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LONDON PUB OF THE YEAR 2016: 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and manifestation of the various memes running around my brain, and as such any thoughts and opinions expressed within out-of-date posts may not the same, nor even similar, to those I may hold today.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 5THE DECISION




WEDNESDAY 7 SEPTEMBER

Ye Olde Mitre

Another year, another round of pub judging. Since the 2016 was awarded to the Hope, back in January, the judging system has been questioned by one of our members. There is in fact no set criteria for judging pubs so the member in question has set up a working party to potentially put this right. In the meantime, the judges carry on doing their own thing.

Only 9 pubs have been nominated this time round, including 4 former winners and 4 first time nominations. The first judging session takes in 2 of those former winners, Ye Olde Mitre and the Harp. On a warm late summer evening I take the tube as far as Monument and walk towards Holborn, fighting my way through hordes of City workers who seem to think that looking at their phones is more important than acting like a worthwhile member of the human race and actually looking where they're going. So it's a pleasant relief to reach Holborn and the quiet retreat that is Ye Olde Mitre.

Already in situ are John, James, Aidan and Peter (Patrick has given the Proms priority). YOM was bought by Fullers a few years ago and London Pride, Seafarers and Oliver's Island represent the Chiswick brews. Deuchars IPA is also a regular but two guest beers are usually on offer, tonight these being Clarkshaws Steam from Brixton and White Horse Village Idiot from Oxfordshire. I start with Oliver's which is a nice thirst-quencher, though I tend to get bored with it by the end of the pint. The Steam (described as 'refreshing pale ale with a lager crossover') is rather more pleasant to my taste. Some of the others are trying the Village Idiot and opinions vary. By the time I'm ready for one it's run out, so I'll never know. By this time our two other village idiots, Bill and Alasdair, have arrived.

Steam Beer For those not familiar with YOM, it's a truly historic pub, located in a narrow passage way between Ely Place and Hatton Garden, close to Holborn Circus. There are two bars, a small snug area, space for outside drinking, and a function room (up a precipitous staircase) which hosts our annual August Beer & Buffet event. CAMRA and SPBW are eligible for a 15% discount card, which eases the burden of City prices. It can get very crowded in the evening (tonight it's reasonably quiet) and the pub is shut weekends (except when the GBBF's on) but it shouldn't be missed. It was LPotY winner in 2013 and the award can be found in the back bar.

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












The Harp As the team is drinking out of sync (out of glasses actually) we leave in dribs and drabs - James, Aidan and I form the advance guard and take the tube from Chancery Lane, changing at Tottenham Court Road, to Charing Cross. Here the exit to the station is partially blocked by assorted human detritus who appear to be under the influence of something a bit stronger than London Pride. Pushing the low life aside we stride up the road to the welcoming arms of the Harp. This is much quieter than usual so, having bought our beer, we were able to find an unoccupied table. Before long John arrived, closely followed by Bill and Peter. Alasdair's whereabouts are unknown. Also in the pub is Central London branch member Douglas and we're later joined by national member (and Eleanor Arms habitue) Julian, fresh from a trouser leg-rolling session. Finally, Alasdair staggers in, having plainly taken liberal refreshment en route.

As the evening wears on, we raise a glass in memory of Binnie Walsh, former landlady who created the Harp as we know it; the LPotY award was presented to her in 2008. She sold the pub to Fullers a few years ago but I don't recall any of their beers on the bar. Regular ales are Harvey's best and Hophead and American Pale Ale from Dark Star. The remaining beers come from just about anywhere and tonight they include Twickenham Sundance, Notting Hill Ruby Rye, Sambrook Powerhouse Porter, Windsor & Eton Windsor Knot at Great Heck Amish Mash.


The Harp The Harp is a small, narrow pub with a small room upstairs as a quieter option to the usual crush downstairs. But the service here is generally excellent, however crowded the pub may be. The Harp is very convenient for Charing Cross station, Trafalgar Square, Covent Garden and London's theatre land - which might explain it popularity. But the beer range and quality makes it very popular with beer lovers; since you are presumably one yourself, you'll want to visit.

Harp, 47 Chandos Place, WC2N 4HS; WEBSITE

Next stop: the Mason's Arms out in Teddington on 14 September.









