Tag: Pubs

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‘The Brewery Tap’ – the next generation?

Imagine you’re a microbrewer.  You’ve established a few successful beers and have won the odd award here and there at SIBA competitions and CAMRA festivals.  Sales are showing healthy growth and you’ve got some local recognition.  In a few years time, you might have to expand.  But there’s one thing now obsessing you.

Your own pub.  You want a brewery tap.

But you can’t get one.

Buying a freehold pub is a financial step too far – you just haven’t got that kind of money to hand.  You could of course get a lease or tenancy from one of the big PubCos but what would be the point of that?  The tie means you’d have to take beers from their limited range, and your not on it – you want a pub that showcases YOUR beers, as you want them to be seen.

This is a scenario facing many micros at the moment.  To some, it’s a symbol of what they’re fighting against – an outdated model in the British beer and pub industry.

But now, things are changing.  And it’s my old mates at Thornbridge who are leading the way, with the first pub on an interesting new deal with Enterprise Inns.

Well, not quite leading the way.

Three years ago, Midlands brewer Everards started a scheme called Project William.  They took over defunct, failed pubs – the ones that we read about that are closing every week – and went into partnership with local brewers around the Midlands and the north of England.  Everards invested in refurbishing the pub – in partnership with the local brewer – and took a traditional tie on lager, soft drinks and spirits – meaning the publican had to buy all these from Everards at their rates.  This is usual enough for PubCos and regional brewers.  But they made cask ales free of tie, simply asking that one Everards beer be stocked on the range.

Now, if you were a bog standard pub that relied mainly on industrial lager (as most of these pubs were before they failed), it doesn’t make much difference.  But if you’re a micro looking for a pub where you can stick six handpulls on the bar to showcase your own beers plus a range of other interesting micros, it’s giving you what you want from a pub with much lower risk and investment than you’d get elsewhere.

There are about twenty Project William pubs now, and they’re all – apart from one uncertainty – booming.  Everards gets the return on its investment from the other drinks.  The micro gets its Brewery tap.  A community gets its pub back.  Everyone wins.

I wrote about Project William in the Cask Report and The Publican.  It’s such a clever idea, the biggest question for me was why no one else had done it, why the big PubCos didn’t take heed.

Well now, someone has.

Thornbridge have worked with Enterprise – one of the two giants of the PubCo world with between 7,000 and 8,000 pubs – before.  The Cricket Inn in Totley is an Enterprise pub, but the leasehold model is not ideal for a brewer with as many great ideas and beers as Thornbridge has.  So brewer and PubCo have been talking about doing things differently.  When Enterprise decided to take a leaf out of Everards book and create a different kind of leasehold, Thornbridge was the first to jump.

The result was the Greystones:

God bless Farrow and Ball.

This was a failed pub in Sheffield called the Highcliffe, a great building that had just become a haunt for local, erm, ‘characters’, the kind of people who spend more money in a toilet cubicle than at the bar.  The refurb was a joint investment – with Enterprise chipping in most of the cash.  Thornbridge are free of tie on ales so they can showcase their range.  Enterprise gets a big pub run by people who know what they are doing.  Sheffield gets yet another amazing craft beer pub, which also has an emphasis on ‘arts and the local community’, with gigs and other events happening regularly.

The Greystones opened on November 3rd.  It sold 3000 pints in its first 48 hours.

So if you’re that ambitious micro, it’s not simply a case of walking up to Enterprise or Everards and saying, “Gizza pub” – they need to be convinced that you have the business acumen to make it work, and that if they pay for a refurb it’s going to pay back.  But if this model catches on – as it surely will – we’re going to see more abandoned pubs revived, and a much greater variety of drinks on British bars.

Hats off to Enterprise – not always the hero in stories about British pubs – for having the vision to do this.    Props to Everards for coming up with the original idea in the first place.  And well done Thornbridge, yet again.

I’ll be doing a Hops & Glory event with a tasting of Thornbridge beers at the Greystones on Thursday 16th December.

