BLOG & DUCK

ONE MAN'S SEARCH FOR THE PERFECT PUB

May 21

The Griffin, Shoreditch EC2.

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A typically busy Friday night at The Griffin.

From the exterior, The Griffin has the look of a pub that has stood still as the now trendy Shoreditch has sprung up around it. The Griffin has been able to keep up with the Joneses though, yet still retains the elements of a decent pub. 

Like any ‘proper’ East London pub, there’s football on the telly, and a pool table. Rather than serving just Carlsberg and Stella though, The Griffin had on Truman Runner, Doom Bar and Sam Adams on tap a decent selection of Mexican beers (think Pacifico & Mondelo rather than Sol) and a quality but simple wine list, 

The Griffin also has a decent selection of DJ’s most nights of the week. Both Douglas Hart and Tim Burgess play the Griffin regularly. Even if these names do not mean anything to you though, it’s still worth popping in for a  pint. 


Apr 22

Sun Inn, Bethnal Green E2.

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Candlelit and cosy, the Sun Inn. 

A tiny corner pub near Bethnal Green station, the Sun Inn lures you in with its cosy candles and laid back charm. Inside, a mixture of hipsters and locals provide a friendly atmosphere. 60’s garage rock blares out on the Friday night I visit.

Four pumps featuring Marstons IPA, Robinsons Dizzy Blonde, Doombar and Thatchers Cider sit alongside beers from Blue Moon and Cobra. A decent wine list and an impressive selection of Scottish and Japanese whiskys make the sun a great place to either pop in for a drink or stay for a session.

An unpretentious pub in increasingly pretentious surroundings


Apr 19

The Hawley Arms, Camden NW1.

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Camden institution The Hawley Arms.

Camden is a drinkers area. Walk up Chalk Farm Road or down Parkway, through Inverness Street or along the Lock and you won’t struggle to find a place to grab a pint. 

With all of this competition, for a pub to be known as a ‘Camden institution’, especially to be able to do this in just over ten years, is quite an achievement and is one that the Hawley Arms can proudly profess. This has been made possible with a little help from a few celebrity regulars and a bit of tabloid notoriety, but let’s not take anything away from the pub itself. 

A decent sized pub over two floors next to the overground railway line and the famous ‘Camden Lock’ Bridge that announces the famous market, the Hawley is filled with the typical mixture of tourists, trendies and weirdo’s that make Camden Camden. 

What makes this a step above from the other boozers are it’s spacious and cool environs, a decent juke box and fun atmosphere as well as quality food and drink. 

It may have lost a little of it’s celebrity sparkle but that doesn’t stop The Hawley Arms from still being one of Camden’s best boozers. 


Apr 10

The Well & Bucket, Bethnal Green E2.

Ornate Mirrors and distressed tile work dominate the interior of The Well & Bucket

A newie to the east London pub scene, the Well & Bucket is a frightfully nice pub on the Brick Lane end of Bethnal Green Road, serving Oysters as well as a wide selection of beers.

Oysters were as common as muck until over farming in Victorian times turned them from working class staple to delicacy. The Well & bucket straddles both these worlds, its stripped back space filled with bare brickwork, tiled walls and or ate mirrors evoking a world of Bill Sykes. Beers from £4-£7 and the selection of Oyster dishes on offer can only be described as lah de dah.

With beers from Mikeller, Camden, Left Hand (I had the excellent Black Jack Porter on my visit), Moor an Darkstar plus a truly beautiful drinking space make the Well & Bucket well worth a visit, if you feel like treating yourself to fancy Oysters and great porter.

What is truly wonderful about the Well & Bucket though is that is bucks the trend of being a pub that has been converted BACK, after closing down in 1989. Hopefully this is a trend we see continuing and, if more resurrected pubs are able to match the attention to detail and panache of the Well & Bucket, then the future for pubs certainly looks bright. 


Apr 6

Auld Shillelagh, Stoke Newington N16.

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Roscommon flags hang over the bar at the Auld Shillelagh.


Throw a stone down any high street in the world and you are likely to hit an Irish pub. Pete McCarthy opens this wonderful boozy travelogue ‘McCarthy’s Bar’ with a tale of a St. Patrick’s Day jolly in an eponymous bar that included all the trimmings, only to reveal at the end that he was actually in Budapest. 

