From a bar in a church vestry to Lord Nelson’s favourite boozer, the Isle of Dogs is home to a vibrant mix of unsung East End pubs. So leave the crowds of Shoreditch behind and discover the Island’s favourite spots…
The Isle of Dogs might not be the first stop on most people’s pub crawl of London. Think of the Island, and most people picture the towering skyscrapers of Canary Wharf – not your first destination for weekend pint.
But there are plenty of reasons the Island should be a drinks destination in its own right. The Isle of Dogs Thames Path is purpose-built for a sunny riverside walk, and there are plenty of pub stop-offs to choose from.
Alongside classic East End boozers, stylish gastro-pubs cater to London’s foodies, trendy students hang in laid-back bars, and day-trippers bask the afternoons away in sunny riverside beer gardens.
So whether you’re a long time resident looking to try somewhere new, or a first time visitor to the Island, there’s a pint and a bag of nuts (or a glass of Syrah and a pan-seared monkfish) with your name on it.
Best for… East End experience: The Ferry House
Holding the esteemed title of the Isle of Dogs’ oldest pub, The Ferry House is an iconic East End boozer. A stone’s throw from the river, the pub gets its name from the old Greenwich Ferry, whose passengers flooded in here until the service stopped in 1905.
But that didn’t put an end to the pub’s wild nights – The Ferry House celebrates its 300th anniversary this year, and judging by the enthusiastic clientele, it will be quenching thirsts for many years to come.
Chatty locals prop up the bar, while friendly staff serve up Brockley Brewery’s finest, and thirsty daytrippers swing by on their stroll down the Thames Path.
The well-worn wood-panelled interior hints at many storied nights in here, while sunny afternoons can be whiled away in the spacious beer garden. For an old-fashioned East End pint, there’s no better spot.
Best for… something different: The Space Bar
Tucked away in the vestry of an old church, the trendy Space Bar is the Island’s hippest (and most hidden) spot for a drink. Built in 1859 by a Presbytarian mission, the Victorian church has been transformed into a multi-use arts centre, with a great bar to go with it.
It’s well worth checking out the events programme before you go, as the theatre has an excellent range of shows, but the bar is worth a visit on its own as well.
Sidle down the church’s suntrap side passage, now a makeshift beer garden, and upstairs into the old vestry, where an eclectic crowd of visitors fill the bar. Old gas lamps catch the eye, while stylish students mingle with boisterous locals, and groups of actors rehearse their lines over an afternoon pint.
There’s a great food menu too, and all the money from the bar goes back into supporting the venue. What’s not to love?
Best for… docklands history: The Gun
One of London’s most historic pubs, The Gun is the perfect end point for a stroll down the Thames Path. The Grade II listed pub sits at the end of a picturesque cobbled street at the Eastern edge of the Island, its palatial beer garden facing out across the river.
A plaque outside reminds punters of the pub’s most famous visitor, Lord Horatio Nelson, who used The Gun as a meeting place with his mistress Lady Emma Hamilton. And the pub’s murky past doesn’t stop there. During the Docklands era, The Gun was notorious for smuggling, and a hidden tunnel beneath the pub was used to get contraband past prying customs officials.
It’s on the pricier end of the Island’s pubs, but if you’re after some docklands history, then it’s the place to be. The interior is full of original features, and barmen in crisp black shirts are happy to chat about the pub’s intriguing past. There’s a good selection of beers, and an impressive menu too. Lord Nelson would approve.
Best for… dining out: The Waterman’s Arms
Another historic Victorian pub, The Waterman’s Arms has recently undergone a £600k renovation. The dreaded ‘R’ word often rings alarm bells for pub connoisseurs, but stepping inside for the first time, you can tell this revamp has been done well.
The classic brown-tiled exterior is a blast from the pubs of the past, while the polished up wooden bar helps maintain the pub’s original character. And despite being recently opened (in this iteration at least), the Waterman’s has quickly acquired a reputation for some of the best pub food on the Island.
Alongside staples of burgers, fish and chips, and Sunday roasts, there’s a rotating menu of specials, as well as excellent small plates like whitebait, padron peppers, and burrata. The staff are friendly, the prices are reasonable, and the food is great: The Waterman’s Arms is a modern gastro-pub at its best.
If you enjoyed this article, you might like our guide to the Isle of Dogs Thames Path
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