I will say not one bad word about Sam Smith’s in this review. Someone else wants to talk around that issue, but safe to say that as someone with a large social group of varying incomes, Sam Smith’s pubs being cheap has always been a factor. The John Snow in Soho is one of those pubs we rarely go to these days (in the area the Shaston Arms or Star And Garter get more visits) but hasn’t really changed, and holds a firm and fond place in our memories. I probably pop in there a couple of times a year and have whiled away a fair few hours with a pint of Hefeweisse reading about the good Dr Snow upstairs.
So things to note. The John Snow is named after John Snow the health campaigner, not the newsreader, which is amusing in itself as John Snow was a confirmed teetotaller*. The pub is near the pump that Snow brought fresh water into Soho thus sorting out the cholera epidemic. This marks it out in Soho already, for an area with a pretty full history an awful lot of the pubs are highly anonymous. Another key point about the Snow is its compartmentalisation. I started drinking after nearly all the separate bars in pubs had been knocked through so there is something really rather nice about seeing various rooms in action in the Snow. Not that the John Snow is precious about it, the weeny door downstairs notwithstanding its an easy and compact pub to navigate. Indeed its size has sometimes worked against it. A regular FT correspondent was supposed to meet us for the first time in there. It was too full so we decamped down the road, his memories of the John Snow are of disappointment.
It is a pub of first meetings, and often drinks there spiralled into odd areas. One night a bunch of us were sitting downstairs shooting the breeze (I guess early 2005) and slowly realised that the blokes on he table next to us were having some sort of UKIP meeting. Somehow we got embroiled, and suddenly it turned from a night of firendly banter into THE MOST IMPORTANT ANTI-FASCIST BATTLE IN THE BRITISH ISLES SINCE MOSLEY GOT HIS ARSE KICKED IN THE EAST END. Or something like that. They walked away tail between their legs and UKIP are now a spent political force because of us a four pints of the Fatman.
For me though the John Snow is synonymous with one of my favourite images of the 00’s. Pre-crossrail, pre-any kind of refurbishment of the Tottenham Court Road area, Centre Point was looking a bit run down. From the upstairs room in the John Snow there is a perfect view of the upper twenty storeys of this oft derided building, towering over Soho. And in its run down state, one of the letters on top had not lit up. So proclaimed to all in the John Snow was the prophetic legend CENTRE PINT. Which is what the John Snow has always been for me.
*Which the newsreader certainly isn’t. Indeed I have drunk in the same pub as the other John Snow on at least two occasions.