Postal London - May 1999

Welcome to instalment four of Postal Drinker, my crawl of all the London postal districts. I have borrowed a copy of the North London guide, which is about four years old, to help me complete a few more districts in North London, an area with which I am not familiar. A study of the guide shows that the inner city districts tend to have more pubs than the outer districts but pubs in the outer districts are more likely to have real ale available. The area is dominated by the major brewers and their guest beers with few independent brewers pubs. There are also a large number of Wetherspoon pubs listed although some of these have now been sold to the Ambishus chain who have controversially dropped the no music and no TV policy.

As May 1 is a warm sunny day I decide take advantage of the good weather and get a Gospel Oak train to Upper Holloway(N19) arriving about 11.30. This is an inner city district with about thirty pubs most of which do not sell real ale. The few that do tend to be on the northern side of the district near Archway tube station.

The one I choose is the Dog in Archway which is one of the pubs Ambishus have taken over from Wetherspoons. There do not appear to be too many changes in the layout of the pub and although two televisions, background music and a dartboard have been added they are not too intrusive yet. However it is only midday and most of the customers appear to be middle-aged and elderly persons so the additions are mostly ignored and seem unnecessary. There is a full beer range of seven beers and I try a pint of Hop Back Thunderstorm. This is a wheat beer brewed with a half wheat mash. While I like Belgian and German wheat beers I have never been too impressed with British attempts at the style and I must confess Thunderstorm does not particularly impress me. This is probably due to my taste than any fault of the brewers or the pub. Despite these criticisms the Dog is probably the best pub in N19 and also available were Greene King IPA, London Pride, Courage Best and several other beers.

Leaving the Dog I turn north-west into Highgate Hill and head up the steep hill into Highgate (N6). This is an up-market expensive residential area on the eastern side of Hampstead Heath. Virtually all the fifteen or so pubs sell real ale although there does not appear to be a great deal of variety. They all seem to be up-market and expensive, selling the major brewers beers and their guests. After a pleasant stroll round the village I eventually choose the Wrestlers. This is a large plush pub with several leathers sofas and I have a pint of Greene King IPA which is excellent, although at £1.90 it should be. According to the guide is a hive of history and a famous local ceremony called the Swearing of the Horns takes place here. While sitting on the sofa reading one of the newspapers provided I overhear one of the customers complaining about the landlord of another Highgate pub not turning the TV on for a football match. It is difficult to please all of the people all of the time.

As I leave the Wrestlers it strikes me that Highgate would be a good place for a crawl if you can budget for an average of over £2 a pint. Anyway for the next pub I head north-west for a mile into East Finchley(N2) where in a side-street off the High Street is a McMullens pub, the Windsor Castle. This is a small quiet pub with the full range of Macs Beers and Bass and Courage Directors so I have a pint of AK which McMullens now brand as a bitter. The pub has a small beer garden and live music is advertised for Saturday night, although were they fit the musicians in puzzles me. Purists among you may like to note that drinking from the bottle is banned here. The Windsor Castle is well worth a visit if you are in the area and there is also an off-licence in the High Street with a wide range of foreign and bottle-conditioned beer, despite being plastered with Fosters posters.

For the next pub I head east into Muswell Hill (N10), a hilly and isolated district without a single railway station of any type. The site of the first Wetherspoon pub is in Colney Hatch Lane but its current range is uninspiring so I try the Minstrel Boy opposite. This is a former Magic pub now run by Greene King and both IPA and Abbot are available so I have a pint of Abbot. There are several TVs dotted about the pub and the Rugby League Cup Final between Leeds and the London Broncos is about to start. As I am quite keen on Rugby League and followed the London Broncos in their Fulham days I am not going to object to TV sport in pubs. It is a bit different when something you want to see is on. One of the other TVs features the afternoons horse-racing which is quite popular with the customers.

London do quite well until halfway through the second-half when the superior fitness of Leeds begins to tell. A ninety-five yard interception try seals the game for Leeds as I finish my pint so it seems a perfect time to go.

