The Start Of The British Pub Revival?

London, Observatory

How did London go from having famously bad food to topping world cuisine charts? After the war, Associated British Cafeterias (ABCs) sought to provide cheap meals for those on rations and drastic budgets, because the government was concerned about malnourishment.

This is the period we now look back at with horror; when half a grapefruit with a cherry was a starter, a time of elastic Brown Windsor soup and Mince ‘N’ Peas, when the only place in London where you could buy spaghetti was Harrods. The culinary ground could not be regained because the first wave of fast food culture hit in the seventies, and this was followed by a period when international food arrived, so that it was easier to get a good curry than standard British fare.

Looking for a pub to take a few friends for my birthday, I’m noticing a move further into traditional local British menus that’s in keeping with the popularity of all things retro, from Angel Delight Creme Brûlée to a variety of rabbit and hare dishes. In London rapacious property developers, having already destroyed backstreet pubs, are finally being warded away from high street premises, but for decades local hostelries were bought up and flogged off at an incredible rate.

The saviour was the arrival of the gastropub, and the realisation that London pubs should do the one thing everyone wanted from them – to provide a haven for conversation.

The key is small consortiums that own two or three pubs and run them well. I can think of no other country that provides these conviviality-hotspots in the same way, although I love the cafes of France and Spain. And as it’s traditional to have a drink before or after a meal, pubs provide both functions. Some places swing too far into restaurants, though – especially outside of London, where some pretty bad specimens exist because owners play against their strengths.

As a new generation has come to recognise the pleasures of pubs, speciality nights have reappeared. At my local there are nights combining SF and music with Uke Skywalker, the ukelele-strumming Star Wars character. This year, I hope to set up a new writers’ group in a London pub where I can run a creative clinic for those who are stuck with their ideas, rabbit-stews and ukeleles welcome.

And for those who always ask me about the best places to visit, a shortlist would include the Bull & Last, the Fox & Anchor, the Windsor Castle, the Cross Keys, the Pineapple, the Seven Stars and the Fellow, several of which are new.

5 comments on “The Start Of The British Pub Revival?”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    After a quiet St. Patrick’s Day spent in the garden – great weather yesterday 83f with a soft breeze – you now show these totally inviting pubs. Would love to visit one or two of them in an evening, as I did decades ago. At time like this, however, you realize that the often talked about “pond” is still actually the Atlantic. Salt water, salt water everywhere and not a pint to drink.
    Sounds like you’ve come up with an approach to your previously-voiced desire to create a writers group. Good luck on that.

  2. Helen Martin says:

    Different cultures, different solutions. The coffee shop can serve the same purpose or the tea house or the pizza parlor. The first requirement is some form of edible that can be stretched in time. The second is a comfortable place to sit and the third is sufficient quiet that you can hear the conversation.

  3. Gretta says:

    “At my local there are nights combining SF and music with Uke Skywalker, the ukelele-strumming Star Wars character”

    Now see, I’m not a drinker, but I’d turn up to pretty much any pub just for that alone.

  4. Jez Winship says:

    Thanks for the suggestions. On recent visits to London (I’m not a native) I’ve come across The Harp near Covent Garden, a former CAMRA pub of the year, which has a wide and ever-changing variety of sausages to accompany the superb range of beers; The Bree Louise near Euston Station which has many fine ales and ciders and some basic but decent fare of the pie and mash variety. Unfortunately it’s in the path of the proposed cross country rail link, so make the most of it whilst it’s there. The Jerusalem Tavern in Clerkenwell has a full range of St Peter’s beers on tap in a lovely old bay-windowed building in a Georgian street, with an atmospheric adjoining alley ending in an arch through the terraced buildings. The patrons generally spill into the streets and alleyway to form a convivial throng. The Craft Brewery in Leather Lane is a must for beer lovers, with a bewildering array on offer, set in a rather no-frills building. There are market stalls outside you can prop yourself on, though. I love the Windsor Castle too – it has lots of lovely wooden nooks and crannies to secrete yourself in, and is quite dark and shadowy, as a pub should be. It does a decent bangers and mash too, the god-given accompaniment to a hearty ale.
    Alongside your The Victoria Vanishes, William Heaney’s (aka Graham Joyce’s) Memoirs of a Master Forger offers an incidental guide to some of the finest and most interesting London pubs, with attendant lore, including The Pineapple, The Windsor Castle and The Cittie of Yorke, whose amazing interior you’ve got a picture of above (I’ve never made it down to the old basement yet). I recently picked up a copy of Ted Bruning’s book London by Pub, which outlines a number of walks connecting pubs he’s tested out (an erudite pub crawl, essentially), so hopefully I’ll discover more delights soon.

  5. Helen Martin says:

    I believe admin had a photo of the Jerusalem – what, about a year ago taken down the alleyway and definitely showing patrons spilling into the streets and alleyway.

Comments are closed.