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Exclusive: the Euston Tap: A Sneak Preview

When the Sheffield Tap opened almost a year ago, I wrote that it was almost worth getting the train to Sheffield just to sit and have a drink in the station.  Since then, I have done just that.  But now there’s no need: the team behind this wonderful craft beer bar – one of the best in the country – have now repeated their stunning success at Euston Station.
In an audacious and visionary move, Jamie Hawksworth and co – also responsible for the Pivo bar in York – have taken a lease on one of the iconic square Portland stone buildings flanking the front of the station, and made it the Euston Tap.  Yesterday, manager Yan Pilkington invited me for a look around.
London landmark becomes beery destination.
The builders – imported like the management from Sheffield – were still busy when I arrived.  A lobby into the bar area was being erected over the door, and Yan and Jamie were in the cellar struggling with the three pythons that will take the beer into the bar.  Said beer was standing on pallettes outside on the grass, and there was an awful lot of it.  I imagine the guys won’t be getting too much sleep between now and 6pm tomorrow,  Friday 5th November, when the place opens.
Signage will be subtle, to say the least
I love the ambition here.  And while it’s not finished, it already looks stunning.
It’s a small place, but not as small as you’d think if you walk past.  There’s standing room for around 65 downstairs, and then a spiral staircase leads to a second floor where a lounge area will seat up to around another 50.
When you walk in, the main bar itself – like the one in the Sheffield tap – takes your breath away.
Would you like a beer sir?

They’ve gone for the American craft beer bar style, with all the taps coming out of the back wall and nothing on the bar itself.  By opening time, this back bar will be flanked by two fridges, which you’ll be able to walk up to and inspect.

But the main stars are the draught beers.  Expect to encounter beers here that you will never see anywhere else.  The taps will be constantly rotating, and treats lined up for the first couple of months include cask Thornbridge Alliance and Bracia – outstanding, rare beers never seen on tap before – and Coalition, a collaborative brew with Dark Star that has been maturing for two years at Thornbridge.  One cask is coming here, the other is going to the Sheffield Tap, and the rest is going to be bottled – that’s how rare this beer is.  The cask beer selection will at all times include three beers from Thornbridge and three from Marble.
Eight cask ale taps, looking forward to the objections from dinosaurs
There are 19 quality keg beers.  I spotted Bernard’s wonderful unpastuerised lager, Matuska, a rising star from the Czech Republic that blew us beer writers away when we visited recently, Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA, and Stone Pale Ale, to name but a few. In those fridges there’ll be 100 rotating bottles.  Currently these include 60 American craft beers, 30 German and ten from Danish cuckoo brewer Mikkeller.
You have never seen a craft beer selection like this anywhere else.  And Yan insists you won’t be paying through the nose for it either – cask ales start at £2.70.
There’s just one serious flaw.  This is a listed building, and the work that can be done to it is limited.  Which means there is one – ONE – toilet in the entire place, and it’s at the top of the spiral stairs. So remember to go before you get here.
   
If you’re a craft beer geek already, you will now be reading this already queuing outside the Tap for tomorrow’s opening.  If you’re not, I urge you to get to Euston as quickly as possible to sample some remarkable beers in what will be a wonderful atmosphere.  You’ll never make your train from Euston again.
See you there.

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New York Dive Bar Drinking

This city is like an abscess that I can’t stop poking.  It makes London look like Somerset.

After Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ Empire State of Mind and Paloma Faith’s New York, and of course the big daddy (why is that phrase sticking in my head?) New York New York,  I’ve been wondering why people write so many songs about NYC when no one does anything similar for London.  Sure, there are songs about London, songs set in London, songs that are of London, but no direct hymns of praise to the city like those NYC regularly gathers.  It’s simply more impressive.  (Waterloo Sunset may be one of the best songs ever, but even it addresses London obliquely).

Stop to look around you at New York’s awesomness though, and you’re likely to be knocked into the road by someone who cannot stop or slow down and WILL NOT change their straight course down the pavement for anyone or anything.  I blame all the coffee: at 10pm, the Starbucks queues are almost out of the door, and there’s one on almost every corner.

There are no people on bikes here.  Clearly that would be instant suicide, even for London’s most hardy don’t-give-a-shit weavers and pavement riders.  And there are no grocery stores – there’s no Tesco Metro grab something to cook on the way home culture here.  Even shops that call themselves delicatessens don’t sell fresh bread, fruit or vegetables.  What I thought was a clever move renting a self-catering apartment now starts to look flawed.

It’s Friday night in Manhattan.  I’ve been in town for six hours.  I only had four hours sleep last night and my body clock is now suggesting it’s 2am, but I need to stay awake for a couple more hours to try and beat the jet lag, so I look for a bar.  I know where the craft beer bars are, but when I start trying to walk there from my aparthotel in the garment district I realise my legs won’t carry me more than a few blocks, so I look for somewhere closer to home. There were scores of Irish bars around here when I looked earlier, but now I can’t find any.

