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LONDON PUB OF THE YEAR 2014: ROGER’S BLOG


This is a personal weblog. The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of the SPBW. In addition, my thoughts and opinions change from time to time. I consider this a necessary consequence of having an open mind. This weblog is intended to provide a semi-permanent point in time snapshot and manifestation of the various memes running around my brain, and as such any thoughts and opinions expressed within out-of-date posts may not the same, nor even similar, to those I may hold today.

DAY 1DAY 2DAY 3DAY 4DAY 5DAY 6DAY 7DECISION



WEDNESDAY 23 July

The Calthorpe

Good evening everybody and welcome back to the new round of LPotY judging. Is it really only 6 months since we handed the 2014 award to the Eleanor Arms? (And it was only handed over after I prised the plaque from Alasdair's vice-like grip).

This year 12 pubs have been nominated - 3 for the first time (Ivy House, Door Hinge, Mad Bishop & Bear) and there are also 4 past winners (Royal Oak, Harp, Ye Olde Mitre, Wenlock Arms); also in the mix are 5 likely locals (Calthorpe Arms, Blythe Hill Tavern, Sussex Arms, Hope, Old Fountain) so the competition looks as strong as ever. We have 6 judging sessions lined up with the final voting session set for 22 October. The judging panel looks much the same this year although John Rooth is breaking in a new knee and won't be out and about much before September, and I've not heard from Hugh. We do welcome James Grayson from Bethnal Green to add his expertise.

It's a sweltering evening and I take the tube to Blackfriars (not quite finishing the Guardian cryptic crossword) before strolling through the massed ranks of workers and tourists, via Ludgate and Holborn Circuses (circi?) and round the back of Mount Pleasant before I arrive at pub number 1, the Calthorpe Arms. I see Patrick ensconced in a corner and I'm immediately followed by Bill, who must have been lurking outside waiting for someone to come in and buy him a pint. Fat chance of that!

The Calthorpe is a regular LPotY nomination and quite rightly. This is an archetypal community local, superbly run by Adrian (who's been here yonks) and his excellent staff. It's a cosy one-room pub with the emphasis on conviviality and conversation; no background music and the TV in the corner is silent (except perhaps for major sports). It's been owned by Youngs for about 30 years and inevitably serves 'Ordinary' and Special; St Austell seems to be a regular here and another handpump is reserved for either a guest ale or a Youngs' seasonal. Tonight it's Hummingbird, a most agreeable summer ale.

Bill
Before long the early arrivals are joined by Aidan, Alasdair, James and hanger-on Bill O'Hara, mild mannered Glaswegian. There follows some lively banter, most of which was immensely forgettable. I should mention that the Calthorpe serves excellent and good value food and it was no surprise that Bill decided to stuff his face. I tried to avert my face from this ghastly sight, which was enough to drive one to drink (if the heat hadn't done so already).

So the Calthorpe - maybe not spectacular in terms of beer choice but the quality is first class and it's a pub I would unreservedly recommend.

Calthorpe Arms, 252 Grays Inn Road, WC1X 8JR.







Bill with healthy snack



Ye Olde Mitre Time to move on - we all make our various ways to the next pub and for some reason no one joins me on my short cut across Clerkenwell. When I reach the bar at Ye Olde Mitre, I'm surprised to see that Alasdair has beaten me to it - apparently he hijacked a bus on leaving the Calthorpe. Within a few minutes the entire gang has joined us. We congregate in the front bar which has a bit more seating room. Most of

us are able to use our Olde Mitre discount cards, which enable a 15% discount. The rest of us are immediately signed up to this excellent scheme (you need to be a CAMRA member to be eligible).

YOM is the SPBW LPotY winner (oh these acronyms!) before last and is another that should be visited by all discerning pub lovers. It has two quite separate rooms, a small and cosy snug area and an upstairs function room (used for our Beer & Buffet events in August) plus plenty of standing room outside. It's not the easiest to find, but plenty do - local office types, tourists and beer lovers. Try and avoid lunchtimes and early evenings if you want a comfortable drink and note it's closed weekends (except just prior to the GBBF). Food is limited to snacks (pork pies, toasties and the like).

The bar in Ye Olde Mitre - SPBW award on the right

And the beer? Well, the pub is owned by Fullers and you'll see London Pride and 'Gales' Seafarer, plus this evening, Summer Ale. Adnams Broadside and Caledonian Deuchars IPA are also regulars and there are also two guest beers, one of which tonight is Harviestoun Bitter & Twisted. The pub is expertly run by Scotty and Kathy plus another set of excellent staff - it makes such a difference to have friendly and efficient people serving.

