60. Lórien * – Palma di Mallorca, Spain – 8.6/10
With a Lord of The Rings theme and focus on beer this places wanders into risky territory – departing from a traditional Spanish format, and towards being a theme pub – which could go badly wrong. However, when you’ll arrive any fears will be swiftly allayed. Their décor is minimalist and tasteful, the drinks are heavily focused on local wares and the pub layout is communal and pub-like without being a stereotype of any another country’s style. The public’s response? Adoration. If they could convince the older generation to visit this would create more of a mixture of people, but that is perhaps the only significant criticism to make. An oasis in a desert, Lórien provides a refuge for those who want to drink a beer that’s not Estrella once in a while. This is also a Spanish venue where you can have a drink without feeling the obligation to constantly consume food – a major plus point for us. Click on the link above taking you our full-write up of the pub, to find out more!
59. U Vystřelenýho oka – Prague, Czechia – 8.6/10
“The Shot Eye” is one of the grislier sounding pub names. This is a ‘lower’ Žižkov institution. At the bottom of the hill, close to Karlin tunnel, this basement venue is dedicated to drinking, socialising and live music. No quantity of backpackers in the nearby hostels has yet vanquished the local contingent, who secure their turf via evening seat reservations – everyone else must hope for scraps from, or in this case, around their tables. The décor is simple, slightly dog-eared (though it was never swanky) and alternative, capped off by a fish tank built into the bar itself. The toilets feature an eyebrow raising theme which signal, if it wasn’t already screamingly apparent, that this place is not for the pretentious or the faint-hearted. Conversely, it is not unfriendly or unsociable either, it is merely, as one online review accurately describes it: ‘a little bit punk’. The spirit of the Czech people is better exhibited here than any of the increasingly modern, derivative ventures popping up over Prague these days.
58. The Dawson Lounge * – Dublin, Republic of Ireland – 8.6/10
Claiming to be the smallest pub in the city, The Dawson Lounge is a true oddity that has more character than the atrocious signage outside suggests. Cosy, carpeted and absolutely tiny, this is a basement snug with bench seating covering about 12 people, while the rest have to settle for a place at the bar or a leading post opposite the entrance. If you’re lucky enough to get a seat, the pub is comfortable enough to forget about your worries (and your trouble and strife, perhaps?) happening at ground level. To emphasize the pocket sized nature of the place, inset reinforced glass in the ceiling of the toilets shows the shadows of pedestrians walking directly above your head! The Guinness is spot on and if you are lucky enough to find a bench seat, the activities outside at ground level will struggle to entice you to sup up and move on. Click above to read our full write-up of The Dawson Lounge!
57. Shakespeare’s – Sheffield, UK – 8.6/10
Moving inexorably towards the cream of Sheffield’s outstanding crop, Shakespeare’s is another artful revival of a dead pub combining the traditional and modern with aplomb. An old three-sided bar dominates the ground floor, with a rustic side-room to the left, upturned barrels and standing room at the back of the bar, and further long side room which is used for music performances, darts and a bit of an overflow area when neither of those are happening. Shakespeare’s drinks choices strike a perfect balance between local and global, traditional and modern, exclusive and cheap. Throw in a large beer garden and upstairs venue area, and you have yourself quite the pub. Geographically, Shakespeare’s also knits together any bar crawl wishing to take in Kelham Island as well as the city centre, as our suggested Bar Crawl of Sheffield: Pub City demonstrates. It’s no wonder the place attracts such loyal custom.
56. Gas Lamp/Гасова лямпа * – Lviv, Ukraine – 8.6/10
Lviv has quite the liking for a theme pub, whether that’s a bierhalle with a live orchestra (see Number 98.) or a Masochistic café where you are whipped at your table. In a less imposing vein, Gasova Lampa carries on that tradition by celebrating being the home of the kerosene lamp. A tall venue with 4 floors, each with their own vibe, you can enjoy a mini museum of original lamps interspersed with styling light fittings. To add to the ceremony a ‘lamplighter’ wearing a top hat and coat tails will guide you into a basement whereby you make your ascent into the bar – via a traffic light system. The selection of drinks is limited but affordable, and the roof terrace, though covered, is nevertheless atmospheric. Read more about it by following the link above to our full profile write-up!
