A visit to EC1

On the day after New Year’s Day I took myself up to London. Perhaps, on reflection, not the best time, but all the same I got the Northern Line to Old Street intending to explore some premises that might serve real ale and that I had not been to before.

Having found my way out of Old Street station, I headed up City Road to look for the Singer Tavern at No 1. Shouldn’t be difficult, I thought, but I didn’t realise that City Road starts the south side of the roundabout and I was on the other side! I carried on, looking for Colonel Jaspers which more recently was the Bavarian Beer Kellar and it had now closed. Not a great start!

A little further along City Road I came to the Royal Star. I doubtfully looked through the window and spotted one lonely handpump, badged up with Purity UBU. I’ll give it a go, I thought, so in I went. This is a corner pub with a centre horseshoe bar, fairly basic with a wood floor and exposed brick walls. There were a few customers in. I ordered a pint of the UBU (£4.50) but unfortunately, when the barman had poured it, I could see that it wasn’t going to settle; I couldn’t even see through it. The barman admitted that it had been on for a few days and it was probably at its end, but he did have another ‘keg’ in the cellar, and he would put it on. I waited while he disappeared into the cellar. On his return he pulled through half a jug and then filled up a pint glass. Needless to say, I still couldn’t see through it and it only needed a sniff for me to hurriedly push it back across the bar. Fortunately the owner then appeared and pulled through a few more jugs. Even though it wasn’t clear, at least it was drinkable. Things can only get better, I thought.

Carrying along City Road, I turned left into Central Road to look for the British Lion. Too late; demolished and now a block of flats. On a bit further to the Corner Bar (ex Bulls Head). I looked through the window and saw three handpumps, all unbadged. I went in all the same to enquire but was told they were just for show. Out I went. At the crossroads with Goswell Road I spotted a lit up pub with Shepherd Neame signs on it. That must be doing something, I thought. It was the Old Ivy House, with black and green décor. I had actually been here eleven years ago and it was Shep’s then. Previous to that it had been one of Bruce’s Firkin pubs, the Pheasant & Firkin. Inside it was very quiet. It has a centre three-sided bar and a dining area to the far side and, again, a wood floor and exposed brickwork with the woodwork painted black. There were all high stools and tables in the bar; not to everyone’s taste. At the bar there was just the one ale available, Shep’s Christmas ale, Rudolph’s Reward (£4.40). It was alright. A few more punters did come in before I left so it livened up.

Heading back to the crossroads and along Percival Street, passing the site of the Shakespeare’s Head, I came to the rather imposing Peasant. I kept thinking it was the Pheasant, but no. Previously it was the George & Dragon. It seemed to have a quite atmospheric décor but on enquiring about the several handpumps without any badges, I was told the pub had only just reopened after the Christmas period and there wasn’t any real ale available. Oh well, next time…

I next headed up St John Street and considering it was about 6.30 on a Thursday evening, it was very quiet with hardly any traffic or people about. Within five minutes’ walk I came to what is now the Dame Alice Owen, an impressive brown glazed corner pub. It was previously the Queen Boadicea and originally the New Red Lion. Inside there was a long bar running the length of the pub, with a seating area to the back of it. There were nice red pattern floor tiles, brown glazed tiled walls, a black papered ceiling and black painted woodwork. Once again the pub was very quiet, but at least in this Star (Heineken) pub there was a choice of ales, well two anyway, on four handpumps. The choice was Oakham JHB or Watney’s Pale Ale (brewed by Sambrook’s). I went for the latter (£4.40) and it was OK. One of the other pumps had Old Hooky as coming soon. I felt that when things get back to normal this would be a popular pub to come to.

Further along St John Street I paused at the Pearl & Feather (ex Empress of Russia) which seemed to be more of a restaurant and had no real ale so I continued, passing where the Crown & Woolpack used to be, until I reached the Old Red Lion. Presumably ‘Old’ so as not to get confused with the previous pub when it was the ‘New’ one. I debated whether to call in here or to carry on to the ‘Spoon’s at the Angel. I opted for the Red Lion and glad I was too. It was rather like a time warp of how pubs used to be. Carpeted and cosy, with no high seating at all.

The actual bar runs along to the right hand side with the front area enclosed by an unusual wood and glazed partition. Towards the back there was a long line of leather bench seating. There was even red and white flock wall paper, with a red ceiling. Above a settee there are two white lions on balls and pictures relating to the theatre upstairs. The pub dog even has his own bed! It was nicely busy, with people attending the theatre, as well as customers just drinking and socialising. There were two ales available, Doom Bar and London Pride, which I went for (£4.20) and it was good. There were pumpclips for Sharps Atlantic and Hobgoblin on two of the other handpumps but they were turned around. Overall, the Old Red Lion was a good pub to finish in after a not so specular afternoon.

OK I did call in at the Waterloo Tap while waiting for the next train…

Clive Taylor