There are loads of good things in London and loads of bad. Like most places really. We'll all have our own lists I am sure. When it comes to pubs though, London has some crackers. Many of them are just how you'd like a pub to be - or rather - they are just how I like a pub to be. You for all I know, would like a big barn with blasting gangsta music, crack openly on sale, an underlying frisson of impending violence and wall to wall people drinking out of bottles - though of course why would you be reading my blog if you did?
Near our flat there are two, among the many, that I particularly like despite beery considerations. They are worth a mention as they seem to be real pubs. Proper places where actual people go more than once, rather than, as is the case with many parts of London, where they just end up after work, then disappear into every compass point there is. That is the nature of London of course, but people do drink there and some of them even seem to go to pubs to the extent that they are known by name and it isn't "Hello Love."
So what do I like about London pubs so much? Well often it is that they have nice original features. They will have lighting dim enough to make the place feel cosy, but bright enough to see a hand in front of your face. The sort of cosseting snugness that makes you feel once you are in, that the world and all its troubles are far away and can be forgotten for a while. There will likely be nooks and crannies - I like them - and often, there will be big picture windows, bric-a-brac, old brewery mirrors, snob screens, etched windows and an interesting and varied clientèle. There will likely be comfy bench seating and mismatched furniture, because it has been acquired over the years. It will shine like a new pin and a friendly barperson will smile at you and say "What can I get you?", not the moronic Manchester greeting of "You all right there?" OK I exaggerated the smiling greeting bit, but you get the picture.
I am not seeking, grail like, Orwell's Moon Under Water. Real pubs do exist, but the illusion is often shattered when you, the cask beer drinker, peruse the bar. Then your heart sinks. There is nothing you'd like to drink. Or you may even know in advance, because it is a brewery you don't like, that you are unlikely to find yourself more than marginally satisfied ale wise. (This does take some of us back to when someone in the company would say in a horrified tone, in response to a proposal, "I'm not going there. It's a bloody Bass/Greenalls/Tetley/Whitbread, or whatever house, while some other wise monkey would chime in "Oh c'mon. It's a nice pub.")
Ah yes. Nice pubs. One near me which we have gone into off and on over the years, is a Shepherd Neame pub. It is snug and cosy, long and fairly narrow, but it opens out. It has a mixed set of customers and ticks most of my other boxes. The beer just doesn't. Not the quality of dispense, but you just can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear - and Shep's cask beer is at best a sow's ear. But I - we - like this pub and among other things, the installation of a modern juke box which isn't played at deafening level, has found me, a music in pubs disliker,suggesting we go there. It has over a million songs this juke box and the pub barman chats to you, remembers you, discusses football with you. The other pub near us that we, well me really like, does have a reasonable choice of beer, but keeps it so badly you want to offer your services free, as cellarman for a week, just to show the bastards how its done. But I like it, though it has been knocked about a bit, because it is a really good pub in that kind of indefinable way you get sometimes.
Anyway, I suppose I have answered my own question. If you like pubs, the beer can never be your sole reason for going there. "Pint of Spitfire please and anyone playing that jukebox?"
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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