Old Haunts #3: The Fountain

The front of a pub with a brewery sign.
The Foun­tain in 2007.

I was astonished to turn round and see a bloke with his arm round my Dad’s shoulders at the bar of The Fountain.

It looked like a stand­off. Nei­ther Dad nor the stranger was talk­ing, just star­ing at each oth­er. I couldn’t read the sit­u­a­tion at all.

The Foun­tain is the one pub in my home­town that any­one ever seems to rec­om­mend, and it’s been that way for a cou­ple of decades.

It’s not the kind of place you’d send any­one out of their way to vis­it but it’s always had vague­ly inter­est­ing ale and a prop­er pub-like atmos­phere.

When I hap­pen to be back in town and need some­where to meet my old­est friends, that’s where we often end up. We’d found it fair­ly wel­com­ing as teenagers and young twen­ty-some­things.

Before Mum and Dad moved out of town, it was the most com­mon place for us to set­tle at the end of fam­i­ly pub crawls, and I remem­ber the odd Box­ing Day ses­sion there.

I’ve got a sus­pi­cion it might have been where Jess had her first pint with my par­ents, too.

In short, I have a soft spot.

Mum and Dad start­ed vis­it­ing again recent­ly after they popped into town on some errand or oth­er and dropped into the pub on a whim. They found it under new man­age­ment and were pret­ty well charmed by the cur­rent land­la­dy, a no-non­sense, ener­getic young woman who seems to have The Knack.

I could cer­tain­ly see a dif­fer­ence. There wasn’t only the typ­i­cal But­combe Bit­ter of the region but also Fuller’s Oliver’s Island – an inter­est­ing beer to encounter in Som­er­set – and the pub felt alive. Peo­ple spoke to me at the bar – “I’m from Lon­don. I came to vis­it my aunt in 1973 and nev­er went home.” Con­ver­sa­tions took place between one table and the next. There were old boys and young­sters, all min­gling quite hap­pi­ly, drink­ing what­ev­er they want­ed to drink, from lager to scrumpy to wine to cask bit­ter.

But then this bloke grabbed hold of Dad, and kept hold of him.

Uh… Do you two know each oth­er?” I asked even­tu­al­ly.

The stranger looked star­tled that I even had to ask.

Then more white-haired men turned up, sur­round­ing Dad, and a sort of mass Som­er­set­ing occurred: “‘Ow be, boy?” “Bloody hell, ‘ow be, Dave?”, “Gin­ger!”, repeat.

Mum had to explain what was going on. These were the boys Dad grew up with on a coun­cil estate in the coun­try­side, all pre­fabs and con­crete, built to house muni­tions work­ers dur­ing World War II. They had spent the 1960s being tear­aways togeth­er, steal­ing cars, start­ing bands, start­ing fights… All of them were now 70 or more years old, some of them still liv­ing on the estate.

It turned out that although Dad hadn’t seen most of them in years, even decades, they had been keep­ing tabs on his move­ments and had dis­cussed him from time to time in their reg­u­lar meet-ups at The Foun­tain.

It was weird to see Dad act­ing like a teenag­er again, laugh­ing as he remem­bered the time he and his pals tried to make wine from rhubarb. I want­ed to take a pic­ture but didn’t dare dis­rupt the moment but it looked pret­ty much like this:

The Lads of the Village.

When we left the lads all took turns to tell Dad to drop into their reg­u­lar ses­sions more often than once every 20 years, and he said he would.

I won­der if he will.

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.