Welcome! If you’ve just arrived, this is the second part of a series in which we examine London Underground by the pint, and part 1 is here.
This article is going to focus on the different tube lines – and recommend that you don’t do a pub crawl along any of them, because the human liver is a precious thing, and in nearly all cases, you’ll surely die.
Why drink by the line?
Lines are different. They have personality. The range of average price of cheapest beer across lines is greater than the range of average price of the cheapest beer across zones. Lines vary from £3.77 to £4.86 for their average cheapest pint averages; zones vary from £3.58 for zone 4, up to £4.59 – for zone 1.
(Zone 5 and out gradually became more expensive as you leave the city. If London is moving towards a Paris-style poverty donut like the haters say, zone 4 is that donut. If the cheapest pint available in local pubs is an accurate proxy for wealth, that is.)
And unlike zones, lines have direction. Really heavy drinking should occur in a pub crawl, because otherwise a wastrel can lose focus and pass out – and a vector along a set line has the sense, almost, of progress. Therefore, the idea of a tube-based pub crawl, however impractical, has widespread appeal.
This article will dignify that awful, terrible idea with a line-by-line analysis of the different pub crawls possible, taking you from the Waterloo & City to the cheapest-on-average pint.
10. The most expensive, and paradoxically the cheapest, line: Waterloo & City
The mean cheapest pint price of the Waterloo & City line is £4.86, the highest average of any tube line. The more expensive pub is the Candlemaker at Bank, where a Heineken costs £5.50. Don’t go to Bank. The cheapest is £4.25 Foster’s at the Hole in the Wall, Waterloo.
This pub crawl has a lot to recommend it: you’d spend just £9.75, and the pub crawl wouldn’t kill you. But at two stops, it’s less a pub crawl and more a pub movement. The most popular pint is a draw between Birra Moretti and Hop House, of which we’d recommend the Hop House because it’s in the Hole.
9. The most expensive line: The Circle Line
The average “cheapest” pint price on the circle line – the first real line – is £4.52, compared to £3.96 on stations across all lines. The circle line is for millionaires. Don’t use it, unless you can afford to.
Drinking on the circle line, across 36 stations you’d pay £176.60, and the price wouldn’t really matter, because you’d be dead. As with the overall tube, the most popular pint is Peroni (more on that later).
The cheapest pint is £3.00 for various lagers and ales, at the Pig & Whistle in Kensington.
8. The Victoria Line – the one which works as a pub crawl
The average cheapest pint price is £4.27 on Victoria line stops. That’s not great, but I can live with it. This is London, remember.
If you turn your nose up at Wetherspoons you’re going to The Volunteer in Tottenham Hale for a £3.40 pint of Bombardier. The most expensive “cheapest” pint on the Victoria line is a £5.20 pint of Beck’s from the Gallery Pub in Pimlico. Once mentioned by the 16th-century dramatist Ben Jonson, Ben Pimlico had a pub in Hoxton. And if you’re tickling for a drink, consider going to Hoxton. It will cost you less than pubs in Pimlico.
The Victoria line pub crawl, at 16 stops, is the only survivable pub crawl other than the Waterloo & City line, which doesn’t really count. Health websites generally start telling you what you should do to avoid alcohol rather than how much you can lap up without dying, but our judgement is that you can’t die from 16 pints, so crack on. You’d spend a minimum of £68.32, so it’s affordable, too.
Hackney is the only Borough in which the number of pubs has actually increased since 2001. From Mayor of London. Elsewhere, our pub culture is sadly in decline.
7. The Northern Line
OK, next is Northern line. The average price of the cheapest pint on the Northern line is £4.21. There’s a lot of bougie pubs on the Northern line – meaning that pubs south of the river average £4.16 compared to £3.92 north of the Thames. Some of the pubs in Clapham function mainly as bathrooms for people using the common to drink tins of beer on, but it doesn’t appear to have brought down their prices.
The absolute cheapest pint is a £1.99 pint of Bud light from the Angel at the Angel, Islington. (Don’t get confused with the Angel, Old Street, at which you’re paying £4.75 for Pravha.)
The most popular pint on the northern line is Camden Hells, showing the mildly superior taste of Northern line commuters.
