It seemed appropriate to return to writing with a piece about the refurbed (although that’s an understatement) Fitzroy Tavern and my continuing love/hate relationship with Sam Smiths. Huge swathes of the pub writing on FT is about Sam Smiths back to, at least, sixteen years ago (Was our Pete the first pub blogger? Yes, yes he was) and six of our twenty five Pubs of the 00s were Sam Smith’s houses, but I’ve not set foot in one of their establishments for a couple of years and not been a regular visitor for much longer. This is partly having more money to spend on beer, partly the increase in excellent places to drink excellent beer in central London but mainly a disdain for Sam Smith’s actions as a company (and Humphrey Smith in particular), whether it was closing a pub on New Year’s Eve because the landlord was selling full pints, kicking people out of a Soho pub for kissing or just replacing the wheat beer glasses so they are pint to brim. And that’s before we get to the farcical situation in Tadcaster where the brewery objected to replacing a bridge (which they’ve just backed down from).
I’d heard that the Fitzroy had reopened after a year and then Eve’s blog post about Sam Smith’s popped up in my twitter feed (thanks Boak & Bailey!). So when we were deciding which pub to go to for our regular Friday evening drinks I suggested we met there.
We went to Mother Kelly’s in Bethnal Green for the first time last night (it’s only been open a couple of weeks) and it’s LOVELY! Twenty-odd taps of well-kept keg (including seven last night from De Molen), six fridges of well selected bottles and red, white and fizzy wine on tap too!
The space (why yes, it *is* in a railway arch) is bright and airy, the tables well spread out (I suspect this may change as it becomes more popular, there’s certainly room for more) and on a spring evening it feels just right.
Yes, it’s the most wonderful time of the year, it’s FTABCANYPC time!
This year for our 14th crawl we will be having a little saunter around Islington.
Every year, on the 29th (except when it wasn’t) we go an a merry trail around a list of pubs, many of which may be closed, to appreciate the architecture, and, you know, maybe drink. This year’s route takes us from one end of Penton Street to the other, but via a somewhat circuitous route (not as bad as when first planned when we were going to go via The North Pole!)
The route is as follows:
3pm: The Lexington
4pm: Shakespeare’s Head
5pm: Earl Of Essex
5.45pm: Wenlock & Essex
6.30: Camden Head
7:30: Steam Passage
8:30 Craft N1
Although, as always, this is a rough timetable and route as It Is Written that at least one pub on the planned route shall be closed (hopefully we’ll do better than last year when I think we ended up losing three of the original pubs…). If you’re following me or pete on twitter I’m sure we’ll keep up a running commentary of where we are if we go off-piste.
The other week when we were planning I got a bit bored so you can now see the glory of all 13 previous crawls in one handy google map. I think there may be a couple of inaccuracies, as several of these were based on planned routes, not actual (for some reason there’s not a lot of Reporting Back compared to planning, even in the Imperial Phase of ilx) particularly the Marylebone (2008) and City (2010) ones where I’m pretty sure I’ve got a couple wrong. I think it’s kind of more interesting where we *haven’t* been, although Fitzrovia and Soho were covered extensively by Trig Brother (and were our usual early 00s haunts).
To say at the start, I did eventually enjoy my Saturday afternoon at London’s Brewing and I have definitely been to events more badly organised (Glastonbury 2007 springs immediately to mind), but to my mind some of the criticism has been a bit rabid, I’m not sure what place Trading Standards have in this discussion? I’m not sure why people were expecting to be able to swan up to the bar at a sold out event, and one that they’ve probably only paid £4 to get into (£15 ticket minus 3 pints at £3.80-£4.00) at that.
All that said, the first two hours were a shambles, here’s why:
One of the pubs unfortunately missed from our ‘tween christmas and new year pub crawl, for to because it was shut, partly due I suspect to lack of passing trade over the festive period, but also to finish off their very nice renovation work, The Old Fountain, tucked away between Silicon Roundabout and Moorfields Eye Hospital, could secretly be one of the best pubs in London. OK, so it’s been in the Good Beer Guide for five years, but I think it’s massively come on even in the last 18 months. East London CAMRA have been praising it for a while, but it barely gets a mention in Hip Guides To London’s Great Pubs.
