Just off the Lauriston roundabout in Hackney, near Victoria Park, stands a handsome pub on the corner of a residential street. It used to be something else. Didn’t they all? Not that its previous incarnation was any great shakes. In fact, it was terrible. But crucially, it was also ignorable. Now, BEHOLD. The HEMINGWAY.
It’s one of those refurbs that’s been carefully designed to appear old and burnished, like it’s been there since The Sun Also Rises came out. Overstuffed leather couches hulk around like dozing ponies. The walls are.. wait, what the hell is on the walls? It’s dozens of taxidermied HUNTING TROPHIES.* Cause Ernest Hemingway liked to shoot stuff! I guess?? It all feels quite manly. This is your den, gents. A large (nonfunctional) hearth is adorned with a mantelpiece on which recline several ersatz leather-bound volumes of… shall you guess? Go on, guess. Who do you think the author is? The author of every book on the mantel? Well done.
My companions and I (ages: 36 and 2) had planned on eating here. So it’s not as though we’d wanted a straight boozer experience and been shanghaied by gastronomy. No, we were in the mood for the kind of comfort stodge the New Year always seems to demand. The Hemingway seemed just the place. I toddled back toward our low coffee table from the bar (which has been crowned with a bespoke copper drop-ceiling) with one glass of red wine and one Doom Bar. £10. The menu looked yummy but no cheaper than the Empress of India, a proper sit-down restaurant four minutes away with fanatically attentive staff. No such staff at the Hemingway, but hey, at least there was Connect 4.**
We ended up at the Fish House, where we were treated like kings. My 2-year-old companion even got a tour of the kitchen.
* I have since been told that some of these trophies are “fictional animals”, taxidermy artwork created specifically for the pub. I’m not sure whether this makes them more or less objectionable.
** Famously, Connect 4 was Hemingway’s favourite diversion. When asked, near death, if he had any regrets, “Papa” is said to have expressed longing for a pocket-sized Connect 4 game made from cherrywood and ivory which was shattered when an errant poacher’s bullet entered his hunting vest near the left breast pocket. The wooden case stopped the bullet and saved his life but “better the hunter than the game,” he said, such was his devotion to it.