Back in Charles Dickens’ day, if you wanted to stay overnight while traveling in London, you might have stayed at an inn or perhaps at a pub or alehouse with rooms upstairs (usually sharing a bed with strangers and maybe some lice or bedbugs).
Most London pubs no longer have bedrooms for rent above the shop, but a surprising number still do, and over the past few years several forward (or backward) thinking entrepreneurs have revived the concept.
The cool thing about these establishments, besides their relatively affordable rates and convenient locations, is that you don’t have to go very far for a “destination” experience – it’s just a few flights down. The pub food is satisfying, the crowd local and convivial, the beer cold (or, if you’re English, suitably warm).
London has long had boutique hotels such as Blakes and Number 16, but these newer, comfy pubs-with-rooms are even closer to staying in someone’s home because they’re so small. Most have only four or five bedrooms (one I stayed in has a grand total of 10). Plus, if you want to enjoy a fine meal in a destination restaurant, it’s only steps away.
On a recent London visit I sampled four such pubs-with-rooms. And I’m in love with them all.
37 Pimlico Road. Nearest tube: Sloane Square. A former brewery/pub dating from 1846 in the tony Pimlico Road area, a short walk from Sloane Square and Belgravia, downstairs you’ll find a classic pub serving drinks and food; one flight up a restaurant packs in locals and visitors alike; and, above that, four rooms with private bath welcome guests.
The rooms, all with king-size beds, combine simplicity with style: wide plank floors, wood-paneled walls, period details, and vaulted beamed ceilings. Little touches such as a jar of freshly ground coffee and a French press, excellent lighting (bright enough for reading in bed, the lack of which is my main hotel bugaboo), hair dryers and irons, heated towel racks, an iPhone 5 dock, and large fluffy towels, show that details matter here. I also liked the fact that the windows opened to let in fresh air (a feature characteristic of all the places I stayed), unlike at those hermetically sealed high-rise chain hotels. The beds were as comfortable as home. Rooms, however, are not handicap accessible; there is no elevator.
Quibble: The pub is on a busy street; traffic noise could be an issue for light sleepers.
Rates begin at 205 pounds per night for a standard room including tax. Details: theorange.co.uk
The Grazing Goat
6 New Quebec St. Nearest tube: Marble Arch. Near this spot on a quiet street in the Marylebone neighborhood and just off Oxford Street, an aristocrat grazed goats because she was allergic to cow’s milk. Today, it’s a restaurant, gastro pub and B&B with eight rooms on the higher floors. My room overlooked rooftops and the street below, and although it lacked air conditioning, a couple of fans provide a cooling breeze. The large bathroom came with all the luxuries you’d find in any boutique hotel, including heated towel racks and a deep soaking tub. Free local and intra-U.K. phone calls and WiFi, and a hearty breakfast, come with every room.
Decor is modern country house (Crate and Barrel rather than Laura Ashley) – unfussy and functional.
Quibble: No room-darkening curtains.
Rates start at 210 pounds per night including tax. Details: www.thegrazinggoat.co.uk.
The Bull and Hide
4 Devonshire Row. Nearest Tube: Liverpool Street. Accurately billed as a “proper pub with an elegant restaurant and boutique hotel” this historic seven-room oasis near Liverpool Street Station, a short walk to sites like St. Paul’s Cathedral and the Museum of London, offers all the comforts of more expensive boutique hotels without the cost. Among the perks: free WiFi and local calls, large flat-screen TVs, double or king size beds with feather duvets and pillows, heated bathroom floors and towel racks, luxury toiletries, and a free minibar. My room included a private outdoor terrace with a good view of “the Gherkin” (the famous office building shaped like a pickle) and a deep soaking tub and separate shower but, oddly, no closet – you hang your clothes on a birch branch. But the high-intensity bedside reading lights, individual air conditioning, room-darkening curtains and a pantry stocked with snacks and drinks made up for the lack of a proper closet.
Quibbles: The Sunday pub menu was mediocre, with soggy fish and chips and a bland Sunday roast, although the restaurant one flight up (closed Sundays) is reputed to be better. At least the desserts were yummy.
Rates: On Sunday nights, all rooms go for just 90 pounds, a decided bargain. Details: www.thebullandthehide.com.
68 River Way, Greenwich. Nearest Tube: North Greenwich. East toward Greenwich, The Pilot, built in 1801 was renovated a few years ago and now offers 10 comfortable rooms of varying sizes. My room had views of the O2 Arena, Greenwich Park, and the Emirates Air Line, an aerial tramway nearby. Although it’s not in Central London, you’ll find much to do in the neighborhood. The O2 Arena is a short walk away where you can enjoy Up at the O2 and The British Music Experience; the Royal Observatory, Canary Wharf, the National Maritime Museum, the Museum of London Docklands, the Fan Museum (yes it’s full of fans of all kinds), and the Cutty Sark, a historic sailing ship, are not far. The restaurant serves a small but delicious menu.
Quibbles: Dismal bedside reading lights, no air conditioning.
Rates: Smaller rooms are 70-180 pounds per night (prices spike if there’s an event going on at the O2 arena), medium rooms 90-200, and larger rooms 120-230 including tax with a 10 percent discount for non-refundable advance purchase. Details: www.pilotgreenwich.co.uk.