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WEDNESDAY 14 SEPTEMBER

Masons Arms The second judging session involves a long trek across London from vibrant Bow to Teddington in Middlesex. On a sweltering hot day I don't fancy joining the commuters on an overcrowded train (I don't enjoy it any time) so I decide to make an afternoon of it. I take a train to Richmond and walk up-river to Kingston. Then across the bridge and into Bushy Park and enjoy a wander under the shelter of the trees, looking at the deer who roam these parts.

Finally I find my way to the Mason's Arms and get a friendly welcome from the landlady. Having got my pint I stroll around the pub, having totally missed James who was sitting by the door. I join him and continue to investigate the decor. The Mason's is the archetypal back street corner local, one bar in a sort of U-shape around the bar counter. There's a cosy little patio garden outside. Inside it's fairly crammed with pub trays, bottles, cans, jugs, tankards, some lovely bits of stained glass and a big Bass mirror. And there's one of those old Watneys Red signs and a couple of Party 4 tins (under 50s, ask your parents!) behind the bar, hopefully not for sale. Despite the mirror we deduce that this was formerly a Watney house.

As for the beers that are on sale, Tillingbourne AONB (from Surrey) and Sambrook Junction (from Battersea) are the regulars; this evening Roosters Highway 51 (Yorkshire) and Hunter's Old Charlie (Devon) join them as guests. The beers, abvs and prices are listed on a chalkboard above the bar. This is useful as the bar is lined with customers who appear to be ageing hippies, so we immediately feel at home. Patrick arrived and had a pint of Hunter's. He professed not to have heard of them until he was reminded that he appeared in 'The Fixer' on tv a couple of years ago, assessing the merits of said brewery (see PiH 133).

Masons Arms There's a jukebox which plays some great 70s rock like Steely Dan and Little Feat. This was not to John's liking so he put on some good old pub singalongs from the likes of Captain Beefheart and Can. We were joined by Dave Laing, newly retired having worked close by; we are grateful to him for nominating this excellent pub. Could we have a second successive suburban winning pub? Far too early to say of course, but if you're in the area, the Mason's Arms is about a quarter of a mile north west of Teddington rail station and is open all day.

Mason's Arms, 41 Walpole Road, Teddington TW11 8PJ; WEBSITE

Later in the evening Dave takes us to a couple of other pubs nearby, neither of which are anything special. I arrive back at Waterloo in time for a quick pint at the Waterloo Tap, a first visit for me and a nice way to round off a very pleasant afternoon and evening. Next stop, 26 September in Camden and Euston.







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MONDAY 26 SEPTEMBER

Tapping the Admiral And so to our third evening of pub judging, on a Monday just for a change (the Tony Littler Trophy is on Thursday and we didn't want two SPBW p-ups in a row). This time we're in north London and for me this means the DLR to Stratford and the Overground to Kentish Town West. A few minutes stroll south of the station stands the evening's first pub, the distinctively-named Tapping the Admiral. This had previously been called the Trafalgar Tavern and prior to that the Fuzzock & Firkin. The pub had been closed for a few years until it came back to life under the same ownership as the Pineapple in Kentish Town (which itself would be a worthy nomination).

Inside we find a fairly traditional looking pub: one large room in a U-shape around a long bar counter. Plenty of solid, old furniture and a plethora of naval and other boaty memorabilia: photos, paintings and the inevitable model ship. The walls of the gents are lined with old Admiralty charts. On the beer front, there are two from Adnams: Broadside and Ghost Ship (continuing the nautical theme) plus Redemption Trinity, Portobello London Pils and Franklin Pavilion 35 from Bexhill. Two draught ciders are also on offer, these having to be fetched from the cellar. If you belong to a beer campaigning organization based in St Albans you get 30p off each pint.

Tapping the Admiral When I arrive James, Bill and John are already here and warn me off my chosen seat, what looked like a comfy cushion turning out to be the pub cat. Before long we were joined by Patrick and Peter; Aidan got his dates mixed up, thinking we were meeting on Tuesday and Alasdair was presumed to be floating in some distant galaxy. Anyway, we had a good chat about drugs, this having been Patrick's former line of work* and one of John's former recreations. (*He worked at HMRC, not as a supplier).

