‘Pub with rooms’ used to mean ‘backpackers’ hostel’, the sort of place with three bunk beds to a dorm and a pound deposit on your towel. But recently the capital’s pubs have realised that by raising their game, they could steal a decent chunk of the London hotel market. In a city where £400 a night often buys you nothing more than a fake mahogany desk, pubs are now offering boutique rooms at Travelodge prices. And apart from the value they offer, what could be more exciting than staying above a pub? It’s a return to the days of the coaching inn, somewhere you could eat and drink with an interesting collection of strangers, then spend the night before continuing your journey. The only difference is that whereas the coaching inn gave you a fresh team of horses, the pub lets you charge your iPhone.
So if you fancy a venue with more character than a bland hotel, here are London’s best pubs with rooms …
The Counting House
This Fuller’s pub (which still boasts the safe and deposit boxes from its days as Prescott’s Bank) has taken over the City University Club’s premises upstairs and turned them into seriously impressive rooms, all named after coins (Guinea, Sovereign, Florin …). Original fireplaces sit next to Marshall Bluetooth speakers and arty photos of the Square Mile. People have been doing business here for 2000 years – the pub’s cellar contains parts of the Roman basilica, and Cornhill took its name from a medieval grain market. The Counting House is the perfect place to stay if you’re continuing the tradition.
50 Cornhill, EC3V 3PD, www.the-counting-house.com, Rooms from £105
The One Tun
Bill Sykes drank here in ‘Oliver Twist’, wearing a ‘velveteen coat’ and ‘strongly impregnated with the smell of liquor’. The alehouse had already existed for nearly a century when Dickens wrote the novel, having taken its name from the tun barrel which holds 252 gallons of beer. It’d be fascinating to see the author’s face as he surveyed the rooms over the pub now – let’s put it this way, the thread count in the linen has increased somewhat. The most requested room is the one with its own cosy roof terrace.
125 Saffron Hill, EC1N 8QS, www.onetun.co.uk, Rooms from £145
The Sanctuary House
The pub’s location makes it a hit with families coming to London for the sights – it’s minutes from Buckingham Palace and Big Ben. But manager Sam Croft says they also get plenty of business guests: ‘Very often they’ve stayed at one of the big hotels nearby, then realised that our rooms are just as nice, much cheaper and we include breakfast. Next time they stay with us.’ Very appropriate on a site where, in the Middle Ages, food and shelter was provided to the poor by monks from Westminster Abbey.
33 Tothill Street, SW1H 9LA www.sanctuaryhousehotel.co.uk ; Rooms from £124
The Grafton Arms
Fitzrovia stalwarts like Dylan Thomas and George Orwell (remember his essay on the perfect pub?) would approve of you staying here. It’s been an inn since 1792, and the current building dates from 1897. The menu is Thai (chicken siu mai, lamb rendang curry), though there’s also burger and cheesecake if you’re keeping it traditional. The name honours the Duke of Grafton, who owned the land on which Fitrovia was built. The first Duke had started life as Charles Fitzroy, his surname meaning ‘son of the king’ – he was the illegitimate son of Charles I and Barbara Villiers.
72 Grafton Way, W1T 5DU, www.graftonarms.co.uk/rooms; Rooms from £145
The Buxton / The Culpeper
Named after Thomas Fowell Buxton, the social reformer who raised living standards for weavers in this part of the East End, the pub boasts room keys featuring the binary codes that operated the looms. (Buxton was also the final third of Truman, Hanbury and Buxton, the brewery just round the corner in Brick Lane.) The pub now grows its own vegetables and salad on the roof terrace (where guests can relax), while the rooms contain books by local publisher Hoxton Mini Press. A funkier feel than some of the other pubs, as you’d expect in this part of town.
The same company run the Culpeper just down the road. Nicolas Culpeper was a 17th century Spitalfields physician who (unusually for the time) saw his patients in person rather than simply examining their urine. His treatments used herbs – the modern venue (as at the Buxton) grows its own produce on the roof and incorporates them in the grazzina courgette and spinach pesto pappardelle.
42 Osborn Street, E1 6TD, www.thebuxton.co.uk
Rooms – flat rate of £125 (except Sundays, which are usually cheaper)
40 Commercial Street, E1 6LP, www.theculpeper.com, Rooms - flat rate of £160 (except Sundays, which are usually cheaper)