The beer is, of course, excellent, with usually 6-8 taps on, but they seem to really push the boat out in getting the specials from Darkstar, Brodies, Ascot and others, although occasionally this can lead to hop bomb overload, there’s usually a decent mix. The bar food is also pretty special, the salt beef sandwich (and I realise this may be regarded as heresy) is as good if not better than the Royal Oak’s, and certainly the equal of the erstwhile Wenlock buttie. They do pulled pork buns too, and a couple of other things, but i’ve never managed to order anything that wasn’t the salt beef…
Oh, and did i mention they usually have around FOURTEEN different kernel bottles in the fridge? it’s the biggest range I can think of that doesn’t involve visiting a railway arch…
You can see what they’ve got on the bar at @OldFountainAles
The Royal Oak is wonderful because it is such a perfect example of an ordinary pub. It does nothing extraordinary or alarming. It is a Proper Pub, with small rooms and nicely mismatched furniture, and random plates and pictures on the walls. Here are some of the reasons that I love it:
The beer: Harveys’ beer is delicious, and the Royal Oak has a full range of it on tap. It’s one of the few pubs in London where you’re pretty much guaranteed a pint of Mild. (I have seen them run out of the lovely dark brew, but I have usually contributed to its demise.) In winter, they do a good smooth sour Old, and there’s always delicious hoppy, happy Harveys’ Best. Tucked away behind the bar are tiny bottles of Imperial Stout, and the Christmas ale – appearing on tap every December – is nearly as lethal. May is Camra-approved Mild month, with bonus extra milds to quaff. February features the seasonal ale ‘Kiss’ (and I’m certain that the bar staff never tire of the utterly hilarious variations on ‘Give us a Kiss please’). This seasonal run of beers is very comforting to a creature of habit like me.
It’s not such a great pub for those fools who spurn the warm, flat goodness of real ale; provision for the keg-drinkers is very limited. As is my sympathy. Drink some ALE instead! It is much, much tastier.
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 Trinity is the only pub outside Zone 1* on this list. That’s not to say that we are a bunch of central London fanatics, but it is where we pretty much all work and, therefore, where we’ve spent most evenings in the pub. I’d left the Exmouth by the time this stage in proceedings had been reached so I’m a little short on the main thrust of the arguments that got the Trinity this far up the list, but I can tell you about what I like about it:
It’s the nicest pub in Brixton
And when you’re faced with a three hour gap between the end of work and halfway through the second support at the Academy that’s all you can ask for really. Because it is the location of the Trinity, only a ten minute walk from the Brixton Academy that led it to being visited, never mind nominated. The only time I’ve been here and not gone on to a gig was when The Specials cancelled at half 5. But this is damning with faint praise, they do a cracking pint of Ordinary, the service is good, they serve big portions of decent food and have a nice beer garden out the back
if you are some sort of beast of the field. Much like the Pineapple in Kentish Town it does seem to have become the haunt of A Certain Type Of Gig Goer, but then that’s maybe because I’m only going to Certain Types Of Gigs (and I freely admit to fitting the profile of the Certain Type)…
There was one night, just after the smoking ban came in (I’m thinking the night of the Carter gig?), when I arrived quite early (what? I was EXCITED!) to find that they’d replaced the carpet right through the pub and all you could smell was NEW CARPET, it was the weirdest thing, like drinking in Allied…
*sorry non-Londoners, but this includes you too. Although apart from the Three Goats Heads and the Turf in Oxford, the Windmill in Stansted Airport and the Brothers Bar at Glastonbury I can’t think of many non-London bouzers where a gang of FT contributors have been there at the same time. Oh, I suppose DBA in New York and the Small Bar in Chicago should get honourable mentions…
Having worked around Covent Garden from the middle of 2002 I’d walked past the Newton Arms loads of times (not least on the way to Parker Place where the original Club FreakyTrigger was held) , but always thought it looked a bit, y’know, Local. It looks like an Estate Pub without being attached to an Estate (although there are a surprisingly large number of people who live round there) and the cheap beer deals and garish posters in the window put me off.
The thing that finally got me through the door was horse-racing.
As you are no doubt very much aware, here at Freaky Trigger we are:
A. very much in favour of the pub
B. quite partial to a festival every now and then