It’s in central London — let’s say Bloomsbury — and based in a renovated Victorian pub. It’s not very big and the fact that it’s entirely panelled in dark wood only makes it look smaller.
Over the door is a slogan: “They only taste the same to uneducated palates”. On the walls, further bits of propaganda: “If you want to drink tangerine-flavoured hop-juice, you’re in the wrong bar”; “Extreme beer? Bloody rude beer, more like”; and “If a pint of bitter was good enough for your granddad, it’s good enough for you.”
On the bar are twenty handpumps serving different cask bitters from around the country. They are all in impeccable condition, cool but not cold, served with our without sparkler depending on the customer’s preference, in straight pint glasses. The vast wall of fridges behind the bar are stocked with more than 200 bottled bitters, some bottle-conditioned, others not. The one thing these beers have in common: they are brown.
There are several hefty leatherbound volumes filled with detailed tasting notes by an eminent British beer writer, aimed at helping customers detect the subtle differences between the vast range of ostensibly similar beers.
There is also a very small import section featuring American and European interpretations of bitter. For the handful of lager drinkers, there are a few bottled German dunkels on offer.
Does that sound like a nightmare, a dream or something in between? Is there fun to be had in exploring nuances and learning to appreciate subtlety? Or is variety the only path to enlightenment?
We’re not the first people to imagine a bar by a long chalk, by the way. Here are a few of Leigh’s.