Results of our Highgate Pub Crawl!

Way back in February, H. & I decided that we need to expand our horizons in terms of our usual watering holes. For 17 months we’d more or less gone to the same local, the Angel. The reason for that requires a little backstory: when we first moved into the area, we didn’t have internet access. We discovered that this pub had free wifi and so popped in there and were treated so kindly and openly (during a particular difficult time when it seemed like every time we turned a corner we ran straight into a brick wall), that we’ve more or less only gone there locally since (exceptions made in the summertime). We love the atmosphere at the Angel, particularly in the colder months (so about 10 1/2 months of the year!), and the food & drink is in general pretty good. We’ve taken all our families and friends who’ve visited us there and it’s rarely let us down. But throughout the course of our loyalty we realized we might be missing out on a lot of other great places.

So, we decided to try all of the pubs in our little village corner of London, Highgate and put them to the test. This post represents our verdicts. 🙂 Have we been missing out? (For the record, here’s what the Londonist says too).

A couple of notes:

  • In general, we’re not a get-drunk-at-the-pub kind of people. One because it’s too expensive and secondly because we prefer to do that at home those days are for the most part behind us. So we’re looking here at normally 1 drink each, sometimes 2. My preferred drink is usually red wine and most often H. goes for beer.
  • We’ve done a scoring system based on service, atmosphere, & drink selection/quality. We split the drink selection into wine and beer, 5 points for each, since it was obvious that some places excel in one but not the other. Originally we had price as a factor too but we took that out when we realized that it didn’t really correspond to the values in what we’re looking for (i.e. we don’t mind paying a bit more for a nicer pub, etc).
  • The pubs are all very different and of course the rankings are highly biased, based on our own preferences. Don’t take this as gospel!
  • The ordering is in order of visiting; rankings at the bottom of the page.

pub crawl

1. The Gatehouse
We visited the Gatehouse on a Tuesday night in February before seeing Richard III upstairs at their adjoining theatre. The Gatehouse is the only chain pub on our list (predictably, prices were great). For a Tuesday in midwinter the pub was packed, even outside of the theatre crowd. It seemed like they didn’t have enough staff behind the bar so wait times to get served were quite long. I also ordered a salad which I’d rate average (lots of chicken though).
Verdict: service 5, drink selection (w 1, b 4) 6, atmosphere 7. Overall 18/30

2. The Wrestlers
The Wrestlers was packed to the rafters on the Friday night we popped in for a drink around 9pm. The first thing H. said when we walked in was “I love the smell”! The pub has an open wood fire and the place really does smell lovely with a cozy old world sort of feel. While quite cozy, for me it didn’t quite live up to the Angel in terms of atmosphere.
Verdict: service 8, drink (w 3.5, b 3.5) 7, atmosphere 7.5 = 22.5/30

3. The Prince of Wales
This is a small pub on the high street. Decor-wise it’s quite dark and reminds me a bit of the Rovers! Service was speedy & friendly. The seating options (stools & booths) are a little uncomfortable. We were unfortunately quite rushed on our visit here as I was meeting a friend – we would have loved to stay longer and play one of the numerous board games they have available! Also, bizarrely, this pub has a long Thai menu! We’ll definitely return here at some point.
Verdict: service 9, drink (w 2.5, b 2.5) 5, atmosphere 6 = 20/30

4. The Old Crown Inn
This was the first pub we didn’t really enjoy being in. :/ We met here on a Friday evening. Our initial impression was that service was great but unfortunately the atmosphere was really disappointing – to be frank the best comparison I can come up with is a hostel bar. The Inn is really an Inn, and it seems like the pub is the reception area. Based on this one experience I wouldn’t return (it’s possible that this was a one-off though).
Verdict: service 9, drink (w 2, b 2) 4, atmosphere 3 = 16/30

5. The Victoria
Unfortunately we had a bad experience here just 2 days after our visit to the Old Crown Inn. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and after a long walk on Hampstead Heath we decided to have a quick drink. The Flask, Red Lion & Sun, and Bull were all packed to the rafters. The Victoria was practically empty. Telling? Since it was so warm I wanted a glass of sparkling wine and H. a cider. They didn’t have any sparkling wines by the glass which is unfortunate, so I went with a white wine which unfortunately was not very nice at all. Service was very confusing. Our poor server was probably new but obviously hadn’t had any training. We also had a snack of hummus & pita chips which was the worst hummus I’d ever had.
Verdict: service 3, drink (w 2, b 2) 4, atmosphere 2 = 9/30

