News Pubs and Old Favourites #1: The Forester, Ealing

We spent the gap between Christmas and New Year in West London, on the hunt for Proper Pubs. Four stood out and we’re going to give each one its own post.

Jess first vis­it­ed the Forester in North­fields, Eal­ing, in 2016, dur­ing research for 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub, and has been try­ing to get Ray there ever since. It’s of aca­d­e­m­ic inter­est, being built in 1909 as an ear­ly Improved Pub to a design by Now­ell-Parr, and retain­ing a mul­ti-room lay­out with lots of peri­od details.

It also hap­pens to be a sub­ur­ban back­street cor­ner pub – our cur­rent favourite thing. As we approached, it peeked into view between the cor­ner shops and ter­raced hous­es, like a steam­punk cruise ship at berth.

It’s a Fuller’s pub, too, which means touch­es of the cor­po­rate, but not to an oppres­sive degree. It helps that the light is kept low and (not to everyone’s taste, we know) the music loud, so every table feels like its own warm bub­ble.

The Forester, Ealing -- interior.

The locals seemed well-to-do with­out being posh, sink­ing beer and gin, and throw­ing out the odd rau­cous joke: “Bloody hell! When you bent over then, Steve… Either you’re wear­ing a black thong or you for­got to wipe your arse.”

They ignored par­ties of out­siders – a group of what we took for pro­fes­sion­al foot­ballers on tour, all design­er shirts and hair prod­uct; a trio of twen­tysome­things, appar­ent­ly from the mid­dle east, when-in-Rome-ing with pints of Guin­ness – with­out appar­ent mal­ice.

The beer was excel­lent, too – Fuller’s as Fuller’s should be served, gleam­ing and bril­liant beneath clean arc­tic foam. The ESB in par­tic­u­lar was hard to resist, demand­ing to be treat­ed like a ses­sion beer, which maybe it is at Christ­mas.

We made time to vis­it twice dur­ing a four-night trip, which should tell you some­thing. You might find it worth a detour next time you’re in Lon­don.

News, Nuggets & Longreads 1 December 2018: Stats, Social Clubs, Suburban Pubs

Here are all the blog posts, articles and news stories around beer and pubs that grabbed our attention in the past week, from Norway, Maine, to Canley.

First, some­thing with a bit of weight behind it: UK government’s Office for Nation­al Sta­tis­tics (ONS) has pub­lished a report on the health of the pub mar­ket. The over­all con­clu­sion it reach­es is that, yes, lots of pubs have closed in the past 20 years, but “the total turnover of pubs and bars has held up, remain­ing flat since 2008, once infla­tion is tak­en into account”.

There’s also an inter­ac­tive tool which will give you a read­out for your town or city, e.g.

ONS chart on Bristol pubs -- down from 375 to 285 since 2001.

The report sug­gests increas­ing employ­ment in the pub trade might be down to the growth in food ser­vice, and a trend towards big­ger rather than small­er pubs. (But we won­der if the intro­duc­tion of RTI in 2013 might also be an influ­ence, effec­tive­ly end­ing  infor­mal (unre­port­ed) employ­ment in most sec­tors.)


Children's party at a social club.

His­to­ri­an of clubs Ruth Cher­ring­ton has writ­ten about her mem­o­ries of play­ing bin­go with her par­ents at the Can­ley Social Club and Insti­tute in Coven­try, and what it all meant:

Our local club was con­ve­nient­ly sit­u­at­ed just across the street from our house on a post­war coun­cil estate. Mum told us that Dad was thrilled to bits when plans for the clubs were drawn up in the late 1940s. Hav­ing a local place to drink and play games like bil­liards and crib­bage over a pint or two meant he would no longer have to trek to his old haunts on the oth­er side of town. Like many local men on the estate, he threw him­self into set­ting up the new club on the land allo­cat­ed by the Cor­po­ra­tion specif­i­cal­ly for that pur­pose. The club opened in a wood­en hut in 1948 and affil­i­at­ed to the Club and Insti­tute Union in 1950.

(PDF, unfor­tu­nate­ly.)


Norway, Maine, brewpub.

