Old Haunts #2: The Pembury Tavern

A collage of images of the Pembury Tavern.

The Pembury Tavern at Hackney Downs, one of the pubs where we learned about beer, has commenced a new phase as the Five Points brewery tap.

When we were first begin­ning to devel­op a seri­ous inter­est in beer, in around 2005-06, we end­ed up at The Pem­bury because friends who knew more than us told us it was a must-vis­it pub. After years of neglect it had been bought and refur­bished as a pro­to-craft-beer-bar – clean, plain, with a vast range of hand-pumps, and bot­tled beers from Ger­many and Bel­gium.

It was also a non-smok­ing pub before the ban was intro­duced, send­ing a very clear sig­nal about the clien­tele it sought or, rather, want­ed to exclude.

Cir­ca 2006 Hack­ney Downs was posh­er than it had been 20 years before, but still less posh than it is today, with a lin­ger­ing sense of wild­ness. For typ­i­cal Pem­bury cus­tomers – overt CAMRA types, board-game nerds, hip­pies, and assort­ed odd­balls not quite cool enough to pass their idio­syn­crasies off as hip­ster­ism – the scur­ry to and from pub­lic trans­port could be an anx­ious busi­ness. That peo­ple kept putting them­selves through this ordeal is a tes­ta­ment to how wel­come a bolt­hole The Pem­bury was.

When we left Lon­don in 2011, though, the shine had gone. The beer range dimin­ished and what was left no longer seemed ter­ri­bly excit­ing in the age of the Craft Beer Com­pa­ny, and with hip­per venues pop­ping up all over Hack­ney. When we checked in a cou­ple of years ago, things were worse again – a drea­ri­ness, weari­ness, had set­tled over it all and we strug­gled to find any­thing decent to drink.

When we heard ear­li­er this year that Five Points had tak­en over the pub we imme­di­ate­ly thought, oh, that’s good news. It’s a beau­ti­ful build­ing in a great loca­tion and it makes sense for it to be tied to a local brew­ery rather than one in Cam­bridge, and we were also excit­ed at the idea of being able to taste all of Five Points’ beer in one place, pre­sum­ably pre­sent­ed at its best.

On Sat­ur­day last, work­ing around some per­son­al busi­ness, we man­aged to find a cou­ple of hours to inves­ti­gate in per­son.

First impres­sions: the pub has been brought back to life. The white­washed walls are now either rich green or vibrant red cre­at­ing a sense of inti­ma­cy that used to be lack­ing. Heavy cur­tains damp­en the once trou­ble­some acoustics, and well-worn wood­en fur­ni­ture under­lines the impres­sion that this is a Prop­er Pub, only updat­ed, rather than an out­post of Crafto­nia.

We were pleased to see, too, that the gamer geeks haven’t been dri­ven away, and that locals (both posh, and less posh) are still using the pub. If any con­stituen­cy has reduced its pres­ence its the hip­pies, but per­haps that’s true of Lon­don in gen­er­al these days, or of 2018.

The staff were ener­getic and effi­cient, serv­ing Five Points’ beer in what we’re sure must be the best con­di­tion pos­si­ble, in beau­ti­ful brand­ed glass­ware, at what felt like rea­son­able prices for Lon­don. There is also unfil­tered Bud­var and a range of guest beers on keg, cask and in pack­aged form. All of the Five Points beers we tried were at the very least good, and it’s such a plea­sure to be able to buy a pint of cask porter in East Lon­don.

The stand­out for us, though, was Five Points Pils. We enjoyed the canned vari­ant  but the draught is on anoth­er lev­el – so fresh tast­ing, hazy but not dirty, and full of blos­som and per­fume.

We would say, based on this trip, that The Pem­bury is once again worth going out of your way to vis­it if you’re a vis­i­tor to Lon­don, or rarely make it out east, espe­cial­ly as it is only 15 min­utes out of Liv­er­pool Street on the train.

7 thoughts on “Old Haunts #2: The Pembury Tavern”

  1. It and The Cock Tav­ern both still feel like Prop­er Pubs, not Craft Bars, so dou­ble the rea­sons for get­ting off at Hack­ney Cen­tral :-).

  2. Good piece, points (no pun) well made. As I live across the field from Mil­ton Brew­ery I’m not total­ly impar­tial, but I’d agree their pubs in Cam­bridge work a lot bet­ter than the ones in Lon­don (remem­ber Tot­ten­ham) and even Peter­bor­ough did.

    As some­one who will always stick up for small, bor­ing beer ranges, I have to add the Mil­ton beer was always good enough when I popped before a gig at Oslo or Moth, but it nev­er seemed remote­ly busy enough.

    Good luck to 5 Points, any­way.

  3. Used the Pem­bury it a lot when Mil­ton first took it on – they ran decent lit­tle beer fes­ti­vals and had some pret­ty decent food on too.

    Nev­er saw it remote­ly busy so always won­dered how it sur­vived. Vis­its dropped off as more and more new places popped up.

    I remem­ber vis­it­ing the Oak­dale Arms, the sis­ter pub in Har­ringay just before it shut too.

  4. Drank there a lot in 2010–2011 when liv­ing up the street in Home­r­ton and was always a fan, although it did get qui­eter as the years went on. I recall a rather odd makeover where they paint­ed the walls with strange murals of the ingre­di­ents of beer, includ­ing chem­i­cal for­mu­las… not sure if they were delib­er­ate­ly try­ing to scare away the blow-ins from the new Pem­bury Cir­cus devel­op­ment.

    Any­way will def­i­nite­ly check it out again soon.

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