This is a very pleasant pub where I felt comfortable and the bar staff were friendly and welcoming. My main reservation is the lack of lighting - it's one of my bugbears, pubs that make you sit in the dark. The pub is a short walk from the bustle of Camden Town; there is a weekly quiz and regular live music to go with the excellent beer.

Tapping the Admiral, 77 Castle Road, NW1 8SU





 Bree Louise Time to move on. We walked down to Kentish Town Road and after a minute or two a 46 bus came along. This took us to Kings Cross, from where it was a 10 minute walk to Euston and the Bree Louise. Being very close to Euston station, this pub is very popular with commuters; most of them had gone home by the time we arrived and the place was fairly quiet. Another reason for its popularity is the extensive choice of beer available; 6 on handpump and up to 11 on stillage; a variety of ciders 'from the box' can also be sampled. A common observation is that the stillaged beers turn over more slowly and are sometimes not in great condition. Among the beers I tried were Dorset Brewery Chesil and Windsor & Eton Guardsman. The beers available are listed on the big screens at either end of the pub - except presumably when major sports events are screened.

The BL has won a few awards from the local CAMRA branch (and is their latest PotY). CAMRA members get a 50p discount on a pint - which brings it down just below the £4 mark. For a few years the pub has been under threat of demolition due to the proposed expansion of Euston station for the HS2 project. IMHO this scheme is a total waste of money and it would be a real shame if the pub was to be sacrificed for this folly.

Bree Louise, 69 Cobourg Street, NW1 2HH; WEBSITE


No hanging about for us overworked and underpaid judges: we return to the fray next Wednesday, in Eltham and Catford.



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WEDNESDAY 5 OCTOBER

Long Pond October's here and we are more than halfway through the judging process. This evening we make our first (and only) journey south of the river. For me this involves the DLR to Lewisham and three stops on a commuter train to Eltham. Then it's a barely 10 minute walk to our first pub, the Long Pond. This area of south-east London is a hot bed of micropubs, and the LP is one such, occupying a former plumber's merchants premises. It's not as micro of some of this kind; apart from the main drinking area there is also a side room known as the 'Dorchester Room' which has some interesting old adverts for Watneys and Bass. Otherwise, the place is partly wood-panelled and decorated with the inevitable pump clips as well as old photos and maps, along with memorabilia related to the long-defunct Eltham Park station, which stood close by. The pub takes its name from the lake in nearby Eltham Park.

In one corner of the pub is a small counter where you buy your beer; behind is a door leading into a surprisingly large room with a long stillage for the beers. Six ales were on offer with a strong 'green hop' theme; all the beers were from Kent and I understand that the idea is to get the hops picked and in the brew within 12 hours. Anyway, all the beers I tried were very tasty and in fine condition; probably the pick was Kent Green Giant, not to be trifled with at 6%. Others were from the likes of Old Dairy, Mad Cat, Musket, Tonbridge and Pig & Porter breweries.

As you would expect from a micropub, there's no background music, electronic machines and customers are asked not to use their mobile phones. Basic snacks are available and there are some draught ciders and wine as a change from beer. Most of the gang were on parade, although Peter was otherwise occupied, Patrick had dodgy feet and Bill was meeting us later. Alasdair returned to action wearing a pair of trendy knee-ripped jeans; he maintained a very low profile throughout the evening (NOT!) We were also joined by member Roger Corbett, who nominated the pub. The Long Pond is a very welcome venture in an area badly lacking in pubs and seems to be doing pretty well. Opening hours are restricted so check the website should you plan to visit - you could do a lot worse.

The Long Pond, 110 Westmount Road, Eltham SE9 1UT; WEBSITE



Blythe Hill Time to move on. Returning to the station we found that the main entrances were locked shut. Eventually I found a small side door so we were actually able to access the platforms. A short train ride to Lewisham and we opted to wait for another train rather than wait for a bus. Two stops down to Catford Bridge, followed by a 10 minute walk to pub no. 2, the Blythe Hill Tavern.