And then, on West 44th Street just off Times Square, I come up trumps.

I’m not sure whether I should tell you about this place, but if you’re around NYC it’s probably already old news to you, and if you’re not, well hopefully you’ll fuhgedaboudit before you’re next here.

Jimmy’s Corner is about fifteen feet wide and every surface is crammed with framed photos of boxers.  It stretches back into a neon fairy-lit, jumbled haze for about sixty yards or so, but there’s one spare stool at the bar so I grab it.  This is no Irish theme bar, no tourist destination.  It’s what locals call a dive bar, but we use that word differently in the UK.  A British dive is run by someone who doesn’t give a shit, makes no effort, just sells bad drink to people who need it.  This ‘dive’ may be shabby, but love and tradition are worn into every part of it, layers deep.  The mirrors behind the bar are almost covered in autographed dollar bills.  The bar top consists or laminated photographs of Jimmy (if it’s him) and other bar staff meeting boxers, celebrities such as Paul McCartney, and a generous smattering of topless women.  Simple A4 signs, posted at regular intervals along the bar, read LET’S NOT DISCUSS POLITICS HERE.  There’s a signed photo of someone out of The Sopranos.

The first pint of Sam Adams lager goes down without touching the sides.

I nicked this fantastic photo of Jimmy’s Corner from the Time Out New York website.  I hope no one minds, because I daren’t take a photo myself.  As this was the woman who served me, I think you can see why.

Everyone here is watching the baseball game.  Greying, careworn men with New York Italian or New York Irish accents order beers and tequilas, roar at the screen and argue over the rules.  The New York Yankees are playing the Texas Rangers and have to win this game to stay in the series, or cup, or whatever it is.  I order a second pint and watch, uncomprehending, as A-Rod hits what I would call a six and yet the score doesn’t change – still 1-0 to Texas.  I watch for an hour, and the score gets to 1-1, and stays there.

I love this place.  It’s not about the beer (although Sam Adams seems to be a regular fixture next to Bud, Bud Light and Rolling Rock in pretty much any New York bar now.  And if you’re about to comment that ‘yeah well, Sam Adams isn’t really a craft beer now it’s just as bad as Bud and anyway there are way better beers to try in the US such as x, y and z,’ then congratulations on missing the point so impressively).  It’s about finding pubs or bars that just have that feeling.  This is the kind of place you’d return to night after night, eager to establish a quiet routine, because it just feels like the kind of place you want to be.

Later, I’ll Google it: apparently Jimmy Glenn was a boxing trainer who met Ali.  The walls are lined with his personal effects, and he still works here.  Despite its location, they reckon tourists accoutn for only 5% of custom.

But for now, I’m too tired to read or write any more.  It’s 3am London time, which means I’ve been awake for 21 hours after only four hours sleep the night before.  I think if I go to bed now, I’ll sleep through.

I get to my room ten minutes later.  I check the game: 5-1 to Texas.  I have no idea how this is possible.

G’night.

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Crap pub tells customers how much it despises their custom

I’ve never really enjoyed drinking in Camden, North London.  It’s all just a bit too cool for school, edgy pubs with an ultra hip vibe and clientele and aloof bar staff disguising the fact that the pubs are actually a bit seedy and the beer is crap.

There are, of course, exceptions.  Read reviews of The Enterprise at Chalk Farm on sites like fancyapint, and punters love it’s old school indie atmosphere, eclectic mix of regulars, music and poetry nights and decent beer selection.

However, it appears the feeling is not mutual: the Enterprise really dislikes its customers.  BLTP alerted me to the front page of their website, which is, incredibly, an extended attack on the behaviour of punters at the bar.

This pub hates you and your custom.  Go away.

I worked behind a bar for four years.  I know people can be annoying after a few drinks.  But you know what?  It comes with the territory.  If punters behave in a way that really is abusive, unpleasant or unreasonable, you absolutely have the right to eject or even bar them.  But if it’s merely irritating, I’m afraid you just have to deal with it, or if interacting with people upsets you so much, get a job somewhere else.

No one likes an arse or someone who gets to the front of the queue and then spends five minutes deciding what they want.  But it seems the objectionable behaviour that so upsets the Enterprise staff includes asking for a full pint and making sure you’re given the correct change.  And as for trying to start up a conversation with the bar staff – how dare you!