6. The Hammersmith & City line
The mean price of the cheapest pint on the Hammersmith & City line is £4.18, just 3 pence cheaper than the Northern line.
The entire pub crawl would cost you £121.20. The cheapest pint is £1.99 for bud light again, which can be procured at the Barking Dog Wetherspoons, in Barking; or the Half Moon Wetherspoons in Stepney Green.
Why are all the Wetherspoons named after moons? That’s based on an essay written for the Evening Standard by George Orwell in 1946 called the “moon under water” in which George describes his imagined perfect pub of that name.
He describes, I’m sorry to say, a mediocre pub. ‘You cannot get dinner at the Moon Under Water,’ says Orwell, which seems a bit limiting considering this pub is imaginary, ‘but there is always the snack counter where you can get liver-sausage sandwiches, mussels (a speciality of the house), cheese, pickles, and those large biscuits with caraway seeds in them’. Great, thanks George. Liver is as popular as ever, and I love a large seedy biscuit as I drink my ale. Where’s my gentrified scotch egg? Where’s the hipster who knows about ales? What kind of heating do they have in the god-damn beer garden?
5. The Bakerloo Line
The Bakerloo is one of the three lines with no Wetherspoons, meaning the Old Bell in Kilburn Park takes the prize for the cheapest pint on the line – John Smith’s or Carlsberg will cost patrons £2.65. With an average £4.16 “cheapest” pint, it’s the fifth most expensive – or the fifth cheapest, depending on your disposition.
4. Jubilee Line – the worst pub crawl
The average cheapest pint price on the Jubilee line is £4.06. I’m sorry to attack the Jubilee line by declaring it the “worst” like this, but as we’ll see, you have to walk a long way to all the pubs on it, and you end up going to the Three Wishes near Stanmore twice.
The absolute cheapest pint is a £1.99 bud light in the second JJ Moon’s, but if you discount Wetherpoons again you need to go to the Gregorian in Bermondsey, for a £3.30 pint of Volden. The most expensive cheapest pint is £5.10, for a Guinness at the Duke of York near St John’s Wood.
Five tube stations are named after pubs or inns. They are, Elephant & Castle, and Angel – both of those do have non-historic pubs of the same name on approximately the correct site; Manor House, where the pub has disappeared altogether and the closest pub is called The Finsbury; The Royal Oak, where the pub in question changed its name to the Railway Inn, so that the pub was named after the tube and vice versa. It’s since changed its name again, and is now called the Porchester.
I have read contradictory reports on whether Maida Vale was really named after the Hero of Maida Pub. Like the Angel and the Elephant & Castle, the modern-day Hero of Maida pub is not the historic one. The Hero of Maida – and Maida Vale, but perhaps by second degree – refer to the battle of Maida in Italy.
Finally, there’s Swiss Cottage, where the original swiss tavern still exists, and you can buy £3.50 Old Brewery Bitter as the cheapest drink, if you’re so inclined. The cottage contrasts weirdly with its surroundings like the Gherkin or the Headington Shark and a £3.50 pint makes it a surprisingly cheap pub.
3. From rich to poor – The District Line
The district line, like the circle line, is for those who would rather be comfortable than on-time. It’s the longest line and the second line to have been built; and it goes from Richmond to Dagenham, which for non-Britons means from plush rich to post-industrial poor.
The average cheapest pint is £4.02, which is just a shade above average across all lines (£3.95) meaning the entire cost of the pub crawl would cost £232.99.
How times have changed! Further East, you can see that the cheapest pint was significantly more likely to be the most popular, and fewer pubs had working phone numbers. According to 2017 data, pub numbers in London are in decline, and the most severely affected Borough was Newbury, which lost 52% of all its pubs since 2001.
3. The Piccadilly line – the pre-airport pub crawl
At £3.92 per pint across all pints, the Piccadilly line is the closest to the “average” pint price overall, which is £3.95. (The reason the pint price average is slightly higher on lines than overall is that interchange stations are counted once for each line and then once across all stations. The price of pubs near interchange stations in zone 1 tends to be a little higher.)
