So Low You Can’t Get Under It

Ceiling at the Prince Alfred

The Big Project has been great for making us visit pubs we might not otherwise have got to, such as The Prince Alfred in West London.

With a cou­ple of hours to kill between hotel check-out and west­bound train last Fri­day we searched for pubs near­by rather than rely on our old favourite, The Mad Bish­op & Bear. Google turned up The Prince Alfred which imme­di­ate­ly rang a bell for Boak: ‘It’s in Geoff Brand­wood’s book – it’s got rare sur­viv­ing snob screens. We have to go.’

We wan­dered through Lit­tle Venice, up one street after anoth­er of white stuc­co and gen­teel dusti­ness, until we found the pub sparkling with Vic­to­ri­an cut-glass glam­our.

Fired tiles at the Prince Alfred, a Victorian pub.

Chal­lenge one: find­ing a way in. The obvi­ous door led to the din­ing room and lounge – rather bland, hov­ered over by a smil­ing wait­ress. There was a Hob­bit-sized door under the par­ti­tion lead­ing to the cosier spaces around the cen­tral island bar but they sure­ly could­n’t expect us to duck under, could they? Health and safe­ty and all that. No no no.

So we went back out into the street and walked round. Was that a door on the cor­ner? It was hard to tell. Fur­ther round, we found what was def­i­nite­ly a door and barged in. We found our­selves in a snug, trapped at the end of a table, where two blokes who looked like TV antiques experts were chuck­ling over their pints.

Fuck­ing hell! I did­n’t even know there was a door there!’ one of them boomed, star­tled by our appear­ance.

It’s fuck­ing cold! Shut that fuck­ing door!’ said his friend, laugh­ing, but mean­ing it all the same.

Rather than pro­long the awk­ward­ness, this time, we did the duck, crouch­ing to wad­dle under yet anoth­er screen to pop up in what we guess you’d call in old mon­ey ‘The Pub­lic’ – built for beer and boot leather, not port and pos­te­ri­ors. (This is where the doubt­ful mid­dle door would have brought us if we’d giv­en it a shove.)

The sun was flood­ing through the high, ornate, Nou­veau-inflect­ed win­dows and we took a seat to bask while we wait­ed for a par­ty of expen­sive-anorak-wear­ing busi­ness blokes on expens­es to fin­ish a com­pli­cat­ed order. Then we watched with delight as, one after anoth­er, they crouched and huffed through the hatch towards the far snug. It looked ridicu­lous, undig­ni­fied, and com­i­cal, like a ‘bit’ from a Char­lie Chap­lin short, espe­cial­ly as each was car­ry­ing a brim-full pint glass.

A man ducks under the snob screen.

The screens them­selves are orig­i­nal but var­nished and paint­ed in that gaudy orange tone Lon­don pub pro­pri­etors seem to favour. The rest of the pub is all John Lewis, mid-00s bou­tique hotel, Not­ting Hill Set chic, but pleas­ant enough. Just don’t go expect­ing a lights-down-and-brown Sam Smith’s expe­ri­ence, or any­thing as all-round charm­ing as The Red Lion in St James.

If the fun of the archi­tec­ture was­n’t suf­fi­cient, the beer was great, too. Young’s beers, now brewed in Bed­ford by Charles Wells, are a notable exam­ple of prod­ucts uni­ver­sal­ly acknowl­edged as Not What They Used To Be. But we’ve observed Young’s Ordi­nary improv­ing for the last few years and now Spe­cial seems to be going the same way: here it tast­ed fresh, leafy-green, full of Eng­lish hop char­ac­ter. Spring shoots and ris­ing sap. Tru­ly great.

Beer pump for Young's Ordinary bitter.

The only real dis­ap­point­ment was the lack of Ram Rod in bot­tles, and thus the impos­si­bil­i­ty of con­coct­ing the sacred Ram’n’Spesh mix. Instead, there was a selec­tion of (not very excit­ing) def­i­n­i­tion 2 craft beers in cans and bot­tles. But some things must change, we sup­pose, even in elder­ly pubs that mirac­u­lous­ly still have their own teeth.

2 thoughts on “So Low You Can’t Get Under It”

  1. Bril­liant! The last time I saw it, it was board­ed up so I assumed the worst. I’ve nev­er been in as it’s in my work patch rather than my water­ing patch.
    Just around the cor­ner fac­ing War­ring­ton Cres­cent (on the same build­ing “clus­ter” as the pub) is a blue plaque to Alan Tur­ing who used to live there too.
    The only snob screens Ive ever seen are in the Bar­ley Mow in Dorset Street W1.

  2. very pleased to hear that Young’s beers are improv­ing. Went to the Duke of Welling­ton Por­to­bel­lo Road a few years ago and the beer was so bad it broke my heart. Prince Albert was not very wel­com­ing last time I went (>25 years ago)

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