Drink beer. Hear music

London's best pubs for watching live music for absolutely zero quids

Drink beer. Hear music


This place can be a bit hit and miss with their bookings so do check to see what’s on before you blithely turn up and find yourself exposed to 90 minutes of bass guitar feedback and experimental cymbal noise. Overall though it’s a reliable port of call for lovers of vaguely progressive rock music. It’s also less gross than Hackney’s other flagship indie pub The Shacklewell Arms (although the vinyl dance floor does seem purposely designed to transmutate into a kind of beery tar by the end of every night).

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There’s nothing remotely pleasant about this insalubrious hole on Camden Road, but if you like your music furious, rapid and unintelligible,l The Unicorn’s never-ending procession of death, black, thrash and doom metal bands will keep you sated. It also features a load of grim-faced, elderly locals who stubbornly turn up and drink at the bar, despite the bludgeoning death metal assault happening but 20 feet from where they sit. Praise Satan!

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Come hither, weary traveller, for I know of an attractive tavern wherein you may rest a weary limb, quench your thirst and also lend an ear to the charming molestations of mandolin, lute and autoharp. Sorry. The Harrison is tucked away in the backstreets near King’s Cross, and plays host to the genre’s entire spectrum, from hard-strumming anti-folk to full-on ye oldie revivalism. It’s also a hotel, which technically makes it an inn. Can’t get folkier than an inn.

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Prepare to have both your mind and your eardrums tested at this deceptively generic-looking venue where entry is free and the jazz always mercilessly loud. There’s something brilliantly off-kilter about this Walthamstow boozer. Perhaps it’s the railway bridge overlooking its front seating area and enormous garden. Or maybe it’s all the homemade effigies to the landlady’s favourite cat. It could also be the kitsch upstairs cocktail bar known enigmatically as Madam La Zongas. All we know is the place serves up heap after sizzling heap of synapse-frying jazzy goodness.

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This place was great before anyone thought of Hoxton as a nightlife destination, it’s great now, and dammit, it’ll be great when everyone finds a new part of London to puke and fight in on a Saturday evening. Troy Bar‘s open mic nights are an institution, local musicians taking it in turns to get up on the tiny stage and take part in righteous, labyrinthine jams that make those intros on Jools Holland look and sound like the musical interludes on Teletubbies.

Honourable mention: Satan’s Whiskers on Bethnal Green Road, for its admirably unyielding “90s hip hop” life code

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