Categories
Beer styles london

Finding stout and porter in London

“What are the best places to find stout in central London?” asks Stuart via Patreon. It’s a good question.

London is strongly associated, historically, with porter and stout but these days it’s hard to find, apart from Guinness which is, of course, almost everywhere.

Anthony Gladman recently wrote about the resurgence in London porter for Good Beer Hunting. That’s worth a read if you want to understand the broader context. It’s interesting how few examples he was actually able to point too, though.

Some that were around a decade or so ago have all but disappeared, too, such as Meantime and Fuller’s. The latter is a bottle-only product these days – and even so, rarely seen in pubs.

On our recent tour of classic London pubs we didn’t notice much dark beer on offer at all.

The Sutton Arms had a dark lager; The Carpenter’s Arms was all bitter and golden ale; and The Pride of Spitalfields had nothing darker than Fuller’s ESB.

We know that The Pembury Tavern, one of our favourite pubs in London, always seems to have Railway Porter, one of our favourite dark beers, on cask. But it’s hardly central.

Bristol brewery Moor has a very good straight-up cask stout called, uh, Stout, which seems to be regularly available at their London taproom. Bermondsey is a bit easier to get to but still not central, though.

The Royal Oak at Borough, still maybe the best pub in London, full stop, had Harvey’s wonderful porter on cask when we visited a couple of weeks ago. If not that, there are always bottles of Harvey’s wonderfully funky Imperial Stout behind the bar. We think this counts as central, even if it’s not West End.

Samuel Smith pubs, of which there are many in London, have an own-brand Guinness clone that’s we’ve always enjoyed. They may also have bottles of Oatmeal Stout, Taddy Porter and Imperial Stout in the fridge – but at a premium.

Anspach & Hobday also have London Black which they call an “independent nitro porter” with a handy map showing all the pubs that serve it. There are quite a few in central London.

In general, visiting pubs with wider-than-usual beer ranges will probably pay off, especially in autumn and winter. Cask in Pimlico, for example, or The King’s Arms in Bethnal Green. If there’s going to be a guest stout or seasonal porter, this is when and where you’ll find it.

If you know of a London pub that always has porter or stout on offer, let us know in the comments below. ⬇⬇⬇

Does Britain do regional styles?

Stuart also asked a related question: “Can you visit a city and find places that specialise in a particular style of beer? What does this say about the UK if we don’t have the same definable geographic association as German cities?”

What immediately sprang to mind for us was Midlands mild country, highlighted memorably by Robbie Pickering many years ago.

We recently revisited The Great Western at Wolverhampton where there was not only cask mild but also a choice of the hyper-local light golden ale style, from both Batham’s and Holden’s.

And down in the West Country there’s maybe an argument to say heavy, brown, sweetish ales are a thing – Blue Anchor Spingo, St Austell HSD, and a few others.

“London murky” (another Robbie Pickering contribution) almost became something but that now seems universal. It’s certainly the dominant style in Bristol.

But, yes, Stuart’s right: beyond that, it’s hard to say “Oh, you must go to city X which specialises in beer style Y.” Perhaps Britain is just too small to carry it off.

Or maybe we’re wrong. Are there living beer styles you associate strongly with a particular UK town, city or region?

Categories
london pubs

Geoffrey Fletcher’s favourite London pubs, 1966

In a small booklet called Offbeat in London, published in 1966, writer and illustrator Geoffrey Fletcher provided a list of his favourite London pubs.

Fletcher’s list is unusual and interesting for various reasons.

He knew a lot about architecture but wasn’t an architectural critic in the formal sense.

Nor was he a beer geek. In fact, he rarely mentions drink at all.

What really mattered to him was the vibe. In particular, he loved anything that felt like a relic of times past.

His books often focus on ghost signs, buildings that had dodged demolition and elderly people who remembered Queen Victoria.

Pubs, many of which were built in the high Victorian period, were one more aspect of this.

The pub list in Offbeat in London comes after a description of Henekey’s, “the sole representative of the vanished gin palace of Victorian London”. (It’s now a Sam Smith’s pub called The Citties of Yorke.) After notes on its fixtures and fittings, such as “the famous Waterloo stove”, Fletcher writes:

Having made a digression in the direction of refreshment, I take the opportunity to introduce a short list of my favourite London pubs, recommended for architecture and atmosphere, as well as for food and drink.

Here’s his list, with a brief quote from the more extensive notes in the book for each entry.

