Dubbed “Londons Best Pub” by many. Snorted at as hipster pandering trend-hugging nonsense by a few. The Southampton Arms is certainly a place you’ll want to visit if you like a proper old fashioned pub.
Ambiance and décor
As you walk up Highgate Road it’s easy to spot the “ALE CIDER MEAT” sign hanging from the side of the building. From the outside The Southampton Arms looks absolutely tiny and…. well that’s because it is. With just enough space for a dozen or so small wooden tables and simple homely looking booths, you wouldn’t think they’d take up unnecessary room with something as cumbersome as an upright piano. But of course they do and the result is a compact distinctly pubbish and friendly vibe. The outside area is even smaller and the lack of space combined with the popularity of the place means you may well have to step over a body or two to get a seat. But I suppose that’s hardly their fault. The place is dog friendly and the type of place you could probably bring a horse to without anyone batting an eyelid. And in the winter you can warm your hands on the cute coal fire. Think Anna Hathaway’s cottage with beer and dogs.
The entry at Southampton Arms
Clientele and atmosphere
As a neighborhood pub this place is crawling with locals who all know each other and as a result there is a friendly vibe right from the off. But The Southampton Arms pull off the rare trick of appealing to both the old and the young. “The Brew Dog crowd” (as I’ll refer to them here) is squished together with older more traditional real ale drinkers. The mix of old and new works wonders for the atmosphere meaning you’ll probably find someone relatable to chat with no matter what your age.
Relaxed, comfortable and chatty during a weeknight, you can sit with friends and chat and hear yourself talk for most of the evening. Often you’ll find the piano is not just there for decoration and you’ll find it hammering away after 8pm as wisened old crooners sing the oldies as you drink. Happily (for me at least), the bar is dog friendly so you might find yourself nudged by all sorts of grizzly old mongrels named “Skip” and “Archie”. On Friday and Saturday nights be prepared to squeeze yourself in the door and occupy whatever small space is leftover.
Southampton Arms' tradition
Drinks and Food
Claiming to be the only dedicated Ale and Cider house in London to sell only from small independent brewers, you know you are in for a good selection. Regularly featuring well-known names like Camden Town, Brewdog, Sambrooks and Thornbridge, you’ll also find Redemption, Mighty Oak and Dark Star and some smaller names too. The list is comprehensive and ever changing. On my last visit we sampled the Dark Star APA and Thornbridge’s amber Sequoia and both were positively singing. The quality of the pour here is part of what led CAMRA to grant the Southampton Arms the title of “London Pub of the year”. As well as beer though you’ll find a great list of ciders to pick from – typically six or so on tap to go with the eleven casks. A tongue in cheek chalkboard also states they have three varieties of wine – red, white and rose. Cute.
To chow – well there’s a whole lot of meat in the fridges, and we mean that, they love their meat at The Southampton Arms. Expect life changing pork pies and pickles with cheese boards, sausage rolls and other pubby snacks like scotch eggs pickled eggs and bread. Its perfect pint based food to pick at and the quality is top notch. As the sign says – Ale, Cider, Meat – they do all three perfectly. Remember to take cash as they don’t take card. Vegetarians avoid.
There isn’t a great deal of this to be honest. You’ll find the piano being tickled every now and then but for the most part the Southampton Arms is more alive with the sound of chatter rather than music.
A friendly, charming ale house that mixes the old and new impeccably. Great for ale, great for meaty food and located just far enough away from Kentish Town to filter out the douchebags. The type of place you wish your local was. For those living near Gospel Oak tube – I envy you. You might just have the best boozer in London on your doorstep.