So we get a winner, down on Brewer Street in Soho, the Glasshouse Stores was voted the number one pub of the noughties by those of us who voted. A nice pub sure, but so much better than the others? To find out why it scored so highly I thought I would canvas a number of opinions – feel free to add your own at the bottom.
My memory may be cheating me but I think the first time we ended up in the Glasshouse Stores it was due to a power cut a pub or two along. Marvellous serendipity if so, and appropriate: an accidental pub becoming a shrine to the unintended social consequences of setting up an online community. This is the top pub of the 00s and is tied firmly to the 00s: I can quite imagine never visiting it again, which isn’t something I can say about several others. The regular ILX meet-ups we held there are mostly a thing of the past, for the happy reason that participants basically stopped being “message board posters” and started being simply ‘friends’. What that misses out is the random element, of course – the sense on entering a get-together that you never quite knew who would turn up. Sometimes new faces, occasionally unwelcome ones – the internet meet-up pitches itself halfway between the cosy drink with mates and the party.
Worth pointing out how the architecture of the pub helped enable that – we ignored the top floor (except for epic bar billiards duels) and would head for the catacombs instead, occupying the string of tables at the back of the basement level and then spreading out across to the bar and beyond. It worked perfectly: there was a lively core to each gathering but enough space to mingle, connive and catch-up in smaller groups. And – essential for groups of 20 or 30 – the beer was cheap: people could buy huge, generous, tray-busting rounds and end up with crisps and change from a twenty aswell. It’s a Sam’s pub, and the fame and decline of Sam’s mirrors the fame and decline of these particular large gatherings across the decade. Once the presiding spirit of Sam Smiths, the Ayingerbrau man in the box, departed, the Glasshouse’s role as a social hub began to wane too.
I love drinking underground. One of my favourite places in London to drink before it was taken away from us was the Dive Bar on Gerrard St, and I guess the basement of the Spanish Bar also counts. But there is something about the cellar bar in the Glasshouse Stores which has always attracted me. Perhaps it was that it was infrequently open and staffed; only in the evenings and not always then. Often booked out for private parties, we still struck it lucky there for a lot of our large gatherings. Which meant we could spread, and spread we did like ebola. The basement of the GHS has two distinct chambers, and I favoured the one on the side of the toilets (the bar staff were more likely to be on this side too). But with a relatively loose arrangement of seating it was easy to build a party of five into a party of thirty and still have a chance to talk to everyone. Not many pubs can do that. And certainly very few can do it underground.
Ah, the lovely Glasshouse Stores. Conveniently located bang in the middle of the Berwick St/Chinatown/Japan Centre triangle of after-skool places to shop (and do yoga). Many is the time I’ve been in there with co-conspirators for “just the one” and emerged hours later rather the worse for wear (ask Sarah about the Taddy Porter, she’ll know what I’m talking about). It’s always the first pub I think of when someone mentions Soho – and as Pete says, the underground dimension makes it still seem somehow secret and special, when other pubs that used to be secret and special (hello, the Fitzroy Tavern) have become crowded and ordinary. It was also the pub that I smoked my last EVER cigarette in. So hooray for the GHS!
Pˆnk s lord sükråt cunctør says
There were other ilx pubs, but this is the one I associate most with loose meet-ups across a decade of people not necessarily otherwise in close or regular contact — with the pub’s slightly peculiar geometry amplifying the short-term provisionality (and sometimes, though not always, doomed nature) of the many companionships: at once spacious and oddly constricted. I’ve never quite felt at home or comfy there — and never remotely unwelcome, either.
In the 2003/4 season, ILX at its peak, we needed somewhere big enough to take 20-odd people (and, of course, twenty odd people) about once a fortnight, sometimes more often. It also had to be central and easily findable (Nick D’s assertion that the GHS was invisible notwithstanding). But more, much more than this, it had to be a Sam Smiths pub. These were friendly days and I’ve seen some of the biggest rounds ordered outside of a wedding or funeral go over that downstairs bar and you’d still get change from £20. At £1.62 a pint of OB*, being generous wouldn’t automatically lead to an overdraft and given some acquaintance’s (heck, and some friend’s) inability to understand the concept of “the round” it was just as well.
*this is right isn’t it? even now it seems ridiculous that it could be that cheap, but it was, wasn’t it?
Also, one of the last remaining bar billiards tables in London, played to Jonny’s slightly over-generous rules (re-spot the red as object ball every time you pot it) led to many evenings clustered round one corner of the room, and is still my main selling point for taking people there today.
Tracer Hand says
The Glasshouse Stores: my first encounter with The Fat Man, i.e. the little alpine fella who lives in a glass box on top of the bar. It was my first month in London. I was told “Ask for the Fat Man”. “Really?” I said, suspicious, knowing how gullible I was and not yet confident I could identify a piss-take on the hoof. I’m still not. But I asked, and was served up a nice cold pint of lager. Maybe life wouldn’t be so terrible here.
The Glasshouse Stores was the spiritual home of FAPs when FAPs had a heyday. It was hard to find the first time around – the slightly hidden frontage and a near namesake across the road set a small challenge for newcomers, but only to make it more of a gem when settled in. It was segregated: upstairs and downstairs, and each of those with three or four compact areas, so it would jumble a crowd into groups and then push them together – always forming fresh configurations of pub chat. Plenty of schemes and ruses were hatched there – the obscure architecture that encouraged this – cloistered and conspiratorial, and flowing with cheap and welcome booze. For me it was the pub for the birth of the Internet as a social club: strange but so entertaining, and intoxicating too.
To me, the GHS is the perfect example of a bog-standard Sam Smiths. Better kept beer than the BPNS, less stuffy than the Princess Louise and more room than the Bricklayers. However I could never bloody find it so I always went to the Champion instead.
How about you…