55. Whitelock’s * – Leeds, UK – 8.6/10
Originally the Turk’s Head, this 18th century tavern and luncheon bar has seen several iterations over the years, but has somehow survived into the present day having preserved the fixtures of its heyday: magnificent Victorian tiling and detailed, restored without conceding to modernity. Small, long and thin, seating inside Whitelock’s is often at a premium, availability coming in waves of passing trade. You will never run short of things to admire, and if you grab a seat then by all means feel smug about claiming your prize! It’s a great vantage point to watch the action. Not only the fixtures are preserved: the real hustle and bustle of city life remains on show at Whitelock’s. Fashions may change but fingers crossed, Whitelock’s will not. We couldn’t fit everything into this mere summary so read more about the place by following the link above to our full profile write-up – featuring a documentary presented by John Betjemen!
54. Poechenellekelder – Brussels, Belgium – 8.6/10
Puppets, mannequins, marionettes and framed artwork adorn the walls, nooks and crannies of Poechenellekelder, a bar located directly opposite Brussels’ famous Mannekin Pis statue. This bar could reasonably be called a Staminee due to the limited but well-sought after food service, but the shape of the place is more like a café bar, with a staircase separating the top floor and bar (which is where you want to be) and the basement.. The overall effect is charming and distinctive, with the emphasis on warm hues and wood, which with the historic items, and the exterior building provide a charm, and a harmony that isn’t present in many other bland cafe bars. This would be a fine enough basis for a visit, then read the menu, rows of high quality Belgian ales are on offer to add the Kriek on top. Expect tourists, but that is no reason to stay away.
53. Au Daringman * – Brussels, Belgium – 8.6/10
The brown café, staple of the Dutch and Flemish bar scene has never been a set template, more an indication of a theme and culture – aged, preserved wood fittings, at a venue which feels like a refuge. Au Daringman is a fine example as its fixtures suggest the faded glamour of a jazz bar, which has had a side interest in boxing, cycling and local football. Not much appears to have changed in the intervening time, with the manager Martine overseeing proceedings with a calm, stately assurance. A refuge of calm and quiet in the afternoon, Daringman slowly bubbles into life as the evening progress and the hip Rue Des Flandres crowd appear. Follow our link ^ above ^ to find out more in our full profile write-up!
52. The Blue Bell – York, UK – 8.7/10
Blue Bell is York’s only Grade II* Listed Edwardian Public House. It’s a tiny pub with two rooms, both barely bigger than snugs, and snug is the right word to use about the place in general. Its fixtures have remained well-preserved since 1903, while the building has served this use since the 18th Century. On entry you are greeted with a crimson red corridor, from which you have to choose either the front or back room, neither of which can be seen without entering. The bar area wedged in between, with a hatch to serve the back room. The atmosphere is, as you might expect, enchanting. The Blue Bell’s limited seating space and room shape mean it prevents too many people standing, and thus rarely becomes claustrophobic, only cosy. Drinks are local and well-kept, hence the pub’s perennial inscription on CAMRA guides, while the management do their best to keep it a place for York residents as much as tourists. Visit for the charm, atmosphere and history: it’s a little gem.
51. Jazz Kocsma * – Szeged, Hungary – 8.7/10
On European Bar Guide we are acutely aware that for the most part, bars light a brief candle and most of them have the lifespan of a dog if you’re lucky. Jazz Kocsma is a survivor from the early 90s – not much at all when compared to England or Belgium, but in provincial Hungary this is similar to finding a Dodo on your patio. There is not much left from before the millennium that hasn’t been vandalised, wound-up or reworked. Jazz Kocsma is a live music venue, or brooding basement bar depending on the night you choose to arrive. The place seems as though it has seen a century’s worth of acts, let alone 30 years, which may be part of the charm. It’s a student institution, and cult venue that at night involves a strangely spooky walk through completely unlit suburbs. When you arrive here you will feel a long, long way from home, which inevitably adds to the experience. Click the link above to reach our full profile write-up!
50. Nightjar – London, UK – 8.7/10
A subterranean speakeasy with a very stylish design rendered in brown and gold hues. It may require a queue to enter on some evenings but for a change, the experience you will have inside is actually worth being in that queue. Live Jazz, outlandish cocktails and an altogether well-integrated, well put together experience, that almost justifies the high prices. It’s an altogether too exclusive venue to consider becoming a regular (unless you are minted) but for a one-off or occasional experience you will struggle to do better, even in London.