I head down the steep Muswell Hill to Hornsey (N8). It is a lot easier walking down a steep hill. Hornsey is a Victorian suburb with about twenty pubs most of which are listed in the guide as serving real ale although none of them appear to be of special interest. After wandering around I eventually try the Great Northern Railway Tavern which surprisingly is near the station. It was built in mid Victorian times and is a fine example of a Victorian mock Gothic pub. There is plenty of etched glasswork and a large conservatory to the rear with plush seating. The beer range is less impressive however with Ind Coope Burton the only real ale available. I must admit that I am not a big fan of Burton although the pint I have is pleasant enough. As it is about five o'clock there are only a handful of customers.

To the north of Hornsey is Wood Green (N22) which veterans among you will remember as the home of Alexandria Palace venue of the GBBF until it burned down in the early eighties. There are about twenty pubs in Wood Green and most appear to be real. Unfortunately the most interesting ones appear to be on the outskirts or off the beaten track so I try the Jolly Anglers. This is a Whitbread pub close to the station with quite a lively atmosphere for early Saturday evening. Three ales are on and I have a pint of Wadworths 6X. The other two are Boddingtons and Flowers.

Leaving the Jolly Anglers I go back to the High Street and as a bus comes along I use my Travelcard to head north to the next district, Palmers Green (N13). This district has only seven pubs most of which are on the main road, Green Lanes. The one I try is the first one, the Occasional Half which is an Ambishus pub. The pub has loud music, televisions blaring and DJs and stag nights are advertised. Only one beer is on, Courage Best at a special promotional price of 99p. I have a pint which is OK but if I lived here I doubt if I would even have an occasional half. According to the guide there is a Wetherspoon pub, the Whole Hog, in Green Lanes although that may have gone the same way. The two pubs off Green Lanes are listed in the guide as being unspoilt although that may be out of date by now. They are the Bird in Hand in Totenhall Road at the south end of the district and the Woodman in Bourne Hill on the northern border with Winchmore Hill.

Winchmore Hill (N21) is the next district I try and will be the last one for the day. Alighting from the bus near the station I check the times for the trains back to Central London and then use the guide to choose a pub. From the descriptions given the Dog and Duck in Hoppers Road, a five minute walk away, appears to be the best. It is a small pub with three beers on and I have a pint of Tetley bitter which I find uninspiring.

As I have a free day during the next week I decide to visit an old favourite, the Anchor and Hope in Clapton (E5). This is a small basic one bar pub on the River Lea towpath with little in the way of facilities apart from excellent Fullers London Pride and ESB and I have a pint of the latter. With bare lino floors, no food and only terrestrial TV the pub is a through back to what pubs were like thirty or forty years ago, apart from the prices. The landlord Les Heath has been the tenant here many years and was awarded the M.B.E. for services to the community. As mentioned in recent London Drinkers there are rumours of his impending retirement and closure of the pub. Les was not around when I called and the barmaid was non committal about the pubs future.

If you have never been to the Anchor and Hope, or even if you have, I would recommend you pay a visit soon in case the rumours are true this time. On leaving the Anchor and Hope I walk half a mile down the towpath to Lea Bridge Road and turn left at the Princess of Wales. This is a Youngs pub formally known as the Prince of Wales and is well worth a visit..

Carrying on down the Lea Bridge Road for just over a mile brings me to the southern part of Walthamstow (E17) and the Village. This is a free house in Orford Street in Walthamstow village. Four real ales are on and I have a pint of Butcombe bitter. The other beers on are Adnams, Greene King IPA and Youngs Ordinary. The pub has a snug and a small garden at the back, a bar billiards table and the days newspapers are provided. There are also posters up advertising a local festival in July.

Heading back south into Leyton (E10) I choose the last pub of the day, the William IV in the High Street. The last time I was in here was during the 1990 World Cup when it was a keg pub full of lager louts booing the Dutch national anthem. Since then it has been transformed into a spacious airy free house with six real ales on and I have an excellent pint of Woodforde Wherry, a fruity bitter. The other beers include London Pride and ESB and Ash Vine. Like the Village the days newspapers and local newsletters are provided and both pubs manage to be both an interesting free house and a community local. Close to the William is the Drum, a Wetherspoon pub.

This completes the eleven pubs for May. To date I have done forty-three pubs and tried thirty-three different beers.

Back to Index