Could YOM win again? Whether or not it does this is a pub I always enjoy visiting and I'm sure both my readers would as well. So ends a very enjoyable first judging session with the bar (so to speak) set pretty high. We reconvene on 6 August at the Mad Bishop & Bear.

Ye Olde Mitre, Ely Court, Ely Place, EC1N 6SJ

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WEDNESDAY 6 August

The Mad Bishop & Bear

And so to the second judging session. Travelling to Paddington for this purpose involves a simple journey from Bromley-by-Bow on the Hammersmith & City line. Problem is we seem to hit every possible red signal and so the journey drags rather. This has the effect that I alight from the train thinking that some refreshment might be welcome. On my way from the H&C line platforms I notice a new pub on the concourse called something like the Beer Shop (please do not correct me if I'm wrong) which offers a few handpumped beers plus a number of 'craft' offerings. However, our destination for starters is on the upper level of the 'retail' section of the station, namely the Mad Bishop & Bear.

Patrick and James have beaten me to it so I dump my stuff and head inside to see what's on offer. The MB & B is a Fullers pub and thus offers the usual Chiswick brews. It also had three guest beers this evening: Butcombe Rare Breed, Lancaster Straw and Tap East Tonic. I concentrate on the guests with a token half of London Pride for the sake of it. Before I sample the Tonic (from one of east London's many brew pubs) Patrick describes it as having a vegetable-type flavour with hints of hedge. When I actually taste it I'm almost disappointed to find that it's just a rather aggressively-hopped low gravity pale ale. Obviously he has a more imaginative palate than me.

At the Mad Bishop and Bear.

By this time Aidan and Alasdair have arrived - Bill is absent due to working late and delivering copies of London Drinker, presumably in that order. There is some discussion as to the pub's name - the bear is presumably Paddington and the theory was that the bishop was from a west country see. But to be honest I've not been sufficiently concerned to make further enquiries.

The pub is a large open-plan establishment and the area out front, known as 'the Lawn' serves a kind of mini food court also serving a couple of chain snack bars. Service was ok although a couple more staff might have helped. To be fair, as rush hour receded, the pub did thin out a bit. It seemed a decent place for a pint or two if you're travelling through Paddington station, but I can't imagine I'd want to drink here regularly otherwise. This is nothing to do with the quality or choice of beer (or even the price - although the guests were a bit above £4 a pint), it's just that, to my liking, it's not sufficiently pub-like. But go and check it for yourself.

Mad Bishop & Bear, Upper Level, Paddington Station W2 1HB www.madbishopandbear.co.uk



Harp We decide to leave at about 8.30. Our journey to the second pub should be very straightforward, except that the Bakerloo line isn't stopping at Paddington. Instead we use the District line to Edgware Road, a Circle to Baker Street and pick up the Bakerloo from there to Charing Cross. Somehow we all get dispersed from the train but in no time we all find ourselves at the bar of the Harp.

This highly-regarded pub was LPotY for 2008 and subsequently became CAMRA's national PotY. In the last few weeks however, there has been a major change: Binny Walsh, highly esteemed lady of the house, has sold the pub to Fullers (for £5 or 7 million, depending which report you read). Since Binny is no longer in the first flush of youth or in the best of health, you can hardly blame her for cashing in on a pub she has run so well for several years. In reality, the changes will be low-key* - Binny's excellent bar staff have been retained and only one or two pumps will be used for Fullers beers. So the superb range of beers will mostly be retained. Harvey's best and Dark Star Hophead are always on sale here and this evening were joined by the likes of Twickenham Naked Ladies, White Horse Black Beauty, Red Squirrel London Porter, Weird Beard Hitlights.
*Fullers also took over Ye Olde Mitre a few years ago and worked on the policy of 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it'.

Being close to Charing Cross station, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden and 'theatre land' there is no lack of potential clientele for this fairly small pub so it does tend to get rather crowded.

Alasdair, Aidan and James in full judging mode! My glass looks nearly ready for a refill.

Don't be too put off as the service here is quite superb. There is a small upstairs room which this evening was deserted, quite a few punters preferring to imbibe al fresco, either in the street out front or in the alley way at the rear, which is a handy short cut to the London Coliseum. The beers, by the way, are served in the traditional London manner with a nice foaming head, but with a full measure. Take note, northerners!

While Alasdair ingratiated himself with some of the regulars, the rest of us found some seats and worked our way through the beer range. This is a pub I really enjoy (when it's not too packed) and I'm sure you'd all enjoy it too.

So, after another evening of hearty imbibing it was time to wend my way home, knowing that I would be a year older the next day.

The Harp, 47 Chandos Place, WC2N 4HS www.harpcoventgarden.com

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