London's Pubs - you've got to love them!
This is not a Good Beer Guide!
The pubs featured here are not necessarily my favourites or even the most interesting. I'm not claiming they sell the best beer. They are just a few that I either noticed or sampled in my recent walks around the city.
There is much argument about what constitutes a great pub. Is it the history, the decor, the management, the clientele, or the beer? For me, none of these things. For me, a great pub is the one which is conveniently there, and open, just when I want to find one. And the best beer is always the next one.
A typical London pub
This one (above) happens to be the Duke of Wellington in Chelsea, but it could just as easily have been the Marquis of Granby in Soho, the Queen Victoria in Paddington, the White Horse in Shoreditch, and so on. London is full of small pubs on the street corners (for maximum catchment and visibility). Every one will have a few regulars who drink nowhere else, but the painted signs, the hanging baskets, the street menu-boards, these are all pitching for the passing trade. As a general rule, pubs reflect their neighborhood fairly well. These Chelsea flower-baskets wouldn't last a day in some less salubrious areas. Let's take a look at a few more:
A Pub for Every Occasion
A Plethora of Pubs...
This one, The Speaker, is a little down at heel, but is hanging on bravely to its corner, though completely brow-beaten by the garish zebra-striped brickwork of its host terrace. It's a good name for a pub, with echoes of Parliament, the speakeasy and Speakers' Corner.
Truman's Ales are no longer brewed. The London Truman's brewery closed in 1988. But this little green tiled gem was considered iconic enough (have these two words ever before been so juxtaposed?) to soldier on as an independent "free house" even to the present day. (A free house is a pub that can choose its suppliers and is not owned by any brewery).
Is the Prince Arthur in Hoxton or Shoreditch? That depends if you are trying to impress customers or fend off the tax-man, It is an old, traditional pub abutted (retrospectively) to bland 60's dwellings of no intrinsic merit. It sells Shepherd Neame ales, established 1698, and with a claim to be the oldest brewer in the country. Of all the pubs on this hub, this is the top for the true beer lover. Well worth a visit!
Youngs is a beer well worth getting to know. It is a London beer, now brewed in Wandsworth, that at its best is second to none. It is often slightly hazy, which doesn't matter. If they wanted it perfectly clear every time, they could bung in the necessary chemicals. This particular pint (right) is vaguely enhanced by the dome of St Paul's Cathedral on the North bank. (It's a shame about St Paul's: Wren's exterior is superb but it's full of imperialist statuary that sits ill in a church). Sitting or standing outside with your beer is a traditional London pleasure, not to be sneezed at.
Still on the South Bank, The Anchor is one of London's great old pubs. Weather permitting, you don't sit inside, but take your beer across the cobbled lane to the river frontage, where you can happily watch life drift by. The great thing about the South Bank is that it is not important. You look across at The City, with pity. Poor fools betting on money, for money. Sweating for money. In suits, that's the worst of it. There's a dignity in sweating in overalls, and some sense in sweating in trainers. But - let's not get political - we're out walking.
This is the view from the Anchor frontage. We're looking East, downstream on the Thames, under Blackfriars Bridge towards London Bridge and, for the sharp eyed, to the castellations (top right) of Tower Bridge.
The Commercial Tavern, Commercial Street E2, is one of my favourite London pubs. This picture shows it closed for refurbishment, words that always fill me with dread. I hope, when it reopens it will still be the place that inspired me to write:
Drinking beer and sunlight in equal measure,
pleased to watch the scaffolders ply their mission -
not to let one glorious breast or buttock
pass by unwhistled.
Farther East on Commercial Street is another historic East End pub, The Ten Bells. Inside (right) the bar is unusual in having no gantry (these became popular in Victorian times, and most older places were updated; somehow the Ten Bells escaped). Instead, the whole interior is tiled, dado rail to ceiling, lending the place an unusual brightness, for an old bar.
Though most of the tiling is simple pattern, there are a couple of tile pictures. This one (right), already at least a hundred and twenty years old, harks back to a still earlier century, depicting a highly fashionable couple visiting a weaver's establishment in Spitalfields Market.
The old Spitalfields Market still stands, just across the road from the Ten Bells, but is now lacking in purpose, with just a few stallholders plying their trade. Unless passing, it's not worth visiting, except for what remains of the old architecture. It's degenerated to an inner city car boot sale, by any other name (though some would say craft fare...)
Update, Feb 2012: In the last couple of years, Spitalfields Market has truly come back to life and is now well worth a visit, having recovered much of the buzz of a traditional East End market. It's a success story, and good to see in these troubled times.
And this one is where I ended my walk, if not my evening. It's the Spread Eagle in Kingsland Road, Shoreditch. Two things are remarkable about this pub: it is still open, and it is very quiet. Times change. A few short years ago this place was heaving with life, not all of it wholesome but none of it boring. The windows were boarded up, so it was dark night and day. There was a pool table at the far end and a small stage where I am now sitting. Girls would take a collection, in a pint glass, before taking their turn to 'dance' on stage. The new licensees have cleaned up their act but it's patently obvious they haven't worked out what to do instead. There's a feeling of borrowed time and inevitable closure. The pub doesn't command a corner. It has no special features. Unless you count this red leather sofa, erstwhile host to the finest Brazilian buttocks in London...
Thanks for the read!
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