London’s top five live music pubs

The Shacklewell Arms, Dalston

Until recently, the Shacklewell Arms was a garishly painted Caribbean social that sat quietly in an unloved part of Hackney. Now the ripple effect of regeneration has changed all that. Dalston's rebirth as London's coolest neighbourhood has allowed most of the run-down boozers in the area a makeover, although the Shacklewell appears to have just swapped clientele as decor-wise it's still resolutely Kingston JA. The back room frequently hosts nights courtesy of London's hippest gig promoters Eat Your Own Ears. Expect the very best in upcoming music – jagged guitars, electronica, folkie acoustics and plenty of ill-conceived facial hair to accompany it.
• 71 Shacklewell Lane, E8, 020-7249 0810, Open Mon-Wed 5pm–midnight, Thurs 5pm–1am, Fri 5pm–3am, Sat noon–3am, Sun noon–midnight

Cafe Oto, Dalston

There's minimalism and then there's Cafe Oto. Ostensibly a sparsely dressed concrete box, a night out in this former warehouse feels a little like gatecrashing a party. The fact that this unassuming Anglo-Japanese venue has one of the most extreme bookings policies in the UK only adds to its no-frills charm. The gig listings read like the Wire magazine's dream playlist – everyone from the Sun Ra Arkesrtra to former White Panther John Sinclair.
• 18-22 Ashwin Street, E8,

Although one of the Olympic host boroughs, Walthamstow hasn't seen much of the transformation that's happened in Hackney, Tower Hamlets or Newham. And it hasn't become hip either; pubs there are still pubs, not places for upmarket food. This pub remains stoically old school. The back room is a theatre that plays host to comedy nights and the Walthamstow Folk Club, where socialist songsmiths play rabble rousers to a beered up Camra crew every Sunday (who voted it East London Pub of the Year 2011).
• 53 Hoe Street, E17, 020-8509 3880, Open Mon-Thurs 10am-11pm, Fri-Sat 10am-midnight, Sun noon-11pm

Ginglik, Shepherd's Bush

Buried under Shepherd's Bush Common, Ginglik is located in a former Edwardian public loo that was originally built for the 1908 Olympic Games (held in neighbouring White City). The bunker-like space was opened as a bar and all-encompassing live venue 10 years ago, long before the Westfield mall kick-started the regeneration of this unloved, traffic-heavy corner of the capital. The booking policy is eclectic, to say the least – a typical week might include live hip-hop, Edinburgh Fringe warm-ups, Balkan folk nights and belly dancing courses. Ginglik operates a members-only policy, but you can join on the door by showing photo ID and filling out an application form.
• 1 Shepherds Bush Green, W12, 020-7348 8968, Open Mon–Thurs 7pm–midnight/1am, Fri-Sat 7pm (9pm June-Aug)–3am, Sun 7pm–12.30am

From the extensive bourbon selection on the bar to the bookings policy of the upstairs theatre/gig room, the Lexington is north London's home for all things Americana, offering a stop-off point for travelling troubadours and cowgirls (as well as the occasional heavily feted indie band). And while most pub music venues won't offer gig-goers more than a bag of Walkers, the Lexington has a decent kitchen on the go, not to mention a long list of bourbons and whiskies. A weekly highlight is Sunday afternoon's Hangover Lounge, where the music never rises above talking volume and any DJ playing cocktail jazz will be asked to leave immediately.
• 96 Pentonville Road, N1, 020-7837 5371, Open Mon-Thurs 3pm-2am, Fri-Sat 3pm-4am, Sun 1pm-midnight

Robin Turner is the co-author with Paul Moody of The Search for the Perfect Pub: Looking for the Moon Under Water (Orion, ?14.99). To buy a copy for ?11.99, go to

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