The Pub, The Pint & The Publican: Part II
In Part I, we spoke to five of London's finest landlords and spoke to them about their pubs, their customers and their stories. We recommend going back and reading that first before reading on for Part II, below!
The Chesham Arms, Mary
The Chesham Arms feels like one of London’s rare lucky saves: the pub was briefly turned into flats and offices in the early 2000’s, but was reopened in 2015 back as a pub following a locals campaign to save it. You can feel this sense of community throughout the pub, its staff, its regulars and the way in which you hear people fondly refer to it as ‘The Chesh’.
“One of the best things about this pub is that we’re still quite hidden – there’s a quiet vibe when you come in, and you could be anywhere, not necessarily in London.
“We’ve been open on Christmas Day ever since we reopened. If people don’t have a family in London – which a lot of people don’t – it’s somewhere you can come and feel togetherness with people. It’s always really busy, and pretty boozy.”
Mary’s pub recommendation: The Camel, Bethnal Green. I’ve only just discovered it – it’s amazing. On Friday and Saturdays there’s these gay anthem playlists on, the staff are so friendly and chatty.
The Pembury Tavern, Pete
The Pembury’s had an incredibly interesting history and has stood as a stalwart of Hackney drinking culture for over 200 years. We, The Five Points, bought and renovated the pub earlier this year, and although we wanted to give the pub a fresh new look, we knew it was essential to retain and protect that Pembury Tavern spirit and character – unfussy, open to all, and an all round great boozer.
“Initially, I think there was a lot of concern about what were were going to do with The Pembury; the locals and regulars felt a great deal of ownership towards the pub. But now, I think they realise that the original Pembury is still here – a lot of the staff are, for example – and a lot of the locals who used to come in have started visiting us again.
“We’re a pub that sells craft beer, not a craft beer pub. There’s something here for everyone, we’re not pretentious. It’s a hard time for pubs, and this is why it’s more important than ever to be warm and friendly, and have a great team that make people feel welcome. As a landlord, you have to be able to let people just use and enjoy the space of the pub.
The lovely thing about cask beer is that it gives you a little bit of ownership over the beer as a landlord. You have to work with it, in a way, to make sure it’s tasting the best it can be. Cask isn’t difficult as long as you keep your cellar cold, lines clean, prices decent and turnover enough beer. It doesn’t have to be rocket science.”
Pete’s pub recommendation: The Brunswick in Leeds for great atmosphere and bangin’ beer selection.
The Sutton Arms, Jack
On a corner on Great Sutton Street in Clerkenwell, stands the red-painted Sutton Arms (not to be confused with the other pub of the same name, just 5 minutes away). Jack’s dad, Mick, bought the lease to The Sutton Arms over 30 years ago, and has been running it ever since.
“I was born in this pub in 1991 so this is the only home I have ever known. I’ve been putting my take on the beer selection for the past three or four years. Back then, we had 2 spare keg lines. Now we have 10.
Since then, it’s amazing to see how much this has changed things, people will come here for the beer and they know they can come for variation. We’ve seen an increase in beer sales, even my Dad’s noticed the difference – it’s clear when we do the stock take how much beer we sell now.
A good landlord needs to know what they’re putting on the bar. It’s so important to know your customers and be able to talk about the beers. You get to know your customers and what they like, you’re able to recommend beers for them to try.
I will always pick cask over keg beer – if I know it’s well kept. There’s something a bit more beautiful and traditional about a cask beer. The flavours can sometimes be unbelievable.
What makes a pub, to me, is being able to sit down in a nice, quiet atmosphere, with your mates and enjoy a beer. It’s the little things that make it – like allowing dogs in. Everyone loves a dog!”
My pub pick: The Commercial Tavern, Spitalfields. Great atmosphere, exceptional casks, good variety.
Swimmer at The Grafton, Leila
Tucked away on a quiet, residential corner in Holloway, you can find the beautiful Swimmer at the Grafton Arms. There’s been a pub on this site for at least 100 years and it’s now a listed building. Despite a great renovation by Remarkable Pubs just under 20 years ago, the pub still has that fantastic proper boozer feel; cosy, warm and inviting.
“You have to involve people on what’s on the bar; I’m always getting people to try new beers and new additions to the bar.
Getting the right team and staff is so key – it’s not so much about experience, they can learn that, but you have to let their personality shine. Making people feel valued and important is so crucial to keep them coming back.
We sell as much cask beer as keg beer, and it’s popular with everyone, not just older audiences. It was actually some of our younger customers who were asking after the traditional, real ale ‘dimpled’ mugs. So we got them in.”
Catford Tavern, Cat
There’s been a pub on the site of the Catford Bridge Tavern since the 1700s. It’s previous incarnation – The Copperfield – was shut down in 2007. The site was almost turned into a Tesco, who bought the lease to the pub at the end of 2012, but the decision was reversed following the local campaign for the council to protect the building as a pub. However, during the refurbishment, a big fire broke out – and the pub was subsequently rebuilt and reopened in March 2017 at The Catford Bridge Tavern.
“For me, it’s a big thing to have local beers on. It’s important to care about the local community and living here, in the pub, has allowed me to integrate into it. This pub has always been a pillar of the community. For some of our regulars, we’re like a second home.
I had to prove myself to the locals at first, people really care about the area changing. But now, the pub has evolved so much. We host community events like our Crumble making competition in January, and our yearly beer festival. We try and run it as a village pub; it wouldn’t work here otherwise.”
Cat’s pub pick: The Blythe Tavern, Catford. It’s a proper old-school Irish boozer. It’s always warm and welcoming.