49. Taverne St. Paul – Liège, Belgium – 8.7/10
A beautiful, local old Belgium brown café which sums up what you would bring to your mind’s eye if someone mentioned a Belgian pub. St. Paul is not crammed with tourists like Brussels’ bars either; most, if not all you meet will be Liègeois. The taproom has a reliable cast of paunchy old men leaning and holding forth, while the lounge area is as cosy as you could possibly wish for, with chunky upholstered furniture and a fireplace. Even TV screens manage not to spoil the experience. As with all these successful brown cafés, the appeal spans young, old, rich and poor. It’s both a damn good job and, conversely, a crying shame this pub is in Liege, which is a messy and largely unappealing city. But, to paraphrase a famous line from the film In Bruges: “…If it was somewhere good, it’d get too popular and ruin the whole thing.“
This article sets the scene magnificently, so it seems reasonable to regurgitate it for your consumption:
“The building dates from 1663. It originally served as a postal relay, later it became a forge. There has been a tavern since 1881. In a first incarnation it bore the name Le Tonneau, after the wooden beer barrels that were piled up on the street side (the current name comes, very simply, from the church nearby). The facade is authentic and heralds from a distinct Maasland style. The interior, atmospheric and patinated, is more recent: 1952. Dark wood, mirrors, colored glass panels.”
48. The Red Deer – Sheffield, UK – 8.7/10
Number #2 of several Sheffield pubs to feature, The Red Deer is not the product of any grand mission nor has it a grand history we would indulge in. The rating and position on the top 100 is a reflection on the virtues of doing all the important things in a pub well. For starters, there are comfortable and atmospheric seats in all the pubs – unlike other venues we would be happy to sit in most corners of this pub, which quietly says a lot about the design and level of comfort. We would – and have – come here to eat, but would similarly (far more frequently in fact) come here to drink, as the beer is reliably well-chosen, well-kept and well-poured. The pub has a lively community feel with student groups and musicians using the function room upstairs (and, of course, the pub downstairs). It is a place of metronomic reliability, which when twinned with the comfort and hospitality and convenient central location (shorn of the deleterious detractions that usually result from that) makes The Red Deer a must-visit venue, as either resident or visitor to Sheffield.
47. Ye Olde White Harte – Hull, UK – 8.7/10
Ye Olde White Harte pub on Silver Street in Hull is believed to have played a key role in the start of the English Civil War. In the room now known as the Plotting Parlour, the decision was reputedly taken in 1642 to refuse Charles I entry to the town.
Perhaps, because of its historic and cultural importance, Ye Olde White Harte has managed to remain relatively untouched over the years, developing the unmistakable atmosphere of a place whose oak panelled walls and inglenook fireplaces have absorbed the good times and dealings of generations of revellers, plotters, shoppers, traders, diners and drinkers.
It is a Grade II listed building and has some beautiful old tiled fireplaces, and became a pub in the late 1700s, after which a fire damaged the staircase and the ground floor. This is now a corner stone of the Old Town culture of Hull. While we would like to see the second bar and the upstairs open more often, and are not great fans of the multicoloured spotlights, many a great day or night can be spent here.
46. Café Den Turk * – Ghent, Belgium – 8.7/10
Ghent’s best brown café, Den Turk is a city institution (and likes to think so as well), inviting custom from the nearby city hall, the occasional tourist as well as from the army of students based nearby. There has reportedly been a café at the site since the 15th century, which given Belgium, is entirely believable, but especially convincing when you take a glance at the magnificent stone burgher house with that stepped gable. Service at Den Turk is characteristically brusque to anyone except the regulars (How dare you, a customer, seek service with your money?) but that’s easily ignored when you settle down to drink. The style of the pub is simple, dangerously wandering onto genteel with those chequered table cloths, but the stylish bar taps and jazz that seeps into the background as the evening progresses speak of a bar that develops like a fine wine – which is completely the wrong metaphor of course, as you’ll be drinking Belgian beer all the way through. We go into much more detail in our full profile write-up which can be found by following the link above!
45. Élesztő – Budapest, Hungary – 8.7/10
Élesztő Kézműves Söröző, to give it its full name, is one of the best courtyard bars in Budapest. While not really a ruin bar in terms of aesthetics, this is nevertheless re-use of ex-industrial space (in this case an old glass manufacturing plant) in a great way. Mixing green, black and dark greys, with foliage drooping down, the atmosphere is stylish without ever feeling pretentious or to the exclusion of other people. This is proven by the mixed crowd who hang out here. You’ll find a great range of drinks from Hungary’s up and coming breweries. While it doesn’t hit the peaks of some other places – for instance, they could be more distinctive – they push all the right buttons. You can’t argue isn’t Élesztő is a great all-rounder. Visit on afternoons for a calm hangout space, on late evenings for the raw and vibrant atmosphere.
