May 10

The FT Top 25 Pubs of the 00s No 4: The Calthorpe Arms

FT///18 comments • 1,262 views

So, we reach the top 4, an area, one would assume, of almost complete agreement between those voting but, for some reason, our fourth choice has elicited strong opinions, hence two different views. Let’s take this to the comments box!!!

The Lovely Lovely Calthorpe Arms, look how lovely it is. Wouldn't you like to go for a pint there right now?

Confessions of a Calthorpe Lover by Steve

I love the Calthorpe and was strongly pushing for it to be higher in this list than it is but I was DJing the night the list was made so wasn’t there to state my case in person, but I think it is my favourite pub in London.

It’s not the pub with the most beers in the world (standard Youngs selection), it’s not architecturally significant and it’s never been my actual local. In fact, sin of all sins, I think I’ve only been there twice in the last 18 months. What I really really like about the Calthorpe is its PUBNESS. It’s cozy without being dingy, it’s welcoming without being overly familiar, I’ve never had a bad pint in there (the accidental ordering of a whole pint of Old Nick was entirely my fault and it was good, just strong), you can sit on your own with a pint or get 20 people in with only a little shuffling and be treated just the same. In addition you can get a great big plate of food for five and a half quid, and there’s a good-sized function room upstairs. I have never had an unsatisfying night there, it’s a proper solid bouzer.

Yes, it’s looking a bit scruffy round the edges these days and could do with a lick of paint outside certainly, but god forbid they do to it what they did to the One Tun or several other ghastly Youngs make-overs.

In addition, some members of this parish have complained about the state/coldness of the toilets as being a reason not to like this pub, well on my last visit the (gents) toilets had been FULLY REFURBISHED, so there is now no reason to not go.

Confessions of a Calthorpe Hater by Hazel

The Calthorpe Arms was a pub oft-mentioned to me, in a sort of lusty ‘oh, imagine if we could only go there tonight’ way. This is not, it has to be said, unusual for basically any pub that my peer group know of, the vast majority of which are great but something made me slightly wary of the Calthorpe and it’s not just because I live in Shepherds Bush and it’s a pain in the arse to get home from. ‘Mmm, the burgers’ people would say and I would think ‘yes but what about the pub, eh?’ We’re going there for a blvddy beer but then truly I am still a London pub novice in comparison with most of the group and despite someone I generally rely on to have sensible opinions on these things warning me off it most of the time, I went to the Calthorpe whilst they were in France at some point.

There are several things that may have marred my trip to the Calthorpe:
1) it was pouring with rain as I and Sukrat approached the pub
2) upon entering I got charged the most I’ve ever been charged for two pints in the history of my London existence, in what in my opinion was blvddy out of the way to be overpriced, which given my financial state at the time and generally was a bit of an unpleasant shock.

These two things meant that unless the pub provided some extraordinarily cheap mulled wine quicksharp I was probably bound to hate it and so I may not have given it due chance but there are several further things basically and structurally wrong about the Calthorpe.

1) It is COLD. Also, it’s a little… well, ‘battered.’ Some pubs look well-loved, the Calthorpe looks like it might have halfway undergone a refurb, then run out of money, changed hands and decided to carry on with the paint half-stripped and too few chairs. I’m into comfortably worn-in pubs and maybe this is the fact I’m from the country and have a similar pub aesthetic to the average Hobbit showing but there’s something starkly bare about the Calthorpe’s gutted interior.
2) Which is not helped by it being shaped like a corridor. I hate corridor-pubs; you’re in a constant draft whatever you do and either you’re trapped behind a table and unable to get out without elbowing/rubbing your arse against the faces of either your close-seated companions or perfect strangers, depending on the size of your group or you’re stuck with your back to a thoroughfare, which is equally unnerving and results in your nervously going for a wee twice as much, as though to make up for your trapped companions.
3) Which in the Calthorpe means entering a windswept stable with the sort of decor and standard of maintenance a ladies’ loo in my university’s more abandoned science blocks used to get. The hand drier was hanging off the wall and dead, there was no loo roll although it was 6-blvddy-pm and there was black mold at the top of the concrete walls, either painted yellow or never refurbished after the tobacco ban.

If the place had been cheap, the burgers had looked genuinely good as opposed to scrotty, greasy fare that a pub with any sense of dignity would have priced well below the nine quid I think they were being sold at or it had been anywhere near anywhere useful for getting home then this might have been allowable and I can sort of see how people who live in North or North East London might think it’s a good idea but I am not paying over £3.50 per pint to sit in a damp corridor with a howling gale going through it, then have a wee in a cold, dank public convenience and stomp seemingly 398678479 miles back to Kings Cross to get on the Hammersmith and City line.

Supposedly they have sorted out the loos now but unless I see pictorial evidence of the Calthorpe’s transformation into a useable pub then I think I’ll take a chance on staying at home; many people consider my habit of living in places not convenient to the Calthorpe a sort of affectation but frankly if that is all I would be trading the Ladbroke Arms in for then you can keep it.

FancyAPint like it
So do RGL
Even BITE are quite complimentary…


  1. 1
    piratemoggy on 26 May 2010 #

    Blimes, say what you really think, self. I almost feel a bit bad.

    (Also! There are lots of pubs I like! I just haven’t written about any of them! I am not a pub-hata, for the record)

  2. 2
    Katie, logged out on 26 May 2010 #

    Awww, I’m firmly on the side of the Calthorpe-lovers, if for no other reason than that the telly in there is small and unintrusive, and the foopball-watchers of a Sunday afternoon are usually non-rowdy old giffers who are delighted that you support SPURS and will reminisce with you about the good old days in N22 etc etc etc :)

  3. 3
    Pete on 26 May 2010 #

    My relationship with the Calthorpe is one of approval tempered with the knowledge that its ordinariness really should not make it exceptional. As someone who rarely eats in the pub I cannot really comment on the food, but I have generally had a nice time there. Perhaps my view is also skewed a touch by it being a pub which made me miss a flight.

    BUT – here is my BUT with the Calthorpe. I think the Pakenham is a better pub and it is two minutes away. I also think the Lamb is on the whole a better pub and it is three minutes away. Both of those can be packed or overly sporty in the way the Calthorpe can’t, but this drags it down in my opinion.

  4. 4
    Matt DC on 26 May 2010 #

    The Lamb is better than the Calthorpe but it can be uncomfortingly rammed. The Calthorpe can get rammed as well but you’re safe in the knowledge it’ll empty out a bit by 7.30. Also it does a cracking roast.

    I have never known it to be cold, it always feels cosy and comfortable to me as long as you don’t sit near the door and the upstairs can be tremendous for big gatherings. The toilets were absolutely bogging but since refurbishment they are fine.

  5. 5
    Matt DC on 26 May 2010 #

    It’s not that far from King’s Cross either but the walk is a bit grim. Approaching it from Chancery Lane or Russell Square is a delight though.

  6. 6
    CarsmileSteve on 26 May 2010 #

    (thank you formatting fairies)

    the lamb can feel a bit up its own snobscreen (less so these days i think, and it was the quietest i’ve ever seen it last night), and the packenham has maybe had one restyling too many, although, of the three it’s the most interesting for beer.

    it took me aaaaaages to work out how that bit of east bloomsbury (west clerkenwell? south kings cross?) fitted together so for a while i didn’t realise the closeness of the three pubs and still don’t automatically connect them in my head…

  7. 7
    piratemoggy on 26 May 2010 #

    I have been thinking about this and it’s occurred to me the Calthorpe is a proper aesthetic divider; I actually like my pubs cramped into old buildings, with comfortably divided areas and snugs in which to embed oneself to ensure a cosy descent into ruin, which I think almost certainly is me being a Hobbit but isn’t an uncommon opinion. This is partly because I consider the ideal number of people at a pub gathering to be no more than five and the best number to be three but the Calthorpe felt echo-ey and self-consciously unbusy, not in the sense of a lack of patrons but in the sense of too much space. My rabid affection for the Carpenters Arms, against all apparent logic, is probably the sort of thing a lot of people who like the Calthorpe would find utterly appalling.

    The things I’m not willing to forgive the Calthorpe for are probably largely things other people think are great, utter menkiness of the loos aside. I’m not quite in the ‘MUST HAVE FARM MACHINERY ON THE CEILING’ league of pub rockism (although bonus points if it has farm machinery on the ceiling, obv) but somewhere as open/harshly lit/uncluttered as the Calthorpe may feel lovely to some people, where it unnerves me. Rather than feeling unpretentious, it makes me feel very exposed and as though I’m under scrutiny, well out of my comfort zone.

  8. 8
    Kat but logged out innit on 26 May 2010 #

    I love the Calthorpe – the fact that it’s a good 25 mins walk from the office is a PLUS point when there’s a lovely pint of Ordinary that you have EARNED waiting for you at the end. There’s always somewhere to sit and the staff & clientele are friendly (to the point of helping out on a random query as to who won Eurovision the year after Lordi <– check out my topical anecdote woohoo).

  9. 9
    a tanned rested and unlogged lørd sükråt wötsît on 26 May 2010 #

    I note with distaste that the Calthorpe has no BUSH hanging up outside, unlike actual real proper hostelries of yore.

  10. 10
    srh logged out on 26 May 2010 #

    TBH I do not get the mankiness of the toilets as being such an awful issue? They’re OK? Perhaps it has been out of bog roll occasionally, well so have plenty of places – it’s definitely not the norm. They are definitely not worse than any university loo, they are better than loos in other much loved pubs e.g Lord John Russell, Pillars of Hercules, the Imperial up nine billion bl00dy flights of bl00dy stairs…

  11. 11
    marna on 26 May 2010 #

    My beef with the toilets was always not the grimness of them, exactly, but the gentle seeping of stale wee smell out and towards my table.

  12. 12
    rosie on 26 May 2010 #

    Grays Inn Road, yes? Didn’t know it in the 00s. Knew it and loved it in the 80s, one of the best inner-ish London pubs to know.

  13. 13
    Tracer Hand on 27 May 2010 #

    The last time I was at the Calthorpe was in fact with Kat, and indeed we did walk ca. 25 minutes to get there despite not having come from Kat’s office! If a proper walk is the commonest preamble to a Calthorpe pint it may explain why there is just something so mysteriously refreshing about the beers there.

  14. 14
    Pete Baran on 27 May 2010 #

    Which may explain why I like the Pakenham a little bit more, as it is two minutes further away and I work a little closer to the Calthorpe than Kat. (Actually at the moment, I work a lot closer to both than I did – I can get to the Calthorpe in about six minutes from here. Now there’s an idea!)

  15. 15
    Tom on 27 May 2010 #

    Yes I always feel I’ve earned my pint when it’s at the Calthorpe, earned in a rather pathetic “put one foot in front of another” sense I grant you.

    #6 I am still always surprised by this!! It’s like Tangrams or something – b-but they’re in DIFFERENT BITS oh wait.

  16. 16
    vickim57 on 8 Jul 2010 #

    Of all the London pubs that smell of wee, this one is one of the worst, in my opinion. Whereas in the old days – a couple of years ago – I used to enjoy going there, now I tell people to steer clear. It’s entirely the wee smell that puts me off. That’s how bad it is. If they could fix that I would go back, because it is a nice, relaxed place.

    One feature that people haven’t mentioned is the occasional Welsh male voice choir moment, as people come from the Welsh Centre over the road for a drink, and sometimes burst into song. That could be a deal breaker/maker for some.

  17. 17
    Pete Baran on 8 Jul 2010 #

    When did you last go there vickim57, as the toilets have been substantially refurbed and are actually some of the best in London now!

  18. 18
    Steve Mannion on 8 Jul 2010 #

    Never noticed a smell like that whenever I’ve been there, as skanky as the toilets may be (far from the worst in town tho).

    I still think the food quality/value ratio is this pub’s greatest attribute. They served me a massive lamb and apricot pie once, at 9.30pm of all times.

    I was told that many a Welshperson from over the road would gather there for a big singalong on Tuesday nights too but never caught this.

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