At Beer­vana Jeff Alworth has tak­en a moment to breathe and reflect on how ordi­nary it has become to find decent and inter­est­ing beer in unlike­ly places:

Human expe­ri­ence requires con­stant recal­i­bra­tion, and mine occurred about halfway through my dry-hopped pil­sner, Imper­son­ator. I was focused on the over­ly Amer­i­can hop char­ac­ter and lack of assertive malt fla­vor when it hit me: I am in a brew­pub in Nor­way, Maine. My crit­i­cal appa­ra­tus had been set to “world stan­dards.” I quick­ly recal­i­brat­ed to “18-month-old brew­pub in rur­al Maine,” and all of a sud­den it was look­ing mighty impres­sive. There were no flaws in that or any beers we tried, and part of my com­plaint was, admit­ted­ly, pref­er­ence (I don’t want to taste IPA in my pil­sner).


Debit card illustration.

We wrote about cashless/cardless pubs and bars ear­li­er this week, and it’s a top­ic gen­er­al­ly in the air. David Hold­en at Yes! Ale reports the real­i­ty on the ground where con­sumers are expect­ed to car­ry both cash and cards if they expect to vis­it more than one venue in the course of an evening:

Yes, I had to go back out in the wind and rain but at least I am in a posi­tion to get cash out at six o’clock in the evening. I don’t have to go into an open branch to get cash. In Koelschip Yard I was in the posi­tion to open my wal­let and draw a card out to make a pay­ment. There are many rea­sons why not every­one can do this. These rea­sons may be why one poten­tial cus­tomer has to “give this one a miss” or ask their mate “Do you mind get­ting the round in here?”.


Hofmeister lager.

And here’s anoth­er real­i­ty check, from Paul ‘no rela­tion’ Bai­ley: beers that you can’t actu­al­ly buy, even if you real­ly, real­ly want to, might as well not exist. His expe­ri­ence was with the award-win­ning revived ver­sion of Hofmeis­ter.


Vintage illustration: McSorleys

We were sur­prised to come across some­one this week who didn’t know Joseph Mitchell’s bril­liant 1940 essay on New York City tav­ern McSorley’s, AKA ‘The Old House at Home’. So now, in what might be a one-off, or could become a reg­u­lar fea­ture, wel­come to Clas­sics Cor­ner:

It is equipped with elec­tric­i­ty, but the bar is stub­born­ly illu­mi­nat­ed with a pair of gas lamps, which flick­er fit­ful­ly and throw shad­ows on the low, cob­web­by ceil­ing each time some­one opens the street door. There is no cash reg­is­ter. Coins are dropped in soup bowls—one for nick­els, one for dimes, one for quar­ters, and one for halves—and bills are kept in a rose­wood cash­box. It is a drowsy place; the bar­tenders nev­er make a need­less move, the cus­tomers nurse their mugs of ale, and the three clocks on the walls have not been in agree­ment for many years.


And how can we not fin­ish with Hilary Man­tel doing her ver­sion of 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub?

Want more read­ing? See Alan.

Writing About Pubs

Last night we won a gold tankard from the British Guild of Beer Writers for writing about pubs.

Though we’ve yet to receive the post-mortem notes we assume this was pri­mar­i­ly for 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub which, in case you haven’t heard, is a 230-page run through how pubs have changed in the past cen­tu­ry or so.

Oscars™-style, we’d like take this oppor­tu­ni­ty to thank Jo Cope­stick and Tim Webb for tak­ing a punt on pub­lish­ing it, and Dale Tom­lin­son for his excel­lent work on the design.

We worked hard on it and would love peo­ple to read it. Please buy a copy, or ask your local library to get it in, or bor­row it from a mate, or dip into the copy on the shelf at the Drap­ers Arms. There’s even an extract here you can read for free.

As well as the book, though, we also sub­mit­ted:

We know that when this new cat­e­go­ry was announced there was some con­cern that, being spon­sored by the pro-pub cam­paign Long Live the Local, it might reward only cheer­ful­ly uncrit­i­cal writ­ing about pubs but we think our win proves that fear unfound­ed.

Now, per­haps for 2019, we’ll pull the bal­ance back from pubs to beer a bit.

And maybe, just maybe, we’ll have anoth­er think about that book on the his­to­ry of lager in Britain we’ve been want­i­ng to write for a few years. A tril­o­gy sounds quite good right now.

Notable Pubs: The Milestone, Exeter, 1985–1988

"Pub with no beer"

There have been repeated attempts to test the idea that the identity of the pub need not be tied to alcohol. The Milestone, which opened in Exeter in 1985, was one such experiment.

