9 London Bars With Hell-Raising Histories

The notorious watering holes where celebrities fight and poets get murdered

Most Popular

Everyone has a story about their local and – if you let them – will chew your ear off all night regaling you with stories of the time their mate Dave ate a mouthful of the plastic potted plant by the gents, or how they almost copped off with a Big Brother D-lister in the toilets.

The pubs on this list are the real deal.

Introducing the watering holes of the history's most debauched characters, including the spies’ safe house where 16th century playwright Christopher Marlowe was killed, the members club that refused Al Pacino entry for looking like a tramp and the East End boozer where one of organized cime’s most notorious shootings took place.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Time for a new local?


1 | The Blind Beggar

337 Whitechapel Road, London, E1 1BU

Most Popular

The Blind Beggar is famous for two things. It was here that William Booth created The Salvation Army in 1865, and it was here, 99 years later, where Ronnie Kray shot and killed George Cornell, an associate of rival gang The Richardsons. The murder took place while Cornell – who had apparently called the notoriously bisexual Kray a “fat poof” somedays earlier – was sitting at the saloon bar. Upon hearing of his location, Ronnie had driven over from another, nearby pub. Cornell’s last words were, apparently, “Well, look who’s here.”


2 | The French House

49 Dean Street, W1D 5BG

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

Originally a German-owned pub called The Wine House in 1910, The French House got its name after Charles de Gaulle used it as the base of his operations during WW2. De Gaulle reportedly wrote his rallying speech “A tous les Francais” in the bar, with the lines “France has lost the battle, but France has not lost the war” on the wall. It’s was also a hit with the artistic community, with painter Lucian Freud regularly propping up the bar, Sylvia Plath signing (and celebrating) the contract for The Colossus and Other Poems here and Dylan Thomas losing the first draft of drama Under Milkwood beneath a chair after an all-day bender in the 1950s.


3 | The Coach And Horses

29 Greek Street, Soho, W1D 5DH

Recreated on the stage for the play Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell [pictured], The Coach And Horses regularly played host to the late Spectator columnist who often wrote about low life exploits in Soho (in which he often featured). According to The Independent’s obituary of Bernard, the writer would arrive at the pub a few minutes after opening time and sit by the toilets, talking to whoever came by and waving the stump of his amputated leg at them to emphasise his points.  It was also here that Bernard was arrested for acting as an unlicensed bookie and was known for giving the ocassional rant, responding to one enquirer with the fantastic claim, “I don't fucking want to know. Why do you treat me like I don't know anything or anybody? I knew Dylan Thomas, I knew Ian Fleming and Anne Fleming... I even know Gordon Smith."

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


4 | The Punchbowl

41 Farm Street, Mayfair, W1J 5RP

Most Popular

Guy Richie and Madonna bought this Hampstead pub for a reputed £2.5 million in 2008 from the son of gangster Freddie Foreman. After their divorce in November of that year, Richie gained Madonna’s half of the pub before selling the venue three years later. Under Richie’s reign the pub received a constant stream of noise complaints, and packed in clientele including Clint Eastwood, Kate Moss and Brad Pitt, who reportedly spent a boozy evening sampling Spitfire and Bombardier ales with Ritchie, getting himself so hammered that he incurred the wrath of Angelina Jolie when he appeared at their rented Richmond mansion at 6am.


5 | Cadogan Hotel

75 Sloane Street, London, SW1X 9SG

It was here, on 6 April 1895, in room number 118, that Oscar Wilde was arrested  for “committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons”. Pre-warned of his imminent arrest, Wilde – drunk on “hock and seltzer” (wine and soda) – refused to flee, sitting up in bed and waiting to be taken away. He received two year’s hard labour for his “crime” and the arrest was later encapsulated in John Betjeman’s 1937 poem “The arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel”. 

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below


6 | The Holly Bush

22 Holly Mt, Hampstead, NW3 6SG

Built in the 1790s by artist George Romney, The Holly Bush has since become the North London drinking spot of choice for the likes of Jude Law, Matt Lucas and Liam Gallagher, who was allegedly thrown out just before closing time earlier this year. Gallagher, who had been arguing over whether or not he had paid for his drinks, apparently looked so disheveled that one bystander described him to a lurking tabloid as looking “more like a penniless tramp than a millionaire musician.” 


7 | Eleanor Bull’s Tavern


The scene of Christopher Marlowe’s murder on 30 May 1593, Eleanor Bull’s Tavern was said to be a safe house for government spies. Marlow – who had reportedly been spying on Catholics in Cambridge – died at the hands of his associate Ingram Frize who had invited him to Deptford for a feast along with two other men also rumoured to be part of the intelligence service. Accounts vary, with one suggesting Marlowe and Frizer fought about the bill, with Frizer stabbing the playwright above the right eye. A more popular theory is that Marlowe was murdered, a theory compounded by the fact that Frozer was found not guilty of murder and granted a royal pardon two days later. The incident has since been explored in the novel A Dead Man In Depford, by A Clockwork Orange author Anthony Burgess. It is also referenced in Shakespeare’s As You Like It.

Advertisement - Continue Reading Below

8 | The Hawley Arms

2 Castlehaven Road, Camden, NW1 8QU

Most Popular

A favourite haunt of Mark Ronson, Noel Fielding and erm, Razorlight, The Hawley Arm has the honour of being the most famous of Camden’s well known watering holes and was almost destroyed in 2008 when a fire spread through the pub and surrounding buildings. No account of the pub complete without mentioning Winehouse who was a regular since before she became famous. The late singer enjoyed some of her booziest moments there, often climbing up on the bar to entertain mates after hours and regularly getting behind the bar to help pull pints up until just a few days before her death.


9 | The Groucho Club

45 Dean Street, W1D 4QB

Touted as a club for those involved in literature and the arts, celebrities have been stumbling out of The Groucho at 3am ever since it’s opening almost 30 years ago (apart from Al Pacino, who was once turned away after being mistaken for a tramp). Keith Allen, Damien Hirst and Blur’s Alex James formed the club’s most famous heavy-drinking trio and often used to sleep off the previous night’s absinthe under the snooker table, then climb over the roofs to neighbouring buildings. Perhaps the club’s most commited reveler, Hirst was allegedly banned after continual misbehavior, including exposing himself, setting fire to a publicist’s chest hair and urinating in an ice tray, then hiding the results in the freezer.


Any we've missed?


How The Square Mile Became The Most Happening District In London
London's Best Rooftop Bars
10 Of The Best Bars For A First Date