Whilst your O’Neills and Waxy O’Connors are plentiful, they are Disneyland theme park versions of the real thing. For a little more of an authentic experience, the Auld Shillelagh in Stoke Newington is one of the few pubs around London that delivers.

The beers selection is limited, but if you are not coming here to drink Guinness I suggest you visit another pub. The Guinness is sublime. As you walk in to the tiny bar area, the three or four 3/4 filled Guinness glasses perched on top of the bar, awaiting their final fill up, evokes images of small bustling Irish pubs. The selection of whiskeys is also impressive and the obligatory Tayto’s crisps are available as sustenance. 

The atmosphere is convivial and, although the pub is cosy, its depth leaves room for ample seating, especially in summertime when the beer garden can come into play. 

Entertainment on my visit was provided by a trad. band playing a mixture of Irish classics with a few surprises, although other events held at the pub include Ska and Bowie themed evenings. 

Don’t think this detracts from it’s authenticity though. Afterall this is Stoke Newington, not Strokestown, Roscommon and the most important aspect of any pub is that it knows its customers, knows its location and is able to fit in harmoniously. 


Feb 21

The Sebright Arms, Bethnal Green E2.

The lengthy list of beers on offer at the Sebright Arms.

Pub fans are regularly reminded in stories connected with the craft beer revival that pubs are still closing at a rate of two per day. Even boozers that are more institutions than watering holes seem to be at risk from the developers.

The Sebright Arms is a pub with a fantastic history dating back over almost 200 years. As a music hall turned pub and gig venue, it too faced demolition until a locally backed campaign saved it. It is not surprising that it would be a pub in this sort of predicament. Despite its notoriety, it’s position down an alleyway in a part of east London not fantastically serviced by the over and underground network would mean it has to work harder to earn its trade.

My visit, on a cold Wednesday evening, happily finds the Sebright Arms packed o the rafters. An important Champions League match is on but, without televisions, the Sebright does not need this to draw its crowd.

Upstairs punters are spolit by a myriad of beer choices. Abundant varieties of Pale Ale (such as Brooklyn East India), Golden & Amber (such as Goose Island Honkers),  stouts such as (Bristol milk) and  Wheat (such as Erdinger) are on offer. I add brands in brackets to demonstrate that quality matches the quantity here. I plumb for Sambrook Pale Ale and it is a treat, especially as my party partake in burgers provided by Lucky Chip collective, who find themselves at the vanguard of the foodie scene.

The ambiance in the upstairs bar is that of a traditional pub. It retains many features that would allow drinkers of all ages to feel comfortable in. Seats are in regular supply and annexes provide privacy if required.

A scouting mission leads me downstairs to a music venue I can’t even get into, due to being packed to the rafters.

If pubs are looking at bucking the trend and being successful, they would do well to take a leaf out of the Sebright Arms’ book. Quality drinks and food available in convivial environs, with decent entertainment to match.


Nov 19

The Eagle, Old Street N1.

Supporting posts display the many ales that have been served at The Eagle
The Eagle is probably the first pub you claimed to frequent, as a child playing with friends in the school playground. ‘Up and down the City Road, in and out The Eagle. That’s the way the money goes, pop! goes the weasel’ you would have merrily sung, blissfully unaware you were referring to a well established boozer on the outskirts of the City of London.
Worth checking out for this nostalgic tid-bit alone, a visit to The Eagle will not leave you disappointed. Five pumps included beers from Redemption and Doombar on my visit. The lagers on tap were Estrella, Leffe and Kozel which is no bad thing either. The kitchen does a varied menu of typical nu-pub classics to suit all occasions and the proprietors work to keep punters entertained with hot wings challenges, wine nights, quiz nights and DJ’s.

Nov 12

The Bell, Walthamstow E17.

The latest (and possibly greatest) incarnation of The Bell of Bell Corner.

The Bell occupies a site that has housed a pub by of that name for well over a hundred years. Not much has changed to the exterior of the building on Bell Corner in that time. Inside the pub however, the fortunes of this grand old boozer have been mixed.

The latest incarnation of The Bell intends to cater for the increasing number of twenty and thirty somethings who have moved to the area from the likes of Shoreditch, Dalston and Stoke Newington, in search of a bit more space for their money whilst enjoying easy access to the City and West End.

Don’t let this recognition of a gap in the market put you off though. The Bell is much more than just a hipster pub, hoping to cash in on the craft beer boom. The new proprietor has managed to get the important facets of a pub just right.

You walk into a large space filled with a mixture of sofas, stools, chairs and tables suited for varying sized groups and occupied by a varying clientele that manage to create quite a harmonious atmosphere. The pub was busy, but getting a drink was never a problem. There was decent music and a lively atmosphere, yet you could comfortably converse with friends.

The decor is uncluttered yet filled with character. Cool without trying too hard. In front of a bare brick wall stood a wood panelled bar. This held a decent selection of standard lagers and eight handpumps featuring ales from the likes of Timothy Taylor, Ikley, Redemption and the East London Brewing company, all well kept.

Behind the bar, quality bottled beers from Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn and Anchor Brewing sit alongside a decent selection of wines and spirits. Snacks came in the shape of an interesting array of crisps and nuts, whilst locally made pies and scotch eggs sit temptingly on the bar.

It’s the attention to detail; in the stylish and understated decor, in the quality of the food and drink available and in the joviality of the staff that make The Bell well worth a visit. Just maybe an area that is proving it has a lot to offer, and a site that has an illustrious history, finally has the pub it deserves.


Nov 10

Hawksmoor Bar, Spitalfields E1.

The sumptuous interior of the Hawksmoor Bar.

Hawksmoor have been wowing diners of London over the last few years with their take on a classic steak house. With their empire growing to four sites, the bar under their Spitalfields restaurant makes for an addition.

The decor has a distressed speakeasy vibe, whilst retaining the sumptuous facets of a steak house. Wood and leather dominate this cosy bar area. Seating is apportioned to various intimate nooks and crannies. Mirrored walls add the appearance of space.

Whilst serving arguably some of the best bar food in London (their Shortrib French dip sandwich was judged by Time Out to be one of the best dishes in London), Hawksmoor bar is no slouch in the drinks department. Whilst there is unfortunately no beers on tap, the four bottled beers on offer are Greenwich Meantime Lager and Pale Ale, as well as Kernel Porter and IPA. Two fine beers each form two fantastic London Breweries. Simple perfection. Beers are served in heavy straight glass tankards. I don’t know why this makes them taste better, but it does.

In addition to a fine wine list, ten good cocktails complete the drinks menu. The Tobacco Old Fashioned in particular was a drink equal to its surroundings.


Oct 24

The Player Bar, Soho W1.

A slice of Americana in London at The Player Bar

Speakeasy’s and Soho go together like ale and pork scratchings. For a warren of entertainment, vice and danger (like the one sandwiched between Oxford Street and Shaftesbury Avenue), the drinking dens that inhabit it should be clandestine and tenebrous and alluring.

Once you have squeezed past the serious, black suited gentleman on the door, you are not disappointed by what you find at the bottom of the stairs; a thoughtful throwback to 60’s Americana. The warm is a mixture of faux stone and wood panelled cladding. Kitsch patterns adorn both the walls and the floor. The whole placed is bathed in the sort of glowing bar light that gives you one of the few reasons to lament the smoking in pubs. How glorious this place would look with the dense mist of tobacco smoke. Pop art boxes are ticked via pictures of Samuel L. Jackson, Bill Murray and Arnie eating burgers.

Burgers add to the Americana feel, well Sliders to be precise, as trendy Hackney foodies Lucky Chip have a ‘pop up’ tenure here under the name ‘Slider Bar’. Wonderfully fun food and well worth checking out in its own right.

Back to booze though, and whilst cocktails are their priority, The Player still has a decent bottled beer or two that are worth checking out. Alex, our knowledgeable and enthusiastic waiter, suggested the Goose Island 312. They also had a Brooklyn EIPA as well, amongst others.

The Player Bar is members bar so is off limits to the hoi polloi after 11pm, but it is well worth checking out; for a cocktail, a decent bottled beer or slider.


Oct 9

Pembury Tavern, Hackney E8.

A stones throw from Hackney Downs railway station, The Pembury Tavern looks a rather imposing figure, straddling Amhurst Road and Dalston Lane. Don’t be intimidated by it’s tombstonesque exterior though, as inside is a beer drinkers paradise. A bright and spacious bar area welcomes you. Pool, bar billiards and board games are on offer for your entertainment.

