The Boat Race is a gruelling thing to do. But at these riverside spots, it’s a dream to watch.
This Sunday, April 7th, perennial rivals Oxford and Cambridge will attempt to sort out their beef on the waters of the Thames, as the Boat Race returns for 2019. The country’s finest rowers will splash their way from Putney Bridge to Mortlake, and over a quarter of a million people are expected line the river to watch. The 74th Women’s Boat Race kicks off at the oddly specific time of 2:13pm, with the men battling it out for the 165th time at 3:10pm. Amidst the glow of a warm spring afternoon (we can dream, can’t we?), there’s no better way to watch the Boat Race than with a pint in hand, at one of the fine riverside pubs and restaurants along the route. (Alternatively, try the fluffy send-up of the event at the Goat Race in east London.)
The obvious place to begin is as close to the starting line as possible, et voilà: The Star and Garter. They’ll get the day started with a bang, offering drinks deals, giveaways, and butlers ferrying around booze. With live DJs, market stalls, and an afterparty until late, it’s a grand place to get the festivities started.
Ok, so it’s not a pub – it’s more banh mi than beer garden – but this place does have an ace up its sleeve. They’ll have a food stall serving Thai dishes from just £2, and the Boat Race will be screened live in the bar. Music and revelry continues until 2am, with happy hour from 6-8pm, so alumni of the winning team can celebrate their victory until the wee hours.
For a spot with a little more grandeur, mosey over to The Duke’s Head. This Victorian boozer is Grade-II listed, and has witnessed almost every Boat Race in history. With rooms like The Rowing Club and The Coxswain Dining Room, you’ll be sure to get an oar-ful of knowledge from rowing aficionados.
8 Lower Richmond Road, SW15 1JN. Nearest station is Putney Bridge.
Our first pub on the north bank of the Thames, The Crabtree gets into the swing (or should that be stroke?) of things. They’re laying on a whole Boat Race Festival, with live music from 12:30pm, street food vendors (including the return of last year’s wildly popular handmade pizzas), and pop-up bars, all with lovely views of the river. Coming here really would be a stroke of genius.
Rainville Road, Hammersmith, W6 9HA. Nearest stations are Hammersmith and Baron’s Court.
With a terrace that opens up right onto the river, The Blue Boat commands a very nice view of the race. They openly defy the weather gods on race day by hosting an outdoor barbecue, serving up ribs, burgers, and sausages. Cross your fingers for sunshine if you’re planning to head here.
Distillery Wharf, Parrs Way, Hammersmith, W6 9GD. Nearest station is Hammersmith.
A lovely little pub sitting close to Hammersmith Bridge, The Blue Anchor has a lot going for it. Craft beers on tap, smashing views of the Thames, and an appearance in Sliding Doors are just some of its charms. Having served ales since 1722, this place has seen many a rower go gliding past, and a recent blue-hued refurbishment has it looking ship-shape.
13 Lower Mall, Hammersmith, W6 9DJ. Nearest station is Hammersmith.
Right next door to The Blue Anchor, the Greene King-owned Rutland Arms has more of a party vibe. For the second year running, they’ll throw the doors open at 10am for bacon sarnies, host a BBQ from midday, and run a Britpop-a-thon at the conclusion of the race. After which, the Boat Race will seem like a Blur.
The further you go along the Boat Race route, the older the pubs seem to get. The Dove is so old, Charles II used to wine and dine his mistress Nell Gwynne here. You aren’t likely to spot any royals here come race day, but it does boast officially the smallest bar room in the world, so expect it to full up rather quickly.
You’ll see the boats coming and going here, as The Old Ship has a wide view of the Surrey Bend. It’s a Young’s Pub, so you can expect a fairly standard range of beers and bar food – but the terrace views will more than make up for it. If you can snag a spot, of course…
By this stage, one boat should have taken an insurmountable lead – but if they haven’t, The White Hart suddenly becomes a smashing spot for a photo finish. Their lovely outdoor terrace will surely be rammed, but if you’re here early enough, you’ll get a commanding view of the end. Should hunger strike, you’ll be well catered for in this gastropub.
The Terrace, SW13 0NR. Nearest station is Barnes Bridge (National Rail).
Again, not a pub, but it earns a spot on this list as it’s brand spanking new, and also highly appropriate. Since you’re watching a river race, seafood is surely the food of choice for Boat Race day. And who better to serve it than Rick Stein, master of British seafood? Their Boat Race special is a three course, seafood-heavy meal, and it will set you back £75. Guess it’s an appropriate time to splash out…
Tideway Yard, 125 Mortlake High Street, SW14 8SN. Nearest station is Barnes Bridge (National Rail).
It’s about as close to the finish line as you can get, making The Ship very popular real estate when the Boat Race rows around. This picturesque building is a tranquil spot when the boats are gone, but on race day, expect it to be busy. Tradition dictates that the winning team should dip their cox in the river (not as dirty as it sounds), and this eighteenth century pub will give you the best view of the celebration.
10 Thames Bank, Mortlake, SW14 7QR. Nearest station is Mortlake (National Rail).
Featured image: The Dove
Also published on Medium.