited tea and coffee for a mere £10.
The White Swan, Twickenham
With a garden right on the riverside, a day trip to Twickenham might not exactly be leaving the city but, with the weeping willows and hanging baskets, you’ll still feel as if you’ve made it to the countryside. Dating back to the 17th century, the Union flag fluttering outside suggests that this is a boozer that takes its history seriously and if you're looking for a good old-fashion pub it won't disappoint. The food, however, has very much entered the 21st century, with mains including grilled, jerk rubbed mahi mahi and a vegan superfood salad bursting with butternut squash, seared sprouts, fresh herbs, goji berries and hemp seeds.
The Mayflower, Rotherhithe
When George Orwell wrote his famed Moon Under Water essay about the pub of his dreams, there was no evidence that he’d ever stepped inside this Rotherhithe stalwart. We, however, feel sure the Mayflower would have thrilled him. Dating back to 1620, the dark beams and wooden church pews of the interior are out of bounds right now but the terrace is back open for business. And it’s a gem: the wooden slats are directly above the slapping waters of the Thames itself. With views over the City, it really does feel like you’re stowing away on an ancient tea clipper as you sip a real ale or devour one of its immense meat platters.
The Wine Parlour, Brixton
More of a courtyard then a garden, and a tiny one at that, this is one of the least known outdoor spaces in London. Right in the heart of Brixton, even most locals don’t know that, beyond the back door of The Wine Parlour, there’s a space where you can sip its always impressive and diverse ranges of wine. The only snag is that, for access to this gorgeous little space which opens on 14 April, you may have to wait a little longer for a table. In the meantime, it's offering home delivery wine boxes every Thursday to South London addresses.
The Leyton Star, Leyton
Another very lively boozer, this time out east, that has gone for the wooden cabana/chalet style option in their garden – complete with those all-important heating lamps. The pub is open again now (booking highly advisable) and one thing you can be guaranteed of at the Star is outstanding food options. Their ‘in residence’ kitchen outfit regularly changes but, pre-latest lockdown, it's been joined by fried chicken expert Coqfighter and dirty, guilt-inducing bar food specialist We Serve Humans.