Tuesday, 28 September 2010

J'accuse: Wenlock runs out

So Hoxton's Wenlock Arms faces the chop, eh? One co-owner wants to sell and the other cannot buy him out, so it's to the estate agents they go. The dread of redevelopment hangs heavy.

Those unfamiliar with this pub, famous
in London at least, will not be aware of just how polarised the debate is over this establishment. Dirty, mean-spirited and clique-ridden? Or ale palace, characterful and charming?

The truth is it is both, but never at the same time. On a day when there's Chas & Dave-style tinkling of the ivories and singalongs and the locals are in on the fun it's a ding-dong right aaaahld Laaaaahndon boozer, with all welcome to join in. But you'll go in the next day to the silence of the disgusted, with tumbleweed the only distraction between you and contemptful locals who would rather sit in an empty pub without your sort. On that day, the service will run the full gamut between silent, inattentive and outright - and even shockingly - rude.

The hipsters so routinely disdained by the locals and barstaff seem to be running a campaign to keep the place open. I certainly welcome that - even if I regard their patience at the Wenlock's unfathomably mercurial mood swings as saintly in the extreme. The current management have had the place for 16 years and fresh blood could tart the pub up (a deep clean might eradicate the retch-worthy stench of foetid, dried urine emanating from the gents) without blitzing what is, all told, a characterful interior. It would be a real pity to lose a 175 year old pub that stands alone in its street as a living link with times gone by and could, in the right hands, continue to offer a great deal to the area.

And yet I cannot tolerate the notion, expressed here in the Evening Standard, that its loss would disfigure London's pub-going scene for good or eradicate 'London's best pub' - for all that it has an admirable focus on excellent craft cask beer.

The Globe in Morning Lane, Hackney, only has London Pride and Young's Bitter on cask - but both are kept well and the service is unfailingly friendly. After a couple of visits,
they may not know your name but they recognise you and ask after you. The locals - mostly 50+, working class and mixed between men and women and black and white - are not in the least bothered by the minority of middle class 20-somethings that come in, rallying round to offer seats and organise tables when live jazz is playing on a Sunday. The late night regulars cheer on the midnight karaoke come Saturday ('I Get a Kick Out of You - Swing Version' is considered a bracing challenge). There are teas organised for Monday afternoons and special offers that encourage the odd treat (bottle of Prosecco for £11.50) while not promoting crass binges.

I think you see where I'm heading. CAMRA may have afforded the Globe a place in the Good Beer Guide 2010 (I don't know if it's in the 2011 edition yet) but its safe selection of ales would not excite the beer blogging world and - god forbid - were it under threat, I wonder how much support in the wider media it would muster.

London would miss the Wenlock's potential. But the Globe is a vital community resource, with dedicated staff who put in the hours and refresh the offer.

I know where I've spent most money.

Wenlock Arms photo (Creative Commons Licence) courtesy of Glyn Baker.

Globe on Morning Lane photo (Creative Commons Licence) courtesy of Ewan Munro.