Can't decide between a night at the pub or an evening of culture? Combine both with a trip to one of London's pub theaters where you can watch a cutting-edge play with a pint in hand. With most tickets going for less than £20, it's a great way to get a taste of London's theater scene without forking out for a pricey West End seat. And you might just see the next big thing in the process. Many Hollywood stars and Olivier Award-winning directors cut their teeth at pub theaters across London. Check out our pick of the best venues.
Founded in 1970 as the first pub theatre since Shakespeare's day, the King's Head Theatre Pub on Islington's lively Upper Street is a stalwart of London's fringe theater scene and plays host to theater productions, musicals and comedy shows. Stars including Alan Rickman, Sir Ben Kingsley and Richard E Grant have all tread the boards here and several plays have scooped prestigious Olivier Awards and gone on to transfer to the West End and Broadway. The theater is located at the back of a Victorian pub, a cozy space with a traditional horseshoe-shaped bar and a roaring fire. The bar serves light bites and a range of real ales, craft beers and an impressive selection of wine.
This tiny pub between Islington and Clerkenwell is said to date back to 1415 and can count Charles Dickens, George Orwell, Karl Marx and Stalin as former patrons. It was established on land owned by the Priory of The Knights of St John and was once a popular coaching inn on one of the main routes into the City of London. The family-owned pub serves real ale and pies from Pieminister and there's a secluded beer garden out the back. The upstairs theater first opened its doors in 1979 and the small venue has bench seating for around 60 people. A number of the plays shown here have transferred to the West End and you can score matinee tickets from just £10.
This former Victorian music hall once welcomed Charlie Chaplin on stage and it continues to attract top performers to star in plays, gigs, comedy events and improv nights. By the Regent's Canal between Islington and Shoreditch, the Rosemary Branch theatre is a local gem that seats around 70 in an intimate space above the pub. The bar serves local beers and seasonal food including popular British dishes like fish and chips and roast dinners. In addition to the theatre program there's a weekly pub quiz and regular live music events.
In pretty Highgate Village, the Gatehouse pub started life as a Victorian music hall. It's now one of London's best-loved fringe theater venues with a reputation for putting on small-scale productions of popular West End shows. It's picked up awards for the likes of Avenue Q and Mousetrap and received critical acclaim for its all-female production of Hamlet. The theater seats just over 100 and sits above a gastropub that specializes in Spanish cuisine and tapas dishes. Take advantage of the great value pre-theater menu and wine pairings before a show and pre-order interval drinks to enjoy out in the heated beer garden.
Above the Prince Albert pub on Notting Hill Gate, the Gate Theatre has received a string of prestigious theatre awards since opening in 1979 and has seen stars including Jude Law, Rachel Weisz and Sophie Okonedo grace the stage. The theater program is dedicated to international drama and emerging productions and it hosts workshops, debates and special events for young people (keep an eye out on the blog for listings). The pub is cozy and colorful and features a courtyard beer garden for pre-show drinks and pub grub.
Larger and comfier than most of London's traditional pub theaters, the Tabard Theatre is an impressive space above a historic pub in Chiswick. This west London spot opened in 1985 as a 96-seat theater and it plays host to in-house productions, musicals, contemporary revivals and comedy shows. The popular pub was built in 1880 and features original details like decorative tiles and Arts & Crafts mirrors. There's a menu of regularly changing guest ales and a selection of local beers alongside classic British pub fare. Grab a seat in the library room or head outside to the leafy beer garden.