The best London pubs with games

From video games to board games, bowling to bar billiards, these London pubs are raising the entertainment stakes

Photo: Ed Marshall

Whether you want to practise your ping pong, get your Scrabble on, or take on your pals at pool, the most natural place to do it is down the pub. Get competitive in these London bars and pubs where fun and games are always on the agenda. Know any other pubs with games galore? Tell us in the comments box below.

Mark's Bar

Sashay on down to this upmarket spot in the heart of Soho for a stab at one of the most bizarre pub games you’re ever likely to come across. It was conceived by Englishman David Gill in the 1930s as a way of bringing the ‘fun’ of billiards into tight spaces like small bars, and the idea is to pot balls into one of a number of variously high-scoring pockets while avoiding knocking over pegs, which incurs a penalty. As barely anyone plays it anymore, there’s a good chance with a bit of practice you can be world champion by teatime.

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Soho

Baranis

‘Qu’est-ce que c’est, petanque?’ you might reasonably ask. It’s similar to French boules, and our native bowls; here at the UK’s only indoor petanque court the aim is to get your ball as close as possible to the jack (or cochonnet, meaning literally ‘piglet’). However, rather than being scudded along the ground gracefully as Sir Francis Drake himself might have done* the ball is tossed in an arc in the manner of some kind of gallic peasant. Just pray it lands on the cochonnet and not in some fancy-dan’s cocktail.
*In 1588 Drake insisted on finishing a bowls game before attending to the pressing matter of the approaching Spanish Armada.

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Chancery Lane

Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes

Venue says: Summer bowling, karaoke and dining packages now available. Check out our weekly club nights, Disco Dump (Friday) & Hip Hop n Bowl (Saturday)

This super-fun joint in the heart of town is an ever-reliable fount of merriment thanks to the trademark tenpin action and regular live bands. Now guests in the private Kingpin Suite can also thrill to the click of leather on willow at the UK’s only virtual cricket net. According to Jon Dalton at Bloomsbury Bowling Lanes, the idea came to him at a bar in Japan which featured a virtual baseball net; all the Lanes did was Anglicise the sport and introduce a scoring element to make it more competitive and therefore fun. If you win, of course, that is. Otherwise cricket sucks.

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Euston

The Baring

The pub against which all others should be judged – great selection of beers and wines, nice location, cosy atmosphere, top-notch grub – when you’re feeling a bit delicate on a Sunday afternoon it’s the board games that really set this little gem on the Hackney/Islington borders apart. Aside from your everyday staples (Scrabble, Monopoly, a couple of chess boards, Connect 4, Jenga), such retro classics as Dare, Bedlam and Trivial Pursuit clamour for your attention alongside maybe the only complete set of pub dominoes in the world. If you fancy taking things to the next level competitively, Monday is backgammon night, welcoming beginners and tournament-standard players alike.

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Central London

The Lion

Make a beeline for the plush games room above this boozer halfway along Stoke Newington Church Street, and if there’s enough of your mates to really hog the joint you’ll get a well-looked-after pool table, foosball, a pinball machine and a pretty groovy jukebox – all to your lovely selves. All that and great food, cheapish drinks and other fun one-off activities (sometimes there are life-drawing classes, and during the World Cup there was a Panini sticker exchange) make for an entertaining hostelry you can cheerfully piss away a rainy afternoon in.

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Stamford Hill

Meltdown

‘eSports’ are pretty hot right now. Don’t believe me? Online war strategy game League of Legends has grown so big that traveling star players can claim similar visa exceptions to traditional sports pros, and the winning five-man team at last years World Championships (which, incidentally, sold out Wembley Arena in a matter of hours) walked away with with $200,000 each. Meltdown is one of the capital’s only venues to watch and play eSports, and the affable clientele of geeks and gamers means you’re very unlikely to get glassed for looking at someone the wrong way here (unless it’s Google Glassed). Brilliantly, you can even bring your own food, and the barman is happy to suggest which of the Cally Road’s takeaways is your best bet in the late hours.

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Kings Cross and St Pancras

Porky's

Try your hand this American fratboy classic in the apt setting of Porky’s barbecue restaurant (at the Bankside and Camden branches). Bounce your ping pong balls successfully into the keg-party-style red cups at your opponents’ end of the table and force them to drink up as forfeit. Before you go, look online for suggestions on how to strategically line up your opponent’s cups, especially as they begin to deplete (known as ‘re-racking’ in the trade). Popular options include the fairly self explanatory ‘diamond’ and ‘honeycomb’ formations, but also consider the more esoteric ‘thumbs down’ and ‘wizards staff’ layouts. We suggest maybe you don’t look into the hygiene implications of ping pong balls passing between the floor, some random’s unsanitary fingers and your beer. Just saying.