44. Salionas – Vilnius, Lithuania – 8.8/10
Salionas is located in the old Lithuanian Writer’s Union, a fascinating and grand venue with a lavish design. Arriving by night, you may not spot the entrance straight away, but don’t worry – it’s exactly where Google says it is. Walk in to be greeted by a dramatic entrance hall and staircase. The design will knock you back – not so much 5 star hotel as ornate Gothic mansion! Wander through to find a series of drawing rooms with comfortable seating and to your right, a door through to deckchair congregation in the square, decorated with bunting and spotlights. Salionas is a relatively mainstream venue in other areas, with a typical cocktail menu and resident DJ (who is, as usual, in the wrong place and largely unnecessary). Yes, it promotes itself to an affluent crowd, but when considering the courtyard, the luxurious seating, and one of a kind venue, the experience is terrific and therefore its high rating is thoroughly deserved.
43. Monk – Brussels, Belgium – 8.7/10
When it comes to bars with style, some scream it from the rooftops (sometimes literally), others exude a quiet confidence. Monk belongs to the latter. The description may seem familiar to the point of prosaic: wood panels, communal bench seating, quiet during the day, becoming buzzing at night. Plenty of those places, right? But the quality of the craftsmanship that has gone into the fixtures and fittings shines through, managing to make what is really a young bar feel as though it has been here since the Belle Époque. You know it’s the case when you’re pausing to appreciate the toilets. The chequered flooring and grand piano make the venue just far removed enough from a brown café to be something else entirely, dance-hall elements that make the place feel a little too roomy during the quiet hours. However, those hours don’t last long in Brussels. With a beer menu that prioritises quality over quantity, you are best served choosing one of the excellent lambics on offer or taking a look at the latest tap offerings. Once served, sit down among a pleasant mix of people from all different backgrounds enjoying the elegance of the Art Deco styling and spectating on the scene.
42. La Fleur en Papier Dore – Brussels, Belgium – 8.7/10
Not one of the tourist trail bars in Brussels, the location on the periphery of the centre affords La Fleur En Papier Dore a certain respite from the hordes winding their way around the Grand Platz and its side-streets. However, this bar has a claim to be one of the most important drinking holes in the city, serving as HQ for the surrealist movement in the 1920s and a favoured spot for literary denizens throughout the 20th century. This is demonstrated by the beautiful, ramshackle displays of framed artwork festooned on the walls, arches and niches of the pub. Expect to find some medieval flourishes too, hatched windows, a chain candelabra and the colour of those walls which look as though they have absorbed their fair share of smoke over the years. You can’t really see outside once you enter this place, and once you get sat down for a drink and a chat, you’ll be glad not to be reminded there is an outside. It’s an absolute cracker of a pub. Yes, drinks are limited and a little bit on the pricey side – were it not for that this pub would inch towards being one of my absolute favourites anywhere in Europe. Such is the variety and quantity of great bars available to you in Brussels it seems criminal to overlook any of them. While there are some distinct experiences to be had in all of them, this is the one I would choose to as my local, were I a resident.
41. Cardigan Arms – Leeds, UK – 8.7/10
The Cardigan Arms had been sadly neglected for many years. At one low point the management left overnight, and the pub company offered the job of running the place to the cleaner who had found the place unlocked, with the management having done a runner! They accepted what seemed a gift on a plate, but could not turn the place around through effort alone, relying on regular trade from the same people who were vandalising the place and stealing from the till. This dire state of affairs came to pass despite this pub having many natural advantages to bring people in.
Situated on a permanently busy street surrounded by shops, cafes and restaurants and in a residential catchment area which has no other pubs to compete, this is a breeding for success, but when you get a bad reputation, that stays with you a long time.
There were talks of a community takeover, but in the end Kirkstall Brewery stepped in with the money and dedication to turning this place around. The opening happened without much fanfare but slowly and surely, via word of mouth, the pub is being rediscovered by the neighbourhood.
The Cardigan Arms has wonderful late Victorian decor and recently won the Joe Goodwin award for successfully refurbished street corner ‘locals’. Enter through two sets of doors to the main bar area and three rooms, a main lounge to your right, a candle-lit snug on the second-right, and a further small room opposite the bar with large mirrors. Each of these rooms carry their own appeal, but the saloon bar area is perhaps the best of the lot – tastefully restored while still exuding its original character.
The neighbourhoods of Burley and Kirkstall which are a healthy mix of younger and older residents, and the features of the ‘Cardy’ appeal to both. You’ll rub shoulders with students, retirees, dog walkers, couples and community groups using the space for their meetups. A mix of cask and keg ale keeps things interesting and the cheapest beers won’t break the bank.
There are frequent events, an ever-changing menu to keep the punters and kitchen staff on their toes and they have succeeded in restoring The Cardigan Arms to what it always ought to have been – the neighbourhood local at the heart of the community.