Beer history pubs

HELP US: Gastropubs in the 1990s

Did you drink, eat, work at or run a gastropub between 1990-1998? If so, we’d love to hear from you.

We’re especially interested in diary entries, letters, articles, emails or other records you might have made at the time — nothing is too scrappy or too minor.

But memories are helpful too.

We’ve got lots of facts, dates and figures: what we want to know is, how did these places feel?

Like journalist Kathryn Flett, a great champion of gastropubs in the 1990s, did you appreciate their un-blokey atmosphere and rustic chic? Did you welcome the opportunity to enjoy good food without having to dress, mind your table manners and take out a small bank loan?

Or perhaps you’re with Patrick Harveson who, in 1995, wrote an article in the Times calling for The Campaign for Real Pubs. Did your local became somewhere you no longer felt you could pop in for a pint? Maybe you saw the very idea of the gastropub as dangerous — a threat to the very idea of what pubs are meant to be.

The Eagle in Clerkenwell, London, generally given credit as the original gastropub after its 1991 reinvention, is one we’re particularly focusing on but we’d be happy to hear about any others you think are notable or interesting.

You can comment below but it’d be much more useful if you could email us via


Main image adapted from ‘Eagle, Clerkenwell, EC1’ by Ewan Munro ( via Flickr under Creative Commons.

9 replies on “HELP US: Gastropubs in the 1990s”

My first job in That London was on Bowling Green Lane – more or less opposite The Eagle- in Clerkenwell. This was in August or september 1992.

My new colleagues took me there in my first week. I remember being slightly horrified by the prices – and also by the size of the plates the food came on. I think I had lamb. I’d never been in a place quite like it. Blackboard menus and what have you – although the floorboards ‘n’ open plan approach was also in use by other pubs, especially the Firkins which were all over the place then.

I was so very green. It might have been here or at a neighbouring restaurant that these same super-sophisticated workmates (gently and patiently) explained to me what tortellini was.

Much too recent for me – I have difficulty disentangling the 1990s category from ‘current affairs’! (That nice Mr Blair, whatever happened to him?) Also I loathe gastropubs, on a couple of different general principles. Hope you don’t mind if I sit this one out.

Things were a bit tight for me, back in the 1990’s and having just started a family money was in short supply. I was lucky to be able to afford a few pints in a pub, so posh nosh was definitely off the menu for me.

Btw, I’ve never liked the term “gastro-pub”; it’s far too pretentious for my liking.

Mostly I remember the gastropub movement as involving the conversion of several really great, old, traditional country pubs that used to host us after cricket matches and provide free chip butties and let us play 3 card brag in the back bar and drink til midnight, into pretentious places where we were made to feel uncomfortable as the landlord no longer wanted 22 sweaty blokes putting his diners off their chicken in jus.

They took mixed use (food and wet sales) pubs that were busy and popular and making more than enough money to tick over, and turned them into restaurants that did ok for a year or so and then went under as the diners moved on to somewhere new and the previous regulars had no interest in returning.

In London in the early days it was more about taking over dead/dying inner city pubs (because they were cheap and available), and certainly in the best ones there was never a problem if you wanted just to drink. In those days it felt like they could be a good mix of English pub and French bistro culture. The beer in the Eagle (Charles Wells) was never great, but other places (e.g. The Lord Palmerston in Tufnell Park and St John’s Tavern, Archway) made more of a feature of their real ale, as something diners might have a couple of pints of before they moved on to wine with their meal, and that was as conscientiously “sourced” and served as the rest of the menu, alongside the artisan cheeses and locally made bread. They were never very popular with CAMRA, but in this way they played their part in the rise of craft beer; they certainly created a market for it.

I said I objected to gastropubs on a number of different principles – thinking of some of the points py has made – but on reflection there’s one key principle, & I think it’s quite a widely shared one. I just don’t like going into a pub and being made to feel uncomfortable – even if they’ve kept good beer on, and don’t actually repel drinkers. Take the Plough at Duloe, near where we stayed one year: some of the best Proper Job I’ve tasted, but drinking it perched at the bar, while a Dining Pub did its thing all around, took the shine off a bit. (00s rather than 90s, otherwise this would be a fine specimen. Home-made pork scratchings, sold by the glass.)

There was a recent article in The Guardian written by Zoe Williams: “Twenty-five years of the gastropub – a revolution that saved British boozers”. Here is my own opinion of this extravagant claim.

I remember going in the Eagle circa 1995 to see what all the fuss was about. I got a very frosty reaction for only wanting a pint and not wanting to eat – and the beer selection was very poor. I don’t remember any specific beer, other than it was the 90s equivalent of what Doombar is today.

I don’t really recall ever going to a gastropub in the few drinking years that I spent in Blighty before absconding to other climes. Probably the closest I ever got was a place in Brum called The Malt House round on Brindley Place – actually, looking at the website now it probably qualifies as one. I don’t remember feeling unwelcome because I was only having a couple of pints, but I do remember the ‘no tracksuits, no trainers’ policy sign on the door.

There used to be a ‘British style’ gastropub here in Charlottesville that closed down very recently, it was called the Horse and Hound and I only darkened the door of the place once. Being told by the barmaid that the owners knew about Scottish beer because they had spent a year living in London kind of put me off. I may have had a spring in my step when I walked by it with a big ‘For Lease’ sign outside the building, heartless git that I am.

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