  • The Salisbury | St Martin’s Lane, WC2 | “You go through the doors and find yourself at once in the London of Beardsley and Wilde.” | still trading
  • The Red Lion | Duke of York Street, SW1 | “a perfect hall of mirrors, quite untouched since the Victorian age” | still trading
  • The Albert | Victoria Street, SW1 | “a curiously American-like exterior with superb balconies” | still trading
  • The Jolly Butchers | Stoke Newington | “fantastic Gothic ironwork” | still trading
  • The Crown | Aberdeen Place, NW8 | “The interior has a strong flavour of the Diamond Jubilee about it…” | now a Lebanese restaurant but well preserved
  • The Black Friar | Queen Victoria Street EC4 | “the most remarkable Arts and Crafts period pub in London” | still trading
  • Mooney’s Irish House | Strand, EC4  | “Upright drinking, talk, stout, Irish whiskeys and crab sandwiches…” | now The Tipperary, temporarily closed was at 395 Strand, now closed (see correction in comments)
  • The Nell Gwynn(e) | Bull Yard, WC2 | “Porter on draught… was sold here until only a few years ago.” | still trading
  • The Final | William IV Street, WC2 | “a pile of turned mahogany, gold lettered mirrors and stained glass” | gone, we think
  • The Paxton’s Head | Knightsbridge, SW1 | “the name is derived… from the designer of the Crystal Palace” | still trading

It’s interesting how many of these are still trading and retain some or all of the features that made Fletcher love them.

The Final, on the edge of Covent Garden, is the only one that seems to have completely disappeared. It’s not listed in any of the other ‘great London pubs’ books on our shelves, either.

So, with that in mind, let’s have a slightly extended quote:

The saloon has a mosaic floor Street to cool your feet, and a brass rail to rest them on when you are called to the bar… Best of all, perhaps, is the Schweppes advert for Soda Water and Dry Ginger Ale, with an Edwardian nymph, an Albert Moore-like figure, at a spring. Watching her from the opposite wall is a group of natty, whiskery gents in titfers, with the day’s shoot at their feet.

It turns out, however, that Fletcher wrote about The Final in a couple of other places. We don’t have a copy of London by Night but we do have Geoffrey Fletcher’s London from 1968 in which he recycles a chunk of the note above, adding that he rates it “almost as highly as Mooney’s”.

How interesting, and how sad, that a beautiful Victorian pub can completely disappear, not only physically, but also from the collective memory.

Thank goodness for Big Geoff F. and his eye for nostalgic detail.

Categories
breweries london

Notes from a Godson’s dogsbody c.1980

When Robin Davies stumbled across a mention of Godson’s Brewery in one of our blog posts, he got in touch to tell us he worked there as a young man.

Godson’s was founded by Patrick Fitzpatrick in East London, in 1977. We’ve previously described him as “the original Hackney hipster brewer” and interviewed Fitzpatrick for our 2014 book Brew Britannia: the strange rebirth of British beer.

Now, we have another angle on the same story – not from the boss’s perspective but from someone who really got their hands dirty. Here, in his own words, are Robin’s memories.

* * *

It was the early 1980s when I left school which was just up the road from the brewery.

I’d messed about my whole time at secondary school and came out with next to nothing other than having learnt how to swear, fight and play drums – all useful stuff in the East End right?

Even though they were plentiful at the time I’d no idea how I was gonna get a job.

A mate of my brother in law said that he knew or had met Patrick Fitzpatrick, the Godson’s owner, and that he’d put in a word for me if I fancied it. After bumming around for a few months I was just about ready to work so why not?

I wasn’t  really expecting anything to happen but I said “Yeah, if he’ll have me I’ll give it a go” As if by magic, a couple of days later, I was off to meet the main man.

On meeting Patrick he seemed like a nice bloke, and indeed he was, always friendly, sometimes firm, made the odd joke or two, a decent boss and I guess he thought I was OK because he offered me the job.

Dogsbody? No, not really, but I did do a bit of everything from making tea to cleaning out the mash tun, all for the sum of 80 quid a week, and I loved it.

I got up early every day and couldn’t get there quick enough. I loved the work, I loved the smell of the place, which in the beginning had the effect of making me feel slightly drunk.

It was great and I was learning loads, the whole brewing process from start to finish. I watched and soaked everything up like a sponge. I soaked up the odd glass of the brewery’s finest, too, and after a hot day’s work it tasted amazing.

It was a very small team at Godsons. There was Patrick, of course. Chris and Lorraine, I think their names were in the office. There were the two dray men, tough old East Enders that I’m pretty sure were both called Roy. The older one appeared to hate my guts from the off and talked to me like dirt but I could just about handle it and every now and then I got the guts to tell him where to go.

