The Pub, The Pint & The Publican: Part I

This Christmas, The Five Points is meeting ten of London's finest publicans. We are celebrating unique and independently operated pubs in London, managed by equally warm, welcoming and interesting people, and we are asking them to tell us about their pubs, their customers and their stories.

At this time of year, we often find ourselves in a warm and cosy pub, hopefully next to a roaring fire, with friends in tow and a great pint in hand. The pub is a hub for social interaction; for Christmas drinks, catch-ups with friends and family, or just a quiet (and reasonably priced) drink to escape the cold for an hour or two.

For many people, the pub becomes an extension of family, especially during a time of year where it’s possible to feel loneliness the most. It’s landlords who work through one of the busiest times of the year to make sure their doors are always open, their cellars stocked and the beer tasting as great as it should do. Their friendliness, warmth and ability to make people feel welcome is a skill. 

Sadly, in the past 17 years, London alone has lost over 1,200 pubs. These are places rich in heritage and history, and the contribution they make to the fabric of London’s culture is both unique and undervalued. Economically, they attract tourists, support local businesses and provide crucial jobs, especially for 18-24 year olds.  Now more than ever feels like a time to value and appreciate our city’s watering holes.

So, this Christmas, join us as we raise a toast to the pub, and the publicans that operate them!

The Euston Tap, Nick

The lodges of the Euston Tap are one of the last reminders of the beautiful Victorian station that once stood at Euston. The two buildings (the East Lodge and the West lodge) were gatehouses to the original station, the demolition of which has been called “one of the greatest acts of Post-War architectural vandalism in Britain” by the Royal Institute of British Architecture… Thankfully, both lodges were reopened by the Bloomsbury Leisure group eight years ago, and now serve thousands of commuters and customers passing through Euston each week.

“There are a lot of people crossing paths here – we’re a crossroads. Travelling is frustrating and overcrowded. A lot of our regulars like to hang out in here away from the stresses of their commute home, until after rush hour has finished.

Simply put, #CaskisKing. 95% of the time I want a bangin’ cask ale. We have 10 cask lines here and we can go through all of them on a Friday night. It’s crazy. For us, we’ve not really seen evidence of a drop in cask sales. The keg craft beer boom seems, to me, to have turned a lot of people to cask: if you’re drinking a cold, fizzy lager then it’s not so much of a grand leap to try a cold, fizzy keg pale ale, right? And then, from there it’s a shorter jump to cask ale.”

Nick’s pub recommendation: “The Southampton Arms in Kentish Town. The first time I went in there, there was a roaring fire, a curled up dog, a guy playing Honky Tonk, and I thought: “This is a proper old school”.  And if you’re in Newcastle, the Free Trade Inn is class.

The Camel, Debbie

If you’ve not been to The Camel, you really should go. It sits on Globe Road, in the heart of the East End, and it’s the kind of pub where you hear “take care darlin’” follow each and every customer out the door, and where regulars sit on shared tables, chatting away like family. Debbie knows everyone’s names: through our conversation she gets up multiple times to to say hello or goodbye, or even unwrap a Christmas gift from one of her customers. It’s this genuine and warm familiarity from all the staff here which makes this place so special.

The Camel’s reputation for cellaring is impeccable, too, having recently received full marks in their recent Cask Marque accreditation, and has placed 8th in the Good Beer Guide for 2019.

“I was born in The Greyhound, the old pub just down the road, and my Dad was born on this street, too. He bought this pub 28 years ago, and I took over the lease a few years back after leaving my job in the City.

A lot of pubs nowadays, they’re just businesses. That’s the difference to family owned pubs – you can feel the love I feel for this place when you walk through the door. My family’s been running pubs for over 50 years, and this place is probably one of the last ones in the area.

I’m currently looking for someone to take on this pub and manage it one day. To be a good landlord you have to have this natural ability to please people, I’m not so fussed about experience but they have to be the right person. You have to make people have to want to come back in.”

Debbie’s pub recommendation: The Town of Ramsgate, this quirky waterside pub in Wapping that’s been there since about 1545.

The Hare, Julian

The Hare is a proper old school boozer which sits on a corner of Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green. There’s been a pub on this site since the 1770s, when back then it would have been surrounded by marshland and on the approach to the city of London. It was bought as a freehouse in the 80’s, and its landlord Julian has been running it for the past 17, having bought a 20 year lease in 2001. He plans on buying the pub from its owner when his lease runs out.

 

“The first few years were really hard. I’d spent everything I had on the lease and we had nothing to keep the pub going, really. It was the locals that saved the pub and kept it alive – that’s why I call this pub a community local. Here, we brought together the football crowd, the artists crowd coming from the galleries on Vyner Street, the old, cranky types who had been coming here for years. After a couple years, I was finally able to refurbish the pub.

Nowadays, I’m getting crazy offers from people who want to takeover the lease; they want to turn it into an eatery. But, I quite like that it’s just a boozer. It’s a place to meet friends, talk and drink at the bar. A proper boozer. It’s probably one of the last of its kind around here.”

Julian’s pub recommendation: The White Hart, Whitechapel, for great beers and great lunch. It’s owned by One Mile End Brewery.

The Railway Tavern, Ben

Tucked upon the cross-section of St Jude Street and King Henry’s Road in Dalston, sits the beautiful Railway Tavern. Seven years ago the pub was relaunched back under its original trading name, along with it’s beautifully simple railway-inspired design and aesthetics (including scattered luggage cases and platform signs). 

 

“This area has such a palpable sense of community. The Railway Tavern has a core set of locals, all from different backgrounds and walks of life. From musicians and artists, to East London cabbies and retired caretakers, they can all come in. In a London pub, that can be a rare thing.

When we reopened a few years ago, our locals were incredibly concerned with the future direction of the pub; they worried it might be gentrified. Their concern feels like a mark of its integration in the local community. It’s old school in its functionality.”

Ben’s pub recommendation: The Bow Bells in the East End. A pub for all, literally everyone’s welcome. Just don’t be an idiot.

The Pelt Trader, Lauren

The Pelt Trader is a more recent addition to the London pub scene and was only opened in 2012. It’s a cavernous, unfussy one-room pub in the heart of the city of London, directly underneath Cannon Street Station. The name refers to the area’s history of fur trading.

 

“We’re a city pub, so we’re only open five days a week. The drinking culture of the city of London is so apparent – especially on Thursday evenings and Friday lunchtimes. You walk round here and everywhere’s full, totally packed with city workers. You can feel the weekend coming. 

Often I get asked “Where’s the manager?” by people expecting to speak to man. If it was a man who was 27, they probably wouldn’t get asked that. Unfortunately, it happens a lot, but I just ignore it. It’s not my problem that people can be so small-minded.”

Lauren’s pub recommendation: The Blythe Hill Tavern. The best team of staff in London, an amazing owner, and every kind of crisp flavour you can imagine.

 

Meet the next five landlords of Christmas in Part II.

P.S. This is in no way a complete list. There are so many awesome publicans that we could spend all year writing about. Be sure to check out their own pub recommendations above, too!