Of all the exciting beer developments in London since we’ve moved away, none have intrigued us as much as the sudden discovery of demand for good beer in our former home of Walthamstow. This article highlighted the fact that not one, not two, but three (THREE!) formerly rough pubs were due to re-open under new management.
We went back to Walthamstow last week to have a look at the developments. Both the Chequers and the Cock are still being refurbished, which left us with the Bell.
The Bell is one of those large pubs-on-a-junction that you get in Victorian suburbs of London, the product of rapid expansion in housing plus limits on where licenced premises could be built. I went in once or twice as a teenager and remember it being huge and mostly empty. The best thing I could say about it then was that it wasn’t as rough as it looked.
Like other pubs of its ilk, it passed through many managers and a few halfhearted refurbishments in an attempt to bring it back to life, but never managed to shake its rough reputation. The Beer In The Evening comments make for a fascinating mini-history of the last ten years.
Why have the Bell’s new owners (apparently) succeeded where others have failed? Firstly, an ambitious but very tasteful refurbishment, which has involved stripping out lots of twentieth century additions and emphasising the original features (and complementing what’s there with old furniture). The pictures on the website actually make the pub look more modern than it feels. We commented a lot on how impressive the refurbishment was, how much more ‘pubby’ it felt now than we’d ever known it, and how, despite the vast space, it felt cosy.
Secondly, they are openly going for a more ‘aspirational’ market (craft beer and jazz feature heavily in the marketing) – but they are still managing to attract and welcome a range of clientele that reflect the local area. Extremely welcoming and talkative bar staff help here.
Thirdly, the beer selection and quality is now the best in Walthamstow (which is getting harder and harder to do, and might be difficult to maintain if Antic open the Chequers as planned) There are eight hand-pumps (plus a mixture of keggy stuff). We had to be somewhere else that afternoon, so we were limited as to what we could try in the time available. We were delighted with Brodie’s London Fields, which we could have easily drunk all afternoon. We also sampled their Landlord, which we’re coming to think is a good test of whether a pub can look after its ale or not. They passed with flying colours.
We don’t want to exaggerate the quality of the beer selection – the enormous competition in London means there’s probably not much to drag the serious beer geek out of their way to get here. However, if we were still living in Walthamstow, it would be our new local, no question.
Picture to come when Bailey gets back.