Here it is in full:

A MESSAGE TO OUR CUSTOMERS:-

To all of our lovely patrons, to make life easier and more fun, when at the bar please do the following:

Be rude, whistle, click your fingers and shout when you want to be served. Don’t forget how blind we are…so wave that money!

Order one drink at a time-then pay separately

Get to the bar and forget what you ordered, then proceed to ask your 10 mates what they want again. We love to stand around and wait whilst you decide…Fosters or Kronenburg?

Complain about the music being too loud…then complain about the music being to low

If we say we don’t sell something, the chances are we are lying to you! So please keep asking for what we don’t sell (Stella please!)

If we can, we will always serve you a cold beer in a warm glass

There is nothing on Earth more attractive than a drunk man…so whip out those o-so-witty chat up lines…us girls love it

The bar staff get paid far too much money, so please do not tip us it is just insulting!

You are right! The head on that pint was far too big! Let me give you an extra pint for free because of our greed

We always like taking your money, but there is nothing better for us than you leaving your money on the bar in a puddle of beer…don’t forget to point at it, just in case we can not see it floating there

If paying on a debit or credit card, when it comes to putting your pin number in, ignore us and finish that conversation with the stranger next to you…or better go for a little walk. Its fun for us to find you

I’m sorry you were correct! That was a £20 note not a £10 note!

Please tell us when we close…I’m sure you deserve that last drink after time…why do we want to go home when we can serve you until you collapse!

Thank you for coming and we cannot wait to see all of your happy faces again soon

Love

The Enterprise

Maybe it’s a not serious, but an in-joke between the pub and its regulars.  Maybe I’m just not hip enough to see the warmth and deep but ironic levels of customer service and love that exude from the pub’s every pore.  Maybe when you go to the bar there’s lots of joshing and banter.  But I doubt it.  And if it is a joke, clearly no one’s told the hipsters of the Enterprise that jokes are meant to be funny.

I’m sure staff in most pubs in the UK need to occasionally vent their frustration and I fully support their right to do so.  But to do it in public like this – this is the home page of the pub’s website – is extraordinary.   BLTP summed it up perfectly when he sent the link to me: graceless.

So if you drink in Camden, please, please don’t drink in the Enterprise.  They clearly don’t want you there.  In these difficult times, there are many other pubs that would welcome your money.  Everyone will be happier.

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What’s on YOUR pub juke box?

No it’s not.  Mine is.

I’ve been really busy, and then I’ve been away on holiday, drinking vast quantities of Estrella and Cruzcampo (and an accidental awful pint of Fosters) which means I missed the publication in the Morning Advertiser of My Pub Jukebox.

I get drawn to this column each week, like an itchy scab.  Every week, without fail, sales reps from brewers and pub equipment suppliers, and middle managers from pubcos, choose tracks by Queen, Bryan Adams, Michael Jackson, Chris Rea and Chris de Burgh.  I swear someone once even chose a track by the vile, unspeakable M*ka.

And every time I read it a bit of me dies a little inside.

Yes, I’m a music snob.  Far more than I’m a beer snob.  If I was as snobby about beer as I am about music, you would not be reading this blog.  You’d be trying to find my address so you could come round and punch me in the face.

So I abused my position and demanded the chance to do my own pub jukebox.  They said yes.  Sadly, it’s not a feature that merits inclusion on the MA’s website, so I can’t give a link to it.  But if you don’t have a copy of the MA dated 23 September, here’s my selection below.

If you like, you can debate it, and suggest your own track listing.  It won’t be as good as mine though.  Just live with that.

Pete Brown’s Pub Juke Box

“Long before I was a beer snob I was a music snob: a terrible, obnoxious snob who delighted in stuff other people had never heard of, or found unlistenable. Having said that, at least eight of these ten would liven up a night down the boozer.  Just accept that my music collection is better than yours, and we’ll get along fine…

1. New Order – Temptation

The soundtrack to my life – simple as that.  It’s been played at every meaningful event I’ve ever experienced; the sound of a band intoxicated by the realization of how good they might – and almost did – become.

2. Roland Alphonso – Phoenix City

I found this by accident on a Trojan Records compilation and it’s been my party starter ever since.  Why it’s not a staple cover of every ska band on the planet I’ll never know.

3. The Clash – Straight to Hell

If a pub has a jukebox that doesn’t have at least one Clash CD, I won’t drink in there.  It’s a litmus test.  Music but no Clash means the landlord doesn’t know what he’s doing, so the beer’s probably going to be rubbish too.

