Nothing says cozy like a display of nautical hats over a bar.
One of the great plagues of finding an amazing London neighborhood pub is the fact that there’s often two or three different pubs laying claim to the same vaguely historical-sounding name. Ye Old Cheshire Cheese suffers from the same plight, and its doppelganger is even on the same street, adding a degree of difficulty. The pub in question today is the Nags Head in the Belgravia neighborhood of London, and if the directions tell you to get off the Tube at Knightsbridge, then you’re headed the right direction.
Today’s neighborhood London pubs are yesterday’s dive bars for the poor and working class, also true for The Nags Head, where stable hands drank a few waiting for the rich people in the surrounding neighborhood to require something. One review of the pub uses terms like “The Great Train Robbery” and “dodgier regulars” quite unironically, adding another layer of intrigue to your visit. While I can’t verify the claims, the space fits the stories and that’s probably good enough proof to enjoy it.
As with most of life’s treasures, The Nags Head can be found in a bit of an alleyway. Well, the road may not technically be an alley, but it’s one layer of housing and traffic away from the street you’re probably walking on to find it, making it feel like something pleasantly hard to find, also a good sign. A picture of a horse with the name of the pub inscribed sits above an awning and a couple of short tables that allow for some jovial alleyway drinking.
Inside, The Nags Head is as impressive as a London pub can be, a misshapen interior space dotted with so many bizarrely unique displays that they’re interesting enough to remedy a dull conversation inside. In fact, the walls are so thick with all manner of photo and photograph that the ceiling has been claimed as well, layers of paper depicting a million different images gently swaying in the interior breeze, craning for the ground.
The tables are low, as is customary for a neighborhood London pub, but so too here is the bar itself, sunken into the ground, presumably under the weight of the sheer volume of beer served here over the years. Short chairs provide bar seating roughly at eye level with the bartender and a back area can be seen from the chair, where food is more typically served a few steps down and around the bar itself, something like a maze of beer and pub food.
The area above the bar is dominated by armed services patches from around the world and a deep selection of what look to be naval hats. Along the path to the bathroom, an ancient, coin-operated arcade game sits paired up with another similarly-aged machine and a pair of antlers, because why not. The surrounding walls are worth strolling through, with artwork as diverse as the pubs of Ireland and the wonders of absinthe mixed in with framed photos decades old.
Words do not do the space justice, the kind of pub where it’s going to take a few rounds of research to really absorb the ambiance and cover every inch of the fascinating surfaces within. And that’s before mentioning the classic stove, the built-in wood bench seating along the front window, the seltzer bottles and statues that line a mantle near the ceiling.
There is no end to the visual stimulus, or reasons to make the trip. Remember, it’s the Knightsbridge Tube stop, a sign with a horse and hopefully a little drinking that has spilled out into the semi-alleyway out front. Accept no substitutions.