This is a link worth bookmarking — Pubology’s Ewan has given a very thorough rundown of his favourite London pubs of 2009, which we’ll certainly be making use of in the coming year.
Just a quick one — the folks from the Speaker have dropped by with some updates on the various mini-festivals they’ve got planned this year, and answered some questions about their opening hours. Read all about it here.
We’d walked past the Ship Inn tons of times. We’d even photographed it and put the pictures here. From the outside, it looked like a pretty rough old dive, partly because of the gang of people smoking outside the long tunnel you have to walk down to get in.
Then we read somewhere that, far from being rough, it’s actually the poshest boozer in Hackney, so we got over our nerves and went in for a nosy round.
It’s actually a boutique hotel, and a nice looking one at that. The bar makes more sense when you think of it as a service for guests rather than a pub for locals. It’s done up, as the phrase goes, like a tart’s boudoir. A good half of it is laid up for dinner with table cloths, big wine goblets and silverware. The barmen/waiters are smartly dressed with continental aprons. One of them looks like Tobey Maguire.
Standing by the door, we had one of those moments: it’s too posh! They’ll expect us to eat even though we’re not hungry!
But they didn’t. And they were very nice. The beer was nothing special (several so-called world lagers, Tim Taylor Landlord and the now ubiquitous Sharp’s Doom Bar) but well enough kept. We enjoyed our pint and felt, on the whole, that this would be a good place to go on a date or to bring people from work who don’t like ‘old man’s pubs’.
More to the point, though, it’s across the road from the usual venue for the Pig’s Ear Beer Festival (scheduled this year for 2-6 December). Any out of towners struggling to convince other halves to join them at a beer festival could find a couple of nights in this place will clinch the deal, and it’s pretty convenient to stagger home to as well…
The Ship is owned by Urban Inns, who also own the Coach and Horses in Isleworth.
Every now and then, we have to accept that the choice of venue isn’t up to us. That’s why, last Saturday night, we found ourselves standing outside Britain’s least characterful pub, the Garrick Arms on Charing Cross Road, trying to enjoy a pint of Greene King Sundance.
At first, we were just pleased to find something on offer other than GK IPA, Abbot and Old Speckled Hen, and it did taste fresh. But, by God, this is a boring, derivative beer.
It’s a production-line, by-numbers ‘refreshing summer ale’, which is to say that it’s got far too much sickly hop and honey aroma, no bitterness, and is a bit yellower than a normal ale.
Like drinking an air freshener.
Of course, our bad mood wasn’t helped by the fact that someone in the flat above the pubs was throwing eggs at people in the street, and that a tramp tried to steal our chum’s birthday presents.
The West End on Saturday night is a joy.
GK Sundance is 4.1% and is part of their new range of seasonal beers. It’s on massive discount in our local Sainsburys if, for some reason, you’re desperate to try it. Other bland yellow summer ales may be available.
Photo by EwanM at Flickr, under a Creative Commons license.
Beatles biographer Hunter Davies‘ New London Spy was published in 1966. It’s a travel guide aimed at cool people, and an excellent window onto the city at the height of its hipness.
In his lengthy section on pubs, Davies makes some interesting observations:
Pubs are what other countries don’t have. In England, country pubs are perhaps nicest of all. After that come the London ones.
Pubs change character as you tipple down from the top of Britain. In the dry areas of Skye you have none at all. In Glasgow they are just drinking shops. In Carlisle they are cheerless and state controlled.
But in London, there are pubs for all men and for all seasons.
He then goes on to classify London’s pubs into six categories:
- rough pubs
- posh pubs
- arty pubs
- pubs for unaccompanied men (“not queers”)
- pubs for unaccompanied women
- pubs associated with crime.
His descriptions of various posh pubs and of some of the pubs he recommends for women suggest that gastro-pubs had their genesis in this era — “serves very decent food, far better than the average pub meal (though naturally priced accordingly)”; “both setting and clientele are almost exaggeratedly decorous”.
It is the so-called rough pubs that sound most intriguing, though. Dirty Dicks opposite Liverpool Street had dead cats, cobwebs and sawdust for decor. Charlie Brown’s (the Railway Tavern) on West India Dock Road housed a “collection of Curiosa” from all around the world (sadly sold off in the late 60s). And of the Steps (the Custom House Hotel) on Victoria Dock Road, Davies says: “It is not unusual to see somebody almost kicked to death outside.”