4. Arcade Fire – Wake Up!

“WHOOOOAA-OH! WHOOOOAA-OOH-OOH-OOOOOOOH-OH!  WHOOOAAA-OH-OH-OOOOOH-OH! WHOOA-OH-OH-OH-Ooooh.” I think that says it all, really.

5. Orange Juice – Consolation Prize

“I’ll never be man enough for you”.  A geek’s rant raised to something noble and majestic by one of the most inspirational men singing today – mainly because it’s a bona fide miracle that he still is – Mr Edwyn Collins.

6. The Blue Nile – Tinseltown in the Rain

Their albums come along less frequently than Halley’s comet, but that’s because perfection takes a long time. Songs of neon, traffic, bitter coffee and rain – the soul of the city, written as epic by the singer’s singer.

7. Godspeed You Black Emperor! – The Dead Flag Blues (intro)

From a genre known as ‘post rock’, the bleakest song ever written.  So dark it’s actually funny: “The sewers are all muddied with a thousand lonely suicides.  And a dark wind blows.  The government is corrupt.  And we’re so many drunks with the radio on and the curtains drawn.” I’m just showing off now.

8. Guillemots – Sao Paulo

While stuck on a container ship en route to India with a barrel of traditional IPA for my book Hops and Glory, I went a bit mad.  This wildly inventive group’s 11-minute caterwauling, multi-dimensional masterpiece was the only thing barmy enough to make me feel a sense of equilibrium with the world.

9. Elbow – One Day Like This

“Throw those curtains wide. One day like this a year would see me right.” Pubs used to play the national anthem at closing time. Now they should play this – by law – for a mass sing-a-long just before last orders. Talking of which…

10. Richard Hawley – Last Orders

From a man who lives in the pub, whose music is the pub, a melancholy piano solo to soundtrack a sleepy walk home after a night well-lived.”

My favourite REAL pub juke box is at the Shakespeare in Stoke Newington, London N16. It’s almost as achingly hip as my selection, and has the added bonus that it exists.

If you want a more crowd-pleasing version, the Beer Widow has already posted her response.

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Classy Pub Crawls

The Guardian is steadily featuring more stuff about beer and pubs.  Only little snippets here and there, but they’re growing in size and frequency.

Today has a short feature on pub crawls with a little extra class or quirkiness, and I was asked to contribute one.  Go here for my take on Sheffield by tram, ending with a night at the Hillsborough Hotel.

But please, drink responsibly.  *Tries to keep straight face*

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Stirring things up in the Publican

I’ve had a busy month in The Publican, the pub trade mag for which I write features and a monthly column.  If you don’t run a pub you might not see it, so I occasionally provide links here in case anyone is interested in the topics.

Firstly, I wrote a piece about how pubs are the best places to watch the world cup – often better than being at the game itself (especially in the face of relentless vuvuzelas) – and there’s even academic research to back this up.  Research that states the bleeding obvious mind, but solid academic research nonetheless.

Then I got angry about people who pretend that pubs aren’t pubs.  It’s been a few months now since the new chairman of Pub Company Mitchells & Butler insisted a city analyst referred to the company’s pubs not as pubs but as ‘licensed catering outlets’, but he’s not the only culprit, and this is a viewpoint I’ve been mulling over for a while.

Finally, I totally lost my rag over the news – sorry, very strong rumours – that A-B Inbev is about to sell Bass.  I love that they’re getting rid of it – or rather, I did until I discovered the breathtakingly cynical terms of the deal.  A-B Inbev have still refrained from commenting on the story, but sources inside the company say the deal is ‘common knowledge’.  I’ve never been angrier about anything in the beer industry.  I’ve taken the piss out of them before, but this move is beyond piss-taking: if and when it is confirmed, report back here for the official start of my ‘Boycott A-B Inbev’ campaign.

(That last sentence may be a joke.  But I’m not entirely sure.)

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The White Hart @StokeyLitFest

It’s taken me a week to recover from the Stoke Newington Literary Festival.  Four hours sleep a night for five days, phenomenal stress, unimaginable peaks of pride and delight.  Written up as ‘The new Hay’ by none other than The Times, we’ll be back bigger and better next year.