On the book­shelf at the Drap­ers lurks a yel­low­ing copy of the Wordsworth Dic­tio­nary of Pub Names, a cheap 1990s reprint of a book by Leslie Dun­kling and Gor­don Wright first pub­lished in 1987. The nam­ing of pubs is an area of study requir­ing more pinch­es of salt than most, and the book is not with­out its inac­cu­ra­cies, but flip­ping through it over our Sun­day night pints, we often find some nugget or oth­er, and that’s how we first heard of the Mile­stone:

The pub sells only soft drinks, non-alco­holic beers and wines. It was set up in 1985 by the Devon Coun­cil on Alco­holism and the Exeter Com­mu­ni­ty Alco­hol team to help peo­ple with a drink prob­lem. It is in the base­ment of an office block, and those who named it clear­ly see it as a high­ly sig­nif­i­cant step.

A con­tem­po­rary report from the Liv­er­pool Echo (20/11/1985) offers more infor­ma­tion:

Mr Mur­ray French, chair­man of Exeter Dis­trict Health Author­i­ty, will pull the first pint – or rather pour the first soft drink – at noon [today].

The pub, com­plete with pool table, dart board and the usu­al bar fit­tings, is the brain child of Exeter Com­mu­ni­ty Alco­hol Team.

Mr Stan Ford, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Devon Coun­cil on Alco­holism, said: “The main aim is to pro­vide an envi­ron­ment where peo­ple can get the atmos­phere of a pub with­out alco­hol.

A lot of my clients have asked where they could go if they stopped drink­ing. There was nowhere. Now there is.”

Laud­able as this might sound, it’s hard to imag­ine any­one con­vinc­ing friends who are still drink­ing (pos­si­bly heav­i­ly) to come to a tee­to­tal pub, and how­ev­er con­vinc­ing the fac­sim­i­le, there’s no deny­ing that an air of mer­ri­ness is an essen­tial part of the plea­sure of the pub.

With­out booze, it will just feel like a youth club, won’t it?

There’s a cer­tain inevitabil­i­ty to the next men­tion we can find in the news­pa­per archives, from the same news­pa­per for 25 Octo­ber 1988:

MILLSTONE

Britain’s first alco­hol-free pub, the Mile­stone in Exeter, Devon, is to close next month after three years. It failed to attract enough cus­tom.

This feels like the kind of thing that might have gen­er­at­ed the odd aca­d­e­m­ic paper or offi­cial study but, if so, we can’t find them online, on this side of a pay­wall.

It would cer­tain­ly be inter­est­ing to see pic­tures of the Mile­stone, or to hear from any­one who remem­bers (not) drink­ing there.

J.B. Priestley on Improved Pubs in the Midlands, 1934

The passage below appears in English Journey by J.B. Priestley, published in 1934, and just reprinted in hardback by Great Northern Books, though we found our copy for £4 in the local Amnesty bookshop.

A hun­dred pages in, it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing, rather sour view of a land of cheap rain­coats and glum hotel bars, but it’s impos­si­ble to write about Eng­land with­out at least acknowl­edg­ing pubs, and the 1930s were an espe­cial­ly inter­est­ing time.

We’ve tak­en the lib­er­ty of insert­ing some extra para­graph breaks for read­ing on a screen:

Half-shaved, dis­il­lu­sioned once more, I caught the bus that runs between Coven­try and Birm­ing­ham… We trun­dled along at no great pace down pleas­ant roads, dec­o­rat­ed here and there by the pres­ence of new gaudy pubs. These pubs are a marked fea­ture of this Mid­lands land­scape.

Some of them are admirably designed and built; oth­ers have been inspired by the idea of Mer­rie Eng­land, pop­u­lar in the neigh­bour­hood of Los Ange­les. But whether come­ly or hideous, they must all have cost a pot of mon­ey, prov­ing that the brew­ers… still have great con­fi­dence in their prod­ucts.

At every place, how­ev­er, I noticed that some attempt had been made to enlarge the usu­al attrac­tions of the beer-house; some had bowl­ing greens, some adver­tised their food, oth­ers their music. No doubt even more ambi­tious plans for amuse­ment would have been put into force  if there had been no oppo­si­tion from the tee­to­tallers, those peo­ple who say they object to pub­lic-hous­es because you can do noth­ing in them but drink, but at the same time stren­u­ous­ly oppose the pub­li­cans who offer to give their cus­tomers any­thing but drink.

The trick is – and long has been – to make or keep the beer-house dull or dis­rep­utable, and then to point out how dull or dis­rep­utable it is. Is is rather as if the rest of us should com­pel tee­to­tallers to wear their hair long and unwashed, and then should write pam­phlets com­plain­ing of their dirty habits: “Look at their hair,” we should cry.

For more on inter-war improved pubs, with their bowl­ing greens and tea­rooms, see chap­ter 2 of our 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub.