Thursday, June 16, 2011

This Old New England Beer Examiner Examines the New Old London Pubs

London, England

It is with a bit of regret I must report a sad reality. The dreary old darkened public houses of London’s fabled past are, well, to be frank, fading into the past. That isn’t to say the Public Houses (Pubs) are dying out altogether – far from it. They who are amiable to change with the times are simply evolving into a brighter, lighter future. Those who dwell in the past will be passed over in time. Rubbing shoulders with sweaty chimney sweeps and coal miners who would blurt out incomprehensible slurry sentences such as, “I say…cromp frumptonly blithering trousers rather and by-the-by? Ay, mate?” are beginning to lose their “charm.”

A pub can retain its cozy charm without being dark, musty, cigarette smoke-choking bat caves. The furniture can be comfortable and inviting without being old tattered sagging, worn out fart catchers. A decent pub can allow for more than four basic ale choices, one red or white wine and a few blended whiskeys.

Just how does the modern day public house keep up with the times?

They throw the dusty drapes out and open the shades wide, add a few lights and a couple mirrors, lighten the paint tint, expand and freshen up the menu a bit, add a touch of modern flair (not to yuppie extremes, of course), and most importantly, add a little more alcoholic beverage selections (read more craft beer choices here), and comme par magie, you have the new old London Pub.

There are, I’m glad to report, plenty of old established London pubs who have managed to retain their original inviting DNA footprint whilst welcoming all generations and spectrums and classes of the new world order. And speaking of which, I think I’ll order another fine ale!

The public house or publican for short, or pub, shorter still is not to be confused with restaurants, taverns or brewpubs. Pubs, likes churches, in one form or another have traditionally been the focal point of many communities. They’ve been a place for the locals to gather, gossip, shoot the shit, and discuss local and world events, politics, family life and death. Monarchies and governments have been overthrown and wars waged over pints in local pubs. To put it into context, the pub serves as the platform, ale is the social lubricant. Since the Bronze Age Britain (2500 – 850 BC), pubs have been deeply embedded into the English, Irish and Scottish way of life. Meet at the pub; grab a pint and talk…in that order.

Many of the classic pubs will offer the Ploughman’s Lunch (usually consisting of; Crusty Bread, Local Cheeses and Meats (mostly Hams), Pickles and Chutney. Many Pubs will also serve Pasty Meat Pies)

You can sample Beer-battered Fish and Chips, Bangers (local sausages) and Mash (Potatoes) served with peas and Bread Pudding for dessert.

Here are just a few London Pubs that are well worth a visit:

The White Horse – Soho – Samuel Smith’s Brewery Owned – 45 Rupert St. This is a charming and cozy pub where the actors and actresses spill noisily in from the nearby theaters to greet, congratulate and toast each other. Tin ceilings, wood paneled walls, old paint-thickened window panes and comfy seating add to the traditional pub feel of this historic old pub. The staff is attentive, the ale is served properly, and the authentic English Pub Food is spot on! You can really feel the character(s) of Jolly Old London

The Red LionMayfair/Piccadilly – 2 Duke of York St. (off Jermyn St) - Fuller’s Owned –Charming old Victorian etched mirrors (installed originally so the barkeep could keep his eye on illicit dealings, especially the prostitutes who might sneak in for some quick business). The Red Lion is the only pub in the area to survive the Luftwaffe‘s bombing raids during WWII. Try their home-made Meat Pie paired with a fresh Fuller's Bitter. Tasty stuff!

Marquess of AngleseyCovent Garden - 39 Bow St. - Young’s Owned Pub. Try the award winning Steak and Ale Pie and/or Pork Pie. The West Country Beef Burger comes highly recommended as does the Salmon and Smoked Haddock Cakes. There are 3 vegetarian options.

The Nags Head – Belgravia/Knightsbridge – 53 Kinnerton St- Free HouseThis is the kind of pub Dickens himself would recognize. It’s old (250 year old), worn (in a very comforting way) intimate, cozy and charming. Pink ceramic hand pulls are mounted atop a gorgeous pewter draft engine. An eclectic assortment of posters, knick knacks and bric-a-bracs lend an interesting foreground to the dark wood paneling and bare wood floors. The compact but great beer selection is poured at the proper temperature. The food is authentic and true to an old pub. And praise the Pub Gods; no cell phone chatter is allowed! Marvelously preserved old Public House!

Draft House – Tower Bridge – 206 Tower Bridge Road -Free House – 27 Beers on Tap – 4 Cask Ales on a rotating basis – 180 Bottles of Beer – An eclectic gourmet food menu – A knowledgeable and friendly wait staff – Maybe it’s more of a Beer Bar than your traditional Pub, but it’s definitely a fantastic place to grab a couple pints and dinner. Do not miss The Draft House (3 locations in the London area)…no excuses!!!

New England Alternatives:

British Beer Company (7 Locations)

Pour Farm Tavern – New Bedford, MA

Gritty McDuff’s – Portland, ME

The Publick House (a Belgian-style pub) 1648 Beacon St Brookline, MA

Long live the Pub! They are not dying, just evolving.


Quote: “He is not deserving the name of Englishman who speaketh against ale, that is, good ale.” – George Borrow – 1803-1881

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