My events went well – both sold out.  In the flavour event we had a foodie crowd rather than a beer crowd, and doing a beer tasting caught them completely off-guard.  Otley O-Garden turned on thirty-odd people to beer, and the idea that you could taste beer properly, for the first time.  It’s a powerful weapon.  That event also earned me my first ever piece in The Times – a World XI of beers for the World Cup, which ran on Thursday but doesn’t seem to have made it to the online edition.

Me in our pubs talk

Then on Sunday we had the pubs event in the White Hart.  I got shivers running up and down my spine as I read Orwell’s Moon Under Water.  Tim Bradford proved he’s a beer writer struggling to get out from within a successful narrative non-fiction author when he read pub reviews from all three of his books, none of which is ostensibly about beer and pubs.  And Paul Ewen very kindly did a review of the pub we were sitting in, based on a visit a few weeks before.  It was a brilliant introduction to Paul’s surrealist style, and we talked afterwards about how the pub – with all its Man Walks into a Pub jokes – often demands a surrealist response in a way any other public space or retail establishment simply cannot.

Paul has very kindly given me permission to post his review below.  If you enjoy it, and if you like pubs, please buy his book from Amazon, right here.

The White Hart,
69 Stoke Newington High Street,
London N16 8EL
Nearest Train Station:  Dalston Kingsland
It was a glorious sunny afternoon as I made my way along Stoke Newington High Street, and the dazzling light reflected off the windows of passing cars, and from the spectacles of orthodox Jewish men. Some of the shops I passed were painted in bright and gay colours, to match the cheerful day, and I found my spirits lifted by their festive and perky tones. But the dark exterior of the White Hart pub was, in comparison, rather ominous and foreboding. It reminded me of an old scary house at the top of a windy hill, with bolts of lightning zig-zagging all about it. 
On one of the front windows was a paper sign. On the sign was an arrow and a message that read:
DON’T USE THIS DOOR, USE THAT DOOR.
Following these directions to the appropriate entrance, I proceeded into the White Hart, as if entering a dark purple storm cloud, full to bursting.
It was raining inside. It was pelting it down. I was immediately struck by a flurry of hard wet drops, so raising my hands like a wig-wam above my eyes, I peered about in a search for dry shelter, but there was none. My hair and eyebrows were quickly drenched, and my mouth was like a plughole in a bath, surrounded by the wet wispy hairs of my silly little beard. Resigning myself to the elements, I ran like a person with a limp in both legs towards the large central bar, which lay just a short distance ahead, past some outlying tables and chairs. The barmaid was in good spirits despite everything, and the bucketing water gave her the distinct appearance of an Afghan Hound beneath the ocean.
A pool table to the right of the bar resembled a large birdbath, and a few young fellows were engaged in a match with the red and yellow balls, persevering atop the waterlogged felt. When a ball was struck, the sound it made resembled that of a plump duck landing on a pond. Next to the pool table was a large old fireplace, and this was stacked high with round logs of soggy firewood.
The rain water plop-plopped into my 3 pints of English ale, and when I raised one of these to my mouth, some of the drips ran off my nose and fell into my drink.
After leaving the bar with my ales, I found a square wooden table not far from the entrance door. Foolishly, I took out my handkerchief to give my chair a wipe, before realising my error as the rain beat about my head. To cover my embarrassment, I quickly hid my face behind the menu on the table, which the management had very sensibly chosen to laminate.
A large droplet-shaped light fitting made quite a show in the front bar, with many individual glass pieces sparkling in the heavy downpour. The bulbs and sockets were fizzing and sparking, and steady wisps of smoke were escaping from the fuses, but nobody seemed to mind. Making the best of the conditions, I tapped my flat soles on the watery floorboards, creating a loud ‘slapping’ noise. As I slapped away, I quietly sung along to a random tune that had formed within my head:
Every Sha-la-la-la
Every Wo-o-wo-o
Still shines
Every shing-a-ling-a-ling
That they’re startin’ to sing’s
So fine.
At an adjacent table, two large lads had been engaged in earnest conversation, and my singing had somehow managed to disturb them. Raising a wet hand, I took the opportunity to engage in conversation.
“What about this weather, ay?” I exclaimed.
“What?”
“I was just saying, what about this weather, ay”?
The two men shook their heads and turned angrily back to their conversation. Feeling small, and a little bit stupid, I reached for my satchel and fumbled about inside for my pub review notebook. By huddling over the top of it, I thought I could spare the open pages from the torrential, pouring rain. But it was a thankless task, and the squiggly black ink soon resembled dangly goldfish poo, which is dragged around a bowl, like an advertising message behind a light aircraft.
The pint I had been drinking had quickly refilled with rainwater, and my other two drinks were also being diluted and watered down. It really was a ridiculous state of affairs. But there was no use fighting it. I was in England, and if there was one thing I knew, you had to roll with the weather. So instead, I laughed. I laughed aloud! I laughed aloud and said,
“Ah, heck!”
And then…I poured each pint over the top of my head, one after the other. There. As if it mattered!
Well, the bar manager of The White Hart came over very shortly after that, and I noticed his shirt was very crisp and very smart.
“Right”, he said. “You, out. Go on, out. And you can forget about coming back ‘cos you’re bloody barred.”
Outside, on Stoke Newington High Street, the sun continued to blaze. It was very bright and very hot, and as I trudged away, my sponge-like shoes left behind little squelchy puddles.

