Which London pub was the best place for a pint of Guinness in London in the 1960s? None of them, really, according to Gerard Fay.
His article ‘My Goodness…’ collected in The Compleat Imbiber Vol. 8, published in 1965 and edited by Cyril Ray, is another source of information on a subject we’ve been circling round and prodding at for a couple of years now: Irish pubs before ‘Irish Pubs’ and the high status of Guinness before Guinness®. There have been a few blog posts here, a substantial article at All About Beer, and there’s also a bit on this in the upcoming book, 20th Century Pub. (Although we cut a lot from that section in the final edit.) But it’s always good to have new nuggets of information.
Fay was London editor of the Guardian until 1966 and died in 1969 at the age of 55. Their obituary for him is weirdly vague about his origins (‘of Irish stock with strong Lancashire connections’) but he seems to have spent most of his childhood in Dublin and certainly described himself as a ‘Dublin boy’. As a Fleet Street diehard he worked in the vicinity of some of the best-known Irish pubs in London and here’s what he had to say about them:
There were once three Mooneys near each other in London — Holborn, Fleet Street and, to fortify the walker’s spirits between the two, Fetter Lane. Before the coming of Formica the Fleet Street one was distinguished by being more like a genuine Dublin pub than anything left in the City of Dublin itself — neither Fetter Lane nor Holborn was of the right shape. The argument often raged about which of the three produced the best pint of Guinness, and the verdict usually went to Fetter lane because of some virtue in the cellarage. To a coarse palate the Fetter Lane pint seemed as smooth as any drawn in any Dublin pub chosen by serious-minded drinkers as a ‘good house for a pint’. Visiting Dubliners denied this and would have none of the English blarney about Park Royal brewery being the equal of St James’s Gate.
Once again, there’s a suggestion of mysticism and magic around Guinness, and especially the stuff from Dublin rather than the London-brewed (Park Royal) product. Fifty years on this kind of thing is still heard even though the time when Guinness was anything other than a standardised product was in the process of passing even as Fay was writing:
As Guinness is beer, it is subject to all the complications of cellerage and of being properly kept — though the introduction of metal casks has done away with a lot of this… [The] argument is seldom heard now — the Holborn Mooney’s closed when the lease expired: the others both use metal containers and continue to sell their large and increasing quota.
The Fetter Lane Mooney’s, AKA The Shamrock AKA The Magpie & Stump, is long gone but the Fleet Street branch — The Tipperary — is still there. When we visited a couple of years ago we rather liked it. It looks like a tourist trap but, with veteran Irish staff and mostly Irish customers, didn’t feel like one, and is rather gorgeously decorated, having reverted to something like its pre-Formica look. It’s at least worth sticking your nose in the door next time you pass, even if Guinness isn’t quite the draw it used to be.