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May 10

The FT Top 25 Pubs of the 00s No 6: The Shakespeares Head, Islington

Pumpkin Publog/ • 803 views

Shakespeares HeadVery few pubs attract punters with the promise of shocks which will have you leaping out of your seat. And yet the second time I went to the Shakespeare’s Head, that was the reason I went there. I wanted to see Shakey newcomers surprised when, look ma no hands, a very loud bell rang. It never fails to deliver to new users, or fail to amuse us old hands. And it is fitting because at the heart of the appeal of the Shakespeare’s Head, alongside its many terrific features, is it partnership with that crucible of high culture, Sadler’s Wells.

A lot of pubs like to rack up the celebrity photos on the wall, though photo for photo The Shakey Head has a better class of old school family entertainers on its estate pub styled walls. Lovely veneer, a terrific bespoke bar and of course a pub cat. The Shakey’s Head has all the best of a decent estate pub, including relatively unpleasant toilets and a free jukebox which understands that all a juker needs is a lot of Now That’s What I Call Music. Its not an ale pub, but it keeps its Courage Best well, and serves halves in lovely little stemmed glasses. There is a lot to physically to like about the Shakespeare’s Head that its value added content seems to be almost greedy. But lets list it:

a) Pub cat. A proper pub cat too with a favoured seat and disapproval if it is taken.
b) Sandwich counter: A good old school glass sandwich chiller where all your seventies favourites can be knocked up. And a pickled egg of course.
c) The triumvirate of Smith’s pub snacks. I think it is the only pub in London which always has Bacon Fries, Cheesy Moments AND Scampi Fries. Which, along with pork scratchings means you need never go hungry. Just as well because
d) Relaxed attitude to closing. Pre licensing reform, the Shakey’s head was a safe place to get a lock-in (along with the Quin down the road). These days it may officially have a later licence or not, but you still feel like it is a lock-in after 11.
e) The dancers.

The Sadler’s Wells effect means that the pub often gets rammed before the show, in the interval and after the show. Which also means people dressed up to the nines in what may look like a bit of a rough pub. That’s OK, any long term drinker in there would have grabbed one of the big tables from the outset. But my favourite moment is when the dancers turn up, and you suddenly see the flimsiest ballerinas in the world with a pint of Stella. Its the fairy dust on an otherwise terrific pub (I though it might win this list). Never a bad night, often a weird and wonderful night. And with the sorry demise of the Harlequin over the road*, it is the only pub in the area worth its salt. Beer and ballerinas, what more could you ask for?

*Another great lock-in pub, the poky Quin was the scene of many great cramped nights until it got sold and got crap. As ever – in that order. But it means the street will always be known for Pink Clove too.

Comments

  1. 1
    Matt DC on 4 May 2010 #

    Should have been #1. A wonderful pub, I’ve never failed to have a good time there.

  2. 2
    Alex on 7 May 2010 #

    Great, great pub. (Another drinking place with dancers is the Cafe Hawelka in Vienna, next door to an old-fashioned cabaret; different kind of dancers, different kind of ordinary punters.)

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