6. The Flask
This is one of the pubs on the list that we’d been to before. You can’t miss the Flask as it’s bang in the middle of one of the poshest parts of Highgate and a perfect location for a post-Heath tipple. It’s always packed to the rafters on sunny days and the inside is very quaint and cozy with parts of it dating back to the 17th century.
Verdict: service 8, drink (w 4, b 2.5) 6.5, atmosphere 9 = 23.5/30

7. The Duke’s Head
It was pretty dead when H. & I visited here, but admittedly it was a Monday at 5pm. Although I’ve heard good things about this pub, our experience was pretty average. I found the layout a bit odd (it’s long and skinny) and the decor a bit dark and not that inviting. I so wish we’d gone at a better time/day so we had a more accurate representation — we’ll go back at some point to try it again.
Verdict: service 6, drink (w 3.5, b 4) 7.5, atmosphere 5 = 18.5

8. The Red Lion & Sun
The RL&S is definitely the poshest of the pubs we visited; we felt like it was half restaurant half pub (and didn’t always know which it was). This caused a bit of confusion — table service, or order at the bar? Ask for the cheque, or pay at the bar? (etc.) The service was also not the friendliest which is why we didn’t score it higher. We were celebrating when we were here and treated ourselves to a glass of fizz and a starter (duck duo) that was very good. The RL&S is reported to have very good roasts and I look forward to trying one on a Sunday afternoon sometime, likely in the fall or winter.
Verdict: service 6, drink (w 4, b 3) 7, atmosphere 8 = 21/30

9. The Bull
The Bull is a brewpub located on North Hill. This was an interesting visit; on our first-ever visit to the pub in October 2012, shortly after we moved to the area, we were treated very badly — so badly in fact that I vowed never to return. However, we decided to give it a second chance for the purposes of our crawl. This is another place, a bit like the RL&S, that is quite posh. Again, we had the same problem here: table service or order at the bar? It has to be said that the drinks menu here is very extensive. They have really done something right with regards to choices, and it’s worth a visit to the Bull for that reason alone.
Verdict: service 6, drink (w 5, b 5) 10, atmosphere 7.5 = 23.5/30

10. Highgate Inn
The Highgate Inn is located on busy Archway Road. Its atmosphere is different from the rest — it’s got vending machines and dark corners and looks a bit dodgy. Nonetheless we found it quirky and enjoyed our drink here. It’s not a place I’d run back to quickly though, since I was the only woman there (!), and in general we found it a bit dark and dank.
Verdict: service 6, drink (w 2.5, b 2.5) 5, atmosphere 4 = 15/30

11. The Woodman
In the interest of full disclosure, because we’ve been to the Woodman a few times, we did not revisit for the purposes of the crawl. This pub has a fabulous beer garden (the only downside is that it’s located at a busy intersection), which is great in the summertime. When I think of the Woodman, I think of a dependable pub, but not something that wows.
Verdict: service 7, drinks (w 2.5, b 2.5) 5, atmosphere 7 = 19/30

11. The Victoria
10. Highgate Inn
9. The Old Crown Inn
8. The Gatehouse
7. The Duke’s Head
6. The Woodman
5. The Prince of Wales
4. Red Lion & Sun
3. Wrestlers
2. The Bull (I put the Bull second simply because of our experience in October 2012)
1. The Flask

So, were we successful? I think for an all-round pub I still prefer the Angel. The Flask is a close second, particularly in the summer months because they have a much bigger and nicer outdoor area. Having said that service at the Angel has been a bit dodgy over the past few months so we’ll have to keep tabs on that to see if it improves. The pubs excel at different things: for a posh meal I’d definitely go to the Red Lion & Sun; for a relaxing evening of drinks and games I’d go to the Prince of Wales; for a microbrew to the Bull, etc. We are lucky to have so many interesting and diverse choices in our area. 🙂


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