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What’s so great about the Great British pub? Stokey Lit fest, Sunday 6th June

What’s so great about pubs?

We all know the answer to that one, of course. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have the discussion all over again.

Sunday afternoon will be the culmination of lots of threads. The Beer Widow decided to organise a literary festival when I was reading Hops and Glory at lots of them last summer, and we realized that of all the places that have LitFests, our local manor, Stoke Newington, should have one, because of its rich and multi-layered literary history (Stokey residents invented feminism, sci-fi, horror, even novels, if you allow yourself to go with the flow of local history).

When we agreed that she would go ahead with the idea, I always thought it would be nice to do an event in my local pub. The White Hart has a good function room upstairs that often hosts great comedy nights, and I launched Three Sheets to the Wind there.

But it would be wrong of me to simply do another lot of readings from my books, like I do at other literary festivals. I want to use the occasion, the fact that we’re organizing it, to do something different, creating an event that you won’t get anywhere else.

So we’ve taken the topic of pubs – of locals – and made something special out of it. Regular readers may have noticed that I’ve become increasingly fixated by Orwell’s essay, ‘The Moon Under Water’. 

Orwell with a tea cup.  I bet it’s got beer in it.
So I’m going to kick things off by reading that, instead of my own work. I think that one essay says more about pubs, more effectively, than I’ve been able to do in all the many thousands of words I’ve written about beer and pubs. I want to hold it up to the light, while we sit in the pub, and see if it’s still a useful yardstick to measure the perfect boozer.

Then Tim Bradford tells us what he loves about pubs. Tim is a writer in the vein of people like Stuart Maconie and Andrew Collins – fond memories of growing up, reflections on British culture, a story that works because although it’s personal, its shared by many of us. He’s written about growing up in smalltown England, and of course the pub is a vital component of that. 

As I’ve said before, it’s always interesting to hear someone who is not a beer writer talking about pubs – they spot things the rest of us sometimes miss. The Glasgow Herald says “He comes across as the kind of guy you’d love to have a drink or three with.” So that’s what we’re going to do.
Finally we have an absolute treat from Paul Ewen. If you like pubs, and you live in or around London, and you don’t own a copy of his London Pub Reviews, you’re even more insane than he is. 
They start off as any pub review does, but increasingly descend into surreal madness. I’ve always loved the pub partly because it gives licence to the irreverent, absurdist streak that runs through British culture. Paul is a Kiwi – this streak is foreign to him – but he’s fallen in love with it, warped it and presented it back to us in a way that makes it alien to us too, like a picture that’s run and blurred, a pub on an acid trip. 

I asked Paul if he would come and do one of his reviews on the White Hart, and he has done. Fuck knows what he’s written, what he thinks happened there. I have no idea what he’s going to say. But he will unveil this review during our event – a unique thing – we’ll be sitting in the pub he’s describing, in a review that has never been seen before. Trust me, it’ll be like no other pub review you’ve seen. Steven hall, author of the amazing The Raw Shark texts, says Paul is “A surrealist’s dream, a landlord’s nightmare!” I’m just worried we might get chucked out or even beaten up by the time he’s finished. 
Things will be eased along by free beer – Schiehallion and Bitter & Twisted – kindly donated by Harviestoun Brewery. Buy their beers. They really are rather wonderful. I’m not just saying that because they sponsored the event – I asked them to sponsor the event because of how much I love the beers.

The event kicks off at 3pm on Sunday and tickets are available – until 5pm today – from here, and after that at Stoke Newington Bookshop, the festival information and box office point at the library, and – if there’s any room left – on the door of the venue.