To the beer. 16 pulls run along the central bar, not all of them working but certainly enough to keep you refreshed. Apart from many many beers from Cambridge Brewery Milton, my visit finds Redemption, Dark Star, Purbeck and Sambrooks on too. Two lagers, from London Fields and Moravka (an unfiltered and unpasterised Czech lager) are also available, as well as a number of bottles.


Aug 24

The Palm Tree, Mile End E3.

The bar of The Palm Tree, adorned with pictures of stars of stage and screen.

As you walk through Mile End Ecology Park, you’ll find the Palm Tree in splendid isolation next to Regents Canal. It cuts a fine figure on the landscape, like a piece of East London gone by that has risen from the ground beneath. As you step inside, the time warp continues.

A decadent bar area, bathed in crimson light, greets you and the Palm Tree feels as though you are in an East End of Music Hall glamour and working class toughness. The clientele, a mixture of die hard locals and Boris Bike wielding hipsters, seem to harmoniously co-exist and the no nonsense bar staff work at their own pace, serving a standard selection of drinks with care and attention. The Guinness is well kept and the one ale on tap was also of good quality.

A Jazz band entertains on weekends and both relatively small bars can get rather busy, but if you are after a slice of old fashioned East End in an unusually pastoral surrounding then the Palm Tree is a bona fide oasis.


Aug 23

'Round Midnight, Angel N1.

Above: The stage at ‘Round Midnight. Below: Toilet graffiti of the Bluesiest kind.

Not many music venues are free entry in London. ‘Round Midnight breaks the mould though. This pub sits at the entrance to Chapel Market in Angel. You enter into a speakeasy style bar with a relaxed American feel to it. The walls are adorned with tributes to Jazz and Blues greats, from Miles Davis to Buddy Guy, and instruments famous with Jazz and Blues hang from behind the bar.

‘Round Midnight have music on every night of the week. As mentioned, entry is free but this does not mean acts get short shrift. They claim to promote their gigs proactively and make sure the musicians who play are remunerated.

Beer wise, ‘Round Midnight is pretty pedestrian. Real Ale choices of London Pride and Doom Bar, both good but unadventurous choices, and the draught choices were also pretty standard. With so many good American Pale Ales available in London at the moment, and with bars like the Lexington (just round the corner) providing a fine selection of whiskey and rye, it’s a shame the process of imbibing is not as exciting at the environs you find yourself in or the music you find yourself watching.

A minor nag though, ‘Round Midnight provides accessible and quality entertainment which is sadly a rarity in London and good for them for doing so.


Aug 9

Dukes Brew & Que, Dalston N1.

Above: The bar at Dukes Brew & Que. Below: The kitchen plus fake baby and pram.

Dukes Brew & Que is an interesting boozing establishment that occupies former Duke of York on De Beauvior Square. More space is given over to the consumption of their wonderful beef and pork ribs than to drinkers, but as the home of micro-brewery Beavertown, Dukes deserves a place on the Blog & Duck.

If you can resist the temptation to chow down, seductively fuelled by the smell of smoked meat, you’ll find three home brewed beers from Beavertown, notably the wonderful London Porter ‘Smog Rocket’, as dark, smokey and complex as the old London town that inspired it. Four real ales, five keg beers and two ciders, not to mention a host of bottles in the fridge complete the selection. The small bar area is lively and relaxed and there is plenty of outdoor space at the front of the pub for those more thirsty than hungry.


Aug 6

The Hunter S., Dalston N1.

The rather luxurious sitting room of the Hunter S.

The literary feel of Victoria Parks’ Hemingway continues to infiltrate north east London with its owners’ latest establishment, The Hunter S. Visitors to the Hemingway will feel at home as the house style is certainly kept in tact. The Hunter S. very much has its own style though and the venue is an ornate art deco masterpiece. You certainly feel at home slurping down a Chivas Regal in these environs.

Surreal touches also add to the decor, from the brutal array of taxidermy to the pornographic toilets spewing out classical music like something out of A Clockwork Orange. These idiosyncrasies do not seem to have put off the locals though, who mix with the trendy new patrons with ease.

Bottled beer choices are interesting and mainly American and real ale choices are the more standard Sharps or Timothy Taylor Landlord. A great selection of Japanese whiskeys sit behind the bar and aperitifs are planted invitingly on the bar.


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