From time to time Patrick’s brother Finnian would show up. If I remember rightly, he would normally be out and about trying his hardest to sell the various ales. A real nice bloke that used to brighten the place up whenever he returned to the brewery.  Always a big smile on his face.

Once or twice my least favourite of the brothers would turn up for a bit of work when he had nothing better to do.

About a year before I left we got a new brewer who also happened to be called Robin, again a real nice bloke who I was more than happy to work with. I often wonder what he’s up to but he was a smart bloke so he’s probably retired and living in luxury somewhere. I hope so anyway.

Robin picked up the workings of the brewery pretty quickly and soon I think we were teaching each other a thing or two.

One time Robin went on holiday which left me doing the lot. I did the week’s brew completely alone from start to finish, plus all my usual work. This all went perfectly and I was left feeling pretty proud of myself – had I really learnt all this from nothing? I decided to call myself the assistant brewer and if I felt like impressing someone I’d say I was a brewer. No one else ever called me that but to be fair I got a few compliments. Happy days!

How did it all end? 

I worked as hard as I could for the place, and at times felt I was running myself into the ground, so I did the inevitable and asked for a pay rise. My 80 quid was no longer going very far at all so I had to go for it.

A week or so later, Patrick called me into the office and said that he’d had a good think about it; he would give me a raise; and at this stage he considered the raise to be a substantial one.

I was excited so didn’t even ask how much but instead just carried on as normal and waited until Friday for my new super-massive pay packet.

Come Friday, I opened up my little brown envelope to find an extra fiver inside.

Needless to say, I wasn’t very happy. Being young and stroppy, I decided there and then that this would be the last day at the brewery. Not the way to leave a job, especially one I loved, but it seemed like the thing to do.

Sadly, some months later, I heard that things had gone south and the brewery was toast. I didn’t know the full story of what had gone wrong but I felt quite sad for the place and maybe a little angry towards Patrick for allowing Godson’s to fail, though I’m sure it wasn’t his fault.

I can’t actually remember how long I was there myself but it must have been around three years.

If anyone out there gets the chance to work at one of these little breweries, grab it, you’ll love it. It can be hard work but there’s something special about it!

These are Robin’s words with some edits for style and clarity.

If you want to learn more about Godson’s check out our book Brew Britannia.

And if you worked at a brewery at any time in the past 60 years, please write something down and, ideally, publish it somewhere.

Main image via the Brewery History Society Wiki.

Categories
london pubs

The Star of the East – a surviving Limehouse gin palace

The Star of the East is a 19th century pub which not only exists, and trades, but continues to take up more than its fair share of space in the world.

We noticed it one morning last week while walking from digs to our respective temporary offices in the City of London.

When we say ‘noticed’ we mean that it stopped us in our tracks from a couple of hundred metres away.

Gin palaces were designed to stand out, dazzle and entice. This one, with its carved marble frontage and three great iron lamps embedded in the pavement, still does so.

Passing it again after dark, from aboard a bus, it looked even more spectacular. Those three lamps still work, and the pub’s great glass windows still glow.

The lamps outside the pub.

Short on time, we didn’t make it into the pub for a drink this time, but certainly will at some point soon.

In the meantime, we turned to the usual reference books – Mark Girouard, Ben Davis, Brian Spiller and so on.

The only mention of this particular pub we could find, however, was in Licensed to Sell by Brandwood et al, which touches on it in two places:

  1. A reference to its unusual Gothic style in a section on Victorian pubs.
  2. Noting the persistence of its mid-pavement lamps.

That latter says:

“Light fittings were important in creating the presence and character of a pub. Large gas lamps illuminated the exterior of the grander establishments and some even had standard lamps rising from the pavement, such as still survive in front of the Star of the East, Limehouse, London… In darkly lit streets, or often ones that were not lit at all, such lamps must have made the pub look all the more inviting.”

The main point is, though, that this wasn’t really a gin palace after all.

It dates from the 1860s, not the 1830s.

In that later period, many pubs were built borrowing features from the earlier gin palaces but with no particular emphasis on gin, and much more on beer.

In fact, in a couple of newspaper stories about trouble at the pub, it’s called a ‘beershop’ and ‘beerhouse’:

“John Day and John Copeland were charged, the former with assaulting two girls named Regan and Donovan in the ‘Star of the East’ beershop, Limehouse, and the latter with attempting to rescue Day from custody.”