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Bankside

The Four Quarters

Limber up your button-mashing fingers and firmly grasp your joysticks for misspent-youth classics like Pong, Asteroids and Streetfighter II at this hip Peckham bar. Feast your eyes on a beautifully restored original Tron machine, and while you’re at it savour the rolling 16-bit Californian scenery of that colossus of the racing genre, Outrun. Craft beer at the bar is sourced from local breweries such as Meantime and Brick, and excitingly the founders also plan on starting film nights very soon, hinting toward screenings of contemporaneous movies and even ‘classic’ ’80s/’90s wrestling. Yes, gents; it’s all your teenage desires made flesh, with the possible exception of Baby Spice at the bar pulling pints.

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Peckham

The Lamb

Permit me to blow your mind in just three words: Giant. Hungry. Hippos. Yes, it’s a thing. The Lamb pub in Surbiton prides itself on being a centre for outsized gaming, and in the past it has taken such Brobdingnagian marvels as giant Mousetrap, Pop Up Pirates and even Buckaroo to UK festivals including Glastonbury, Green Man and Bestival.

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Surbiton, Surrey

Bar Kick

If you love table football (or ‘babyfoot’ as the French somewhat creepily call it) you won’t go far wrong here, or at Kick’s Café on Exmouth Market. The groovy decor comprises international flags, cute formica furniture and continental advertising posters, but the real action is on the 11 foosball tables spread over two floors. Decent deals on happy hour booze (4.85 a cocktail or 2.00 a beer from 4pm-7pm every day) ensure a lively atmosphere and things can get pretty raucous in the white heat of competition. For best results turn up during the afternoon to catch happy hour, grab a tasty Vedett or Duvel beer and do your best to avoid the douchey weekend Shoreditch crush.

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Old Street

EFES

Richly deserving its reputation as Dalston’s premier ‘Oh just one more drink then’ hangout, Efes does so many things right it actually makes your head hurt. It’s free entry, the drinks are reasonable and their main draw, the pool tables, are well maintained and at £1 a game among the very best value around. For a place that’s so popular (indeed it boasts a celebrity following – Alexa Chung is known to have racked up here) it’s surprisingly easy to get on a table and begin smashing long pots in a lively, flirty atmosphere. There are even have snooker tables (frequently unoccupied) if you’re chasing that authentic East End gangland vibe. Be warned though, hip cats; the relentlessly naff chart/R’n’B soundtrack would be cringeworthy had you not had a skinful before you arrived. But of course you did, so that’s all right then.

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Dalston

Duke of Wellington

If you arrive at this corner pub on the doorstep of fancy Spitalfields expecting craft beer, soft lighting and artisan grub served on rough-hewn pieces of slate you’ll be woefully disappointed. Rock up in the mood for generic lager, ’80s decor and darts, and I promise you’ll have the time of your life. The somewhat surly regulars are only there to escape from their awful wives, remember, so offer them a bag of crisps and a game of 501 on one of three well-kept dartboards and you’ll have a playmate for life. The bar will hire you the ‘arrows’ for a fiver deposit, so no need to bring your own, and might we suggest looking into ‘round the clock’ as an expedient set of rules for the enthusiastic amateur.

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Brick Lane

Eagle

If you’re mentally equipped to brave the battalions of yummy-mummies, this comely west London watering hole has plenty to offer patrons on a fine autumn evening, with a sizable beer garden (featuring its own bar!), bean bags and the pieces de resistance – giant Connect Four and giant Jenga. Just be careful you don’t knock your stack of heavy wooden blocks over on to the head of a scampering young Izzy or Tarquin; the well-heeled local mothers do have a way of making a scene when you do.

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West London

Ping

Booking in advance and/or putting on a freshly ironed shirt is advisable if you want to get past the infamously picky door staff at this souped-up subterranean youth club, but it’s so worth it once you’re inside. Ping pong and pizza are the headliners, with the former fast-paced and bathed in sexy mauve neon and the latter accompanied by a rather special hummus and yoghurt dip. Tucked away in the corner is a 1998 Sega Rally 2 arcade machine, infested with damp-eyed thirtysomethings screeching down memory lane in their choice of badly rendered Ford Escort or Toyota Celica.

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King's Head

Since the late ’60s this luxuriously old-fashioned pub has been a hotspot for chess fanatics, and the stately decor and thoughtfully selected guest ales provide just the right donnish ambience for this most dignified of pastimes. If bashing the bishop isn’t quite your style and you fancy something a little pacier there is also Scrabble. Or, if your reaction to either of the above was some variant on ‘sod that, in a pub?’, you’ll be glad to know there is Pictionary to. Which, take it from me, is an utterly inspired way to kill a boozy hour or two with a gang of likeminded coves.

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Bayswater

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