The Piccadilly line is also famous for being a poor way to get between St Pancras and Heathrow airport. Because the design of St Pancras station was originally based on beer breweries, the unit of measurement by which they constructed parts of St Pancras was barrels of beer. The Betjemin Arms, the station pub, tells us their best selling pint is a Peroni, at £5.95.
Our advice is to skip the £1.99 bud light Wetherspoons on this line, and for one pence more, go to one of our two cheapest independent pubs – that’s the Coach & Horses in Hounslow East.
The most popular pint on the piccadilly line is Peroni again; and since that’s true of nearly all lines, here’s a graph which shows the breakdown of all the most popular pint across all tube stations. Peroni, Camden Hells and Amstel, all do a bit better in the city centre; whereas Carlsberg and Foster’s dominate as you begin to get further out into the burbs.
2. The second cheapest tube line: The Central Line
People hate the Central Line. Nearly a quarter of people asked by YouGov said it was the line they disliked the most. But how can you dislike a £3.85 pint?
That’s the average price of the cheapest pint there, which is actually pretty cheap. Maybe my frame of reference has been warped by living in London. And, when the Elizabeth line opens, the crowds will leave, the ambient 40 degree heat will dissipate, and it will become a line like any other.
The Central Line boasts both the cheapest overall pub (£1.89 Kozel, the New Fairlop Oak, Fairlop) and the cheapest independent pub (£2.00, Best Bitter, the Salmon & Ball, Bethnal Green). Neither of those beers were common recurring beer brands to crop up in the cheapest category.
The central line also had the only gay pub I surveyed, the City of Quebec, near Marble Arch, which was the most expensive pub on the line by their most popular pint, a £6.05 Camden Hells.
Gay pubs are in decline. There’s been a couple of high-profile disappearances – the Joiner’s Arms, the George & Dragon – and there’s a bunch of factors contributing to the decline. For example, this article points to ‘rent increases and development’ or more frequently argued, gay dating apps destroying the scene. Then there’s just the widespread tolerance of homosexuality generally in spaces which aren’t specifically gay. The City of Quebec’s description on Google mentions that its patronage are generally older gay men.
1. The cheapest line: the Metropolitan line
Average “Cheapest” Pint: £3.77
The Metropolitan line is the oldest tube line in the world and lends its name to the French le metro – it’s also the only tube line with a coat of arms, which can be found in the Metropolitan bar Wetherspoons immediately next to the exit of Baker Street station.
The Metropolitan line also has – partly because its stops are weighted disproportionately out-of-centre – the cheapest average cheapest pint of any tube line.
And the cheapest drink on the metro? JJ Moon’s, Ruislip Manor – bud light, £1.99.
It costs £5.10 at peak times to travel to zone 6. That means that for the cost of getting into and out of their city centre workplace, the commuters of Ruislip Manor could enjoy 5 pints at their local Wetherspoons. The original Mr Wetherspoon is real, by the way – he was a geography teacher who told Wetherspoons founder Tim Martin he’d never amount to anything.
And look at Tim Martin now. Dominating the London pub scene, and after years of ruthless expansion, turning this article into one huge accidental bud light advert. To remedy that, and as a parting thought, let me say this.
I’m not going to judge you for going to Wetherspoons. I will judge you, however, for drinking bud light. That pint is hogwash, my friend. Don’t drink Bud light. I cannot tell you how much it pains me – after weeks of research – to sit and type out B u d l i g h t as the cheapest beer for our beautiful tube lines. It pains me that Budweiser would presume such brand familiarity to give itself the nickname “Bud”, or that people would drink a “light” beer. It pains me that a great beering nation like the UK would have a crass American lager with a crass American nickname like “Bud light” emblematic as the cheapest beer on underground maps. That spot should rightly be a mediocre lukewarm British ale. I’ll say it; cheapest beer on the London Underground lines should be John Smith’s. And it’s not. And it hurts that it’s not. And if by some bizarro chance you read this, Tim Martin, I call on you to change it, as a publican and a patriot.
It happens that Ruislip Manor was the only pub on the map to name bud light as its favourite pint. And to the people of Ruislip Manor I say this: shame. Shame. Shame.
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