East London Observer, 10 March 1877

“EAST END RUFFIANISM.– Thomas Barrett and William Shannon, two rough-looking fellows, were charged with violently assaulting Hicks… Both prisoners have been convicted of violence, and a short time ago Barrett was charged with being concerned with others in assaulting and intimidating a fellow workman. On Friday night they entered the ‘Star of the East’ beerhouse, Commercial-road, Limehouse, in a state of intoxication, and because their demand to be served with liquor was refused, owing to their condition, they created a disturbance, and refused to quit. Hicks was called to eject them, and on getting them outside they both attacked him. They threw him twice violently to the ground, and Shannon kicked him brutally in the side, from the effects of which he still suffered. Another constable came to his assistance, and after a deal of trouble they got the prisoners to the station.”

Illustrated Police News, 16 April 1881

The newspaper archives also turn up numerous references to inquests being held at The Star of the East, suggesting that it was a notable local building with enough space to serve this kind of public function.

The best story about this pub, though, has a whiff of the Gothic about it, or of a Sherlock Holmes story:

“There is now to be seen at the Star of the East,’ opposite Limehouse church, a very curious mummy, a female, stated by medical men to be about 18 years of age, hair, teeth, and nails perfect, and – what seems most unique – the hair plaited in folds, over two thousand years ago. Mr. H.W. Baxter, proprietor of the Star of the East, who has purchased it for a considerable sum, affords every facility to visitors, already numbering some thousands and daily increasing. It was first landed Bullhead-wharf, and visited many in Essex, who will be glad to know its whereabouts.”

Chelmsford Chronicle, 10 May 1878

Sadly, another notable pub nearby that we had hoped to visit, The Festival Inn, is now tinned up.

Let’s hope it gets a new lease of life, like The Star of the East, as gentrification creeps into Chrisp Sreet.

UPDATE 18/08/2022: Despite the tin sheets on the doors and general air of abandonment The Festival is apparently still trading. Thanks to John Cryne for this intel via a local contact.

Categories
london pubs

Central London pubs that still feel like locals

London is a bogglingly vast, complex world city. It’s also the kind of place where, if you’re in the know, you can find a ‘proper’ pub not too far from Trafalgar Square or St Paul’s Cathedral.

We’re specifically talking about places that are fairly central – let’s say in, or on the edges of, Zone 1.

If you read our monthly newsletter you might recall that we started thinking about this after a conversation with @CarsmileSteve in a bar in Brussels.

Steve mentioned The King & Queen on the corner of Foley Street and Cleveland Street in Fitzrovia as a prime example.

“It’s been run by the same family since the 1960s,” he said. “The same lads are always behind the bar and have been forever – for at least 15 years.”

When we visited back in the early days of this blog we observed that it felt like a relic of the 1980s and clearly hadn’t been redecorated in some time.

Another pub Steve mentioned was The Sutton Arms, Great Sutton Street, EC1. (Not the one about five minutes’ walk away on Carthusian Street.) That was seconded by reader Nathan in a response to our call for suggestions last month:

“It’s a little better known in the craft beer bubble but is all things to all people. Family-run for donkeys’ years.”

We don’t think we’ve ever been, somehow. It does look good:

  • carpet ✅
  • beer mats ✅
  • mostly brown ✅
  • a sense of individual ownership ✅

Or, to put that another way, not generic pubco, big brewery, “Would you like to upgrade to sweet potato fries?” managed greyness.

When Lisa Grimm wanted suggestions for somewhere to drink near Marble Arch we suggested The Carpenter’s Arms, Seymour Place, W1, which we’ve visited a few times. Again, it has the same family-run feel and characterful decor. In her write-up she said

The Carpenter’s Arms was spot on for great cask ale – which makes sense, as it’s the HQ for CAMRA’s London branch. Alas, there was no food on, so I had to have a ‘meal’ of (fortunately) low-ABV ales and very expensive gourmet crisps, though that’s no complaint. I enjoyed an always-reliable/always-welcome Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter, but the new-to-me standout was Wantsum Brewery’s 1381, a session IPA.

Other suggestions received by Tweet and email include:

  • The Red Lion, Crown Passage, SW1, off Pall Mall (Nathan)
  • The Golden Eagle, Marylebone Lane, W1 – “has a long-serving landlady, regular customers and good beer… [and] a weekly piano singalong!” (Dermot)
  • Star and Garter, Poland Street, W1 – “Also long-serving licensees and a proper boozer in the heart of Soho.” (Dermot)
  • King Charles I, Northdown Street, N1 – “A magic little backstreet boozer.” (Ollie)

For our contributions, we’re going to suggest:

We’re going to aim to visit or revisit as many of these pubs as we can in the next few months.

In the meantime, are there any glaring omissions?