It's always a great pleasure to visit this excellent pub, which was LPotY winner just two years ago. It's a traditional pub in the best way; Con Riordan, the guvnor, is a real gem of a guy (though sadly not around this evening) and all his staff are smartly turned out, polite, friendly and efficient. There are three different rooms and, apart from occasional live music, major sporting events (particularly Irish) on TV and a monthly quiz, a background buzz of conversation makes the atmosphere. Beer-wise, Dark Star Hophead and Harvey's Best are regulars with 2 or 3 changing guests (including Taylor's Landlord and Dark Star Original tonight). Cider lovers are very well catered for, with around 6 varieties available.

The BHT is home to one of SPBW's newest branch, COBRA-COW and the founders, Peter and Geraldine were in the pub to greet us. They are planning to purchase a wooden cask for use in the pub and hopefully this will be in action before the end of this year. That's another excuse for visiting this exemplary community pub.

COBRA-COW I stayed rather late, having joined COBRA-COW along the way, but public transport was running well, getting me home not too long after midnight.

(Picture: Inside the BHT; Geraldine and Peter are in the centre).

Blythe Hill Tavern, 319 Stanstead Road, SE23 1JB (between Forest Hill and Catford); WEBSITE


So just one more session to go, somewhat closer to home for me, next Wednesday.







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WEDNESDAY 12 OCTOBER

Eleanor Arms And so to the last of our 5 judging sessions, this one in my own manor, more or less. I reckon I could probably shut my eyes and follow my footsteps from the Pint in Hand editorial suite to the first pub, the Eleanor Arms. I've been a regular here for a few years now, so I suppose I'm not really neutral about the pub - and indeed I did nominate it. On entering the pub, I get some friendly greetings/abuse from the denizens at the bar. Responding as appropriate I force my way to the bar and survey the handpumps. The EA is a Shepherd Neame house and the 4 beers available are all from 'England's oldest brewery'. However, only Master Brew and Bishop's Finger are badged as SN beers; Whitstable Bay Pale comes from 'Faversham Steam Brewery' and First Hop from No 18 Yard - in other words Shepherd Neame. All are in the excellent condition I've come to expect here.

The Eleanor is a true community pub. This being a Wednesday there is a regular bible class, run by local vicar James, a keen ale drinker himself. There's live jazz on a Sunday evening and a monthly quiz for charity. In fact, there was live music on the evening of our visit, and I hope the young lady singer wasn't put off by us all leaving just as she was about to begin her set; nothing personal! We had almost a full house of judges, only the wayward Boyd being absent. The Eleanor won LPotY 3 years ago; landlord Frankie is a keen SPBW supporter; it deserves a visit. Get there early evening and you may even have the dubious pleasure of my company.

Eleanor Arms, 460 Old Ford Road, E3 5JP; WEBSITE


Cresham Arms Dragging ourselves away, we walked in the rain to Parnell Road and caught a 488 bus up to Homerton High Street. James, a former local resident, pointed out a few historical landmarks on the way to the Chesham Arms.

This pub, in a quiet back street, became something of a cause celebre when the local CAMRA branch ran an ultimately successful campaign to save it from closure. I won't go into details, but the pub had basically come under dodgy ownership. I used to visit the Chesham quite a bit in the mid-80s and I can't honestly remember what it was like then. Before it was reopened last summer it was nicely refurbished as a traditional pub. Coming through the front door, the bar counter is straight ahead and there are drinking areas to each side. There's also a patio outside leading to a garden overlooked by the Overground railway line (Homerton and Hackneamp; Eton Conqueror and two more 'green hop' ales: Dark Star Green Hop IPA (6%) and East London Walthamstow Green Hop. We found a space in a corner, next to a piano which was piled high with board games, and sampled the beer range; I recall nothing but positive vibes. The Chesham is not the easiest pub to find, but it's only a few minutes' walk from Mare Street where there are numerous public transport options. So there's no excuse for not visiting.

Chesham Arms, 15 Mehetabel Road, E9 6DU; WEBSITE








The judges














So that's it. 9 pubs visited and, doing my initial rough ratings, there's very little to choose between them. Since some of us have yet to visit all the pubs we've not yet set a date for casting our votes and naming the winner. So hold your breath for now and wait for the big announcement. So it's goodnight from me for another year.




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THE DECISION

Cresham Arms LONDON PUB OF THE YEAR AWARD WINNER.


Chesham Arms
15 Mehetabel Road
E9 6DU;

WEBSITE





















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