Tuesday, 27 April 2010

The Pride of Spitalfields, Shoreditch

It’s funny how busy you can get doing the drinking thing. The sharp-eyed amongst you will have noticed that I’ve been moonlighting recently as an online bar reviewer for Here is the City News. This has required me to become more ‘professional’ in my approach and cut down on the character driven reviews on this site that millions of people have yet to see. I’ll let you judge how successful I have been.
Nevertheless my private drinking adventures continue, most recently at the Pride of Spitalfields where the Northerner and I were joined by Derby County and the Dane for an afternoon tipple.
The Pride is a pub that takes you back to a different time and place – jellied eels, barrow boys and a good old fashioned knees-up. This pub is Chas and Dave to the Ten Bells LCD Soundsystem or Shoreditch House’s Kasabian.
Apparently it’s a Fullers pub and this is reflected in the relatively standard offering of drinks where Corona is classified as an exotic lager, and wine is for the brave. Or those people with a less sophisticated palate. But before I climb to high on my pretentious Shoreditch bar white horse, I should add that the place is a nice little boozer. The two small front bars are cosy. The bar staff are very friendly and efficient, and the locals certainly more earthy then you normal Shoreditch drinking den. Oddly given its proximity to Brick Lane it’s not very multicultural. Nor would you mistake it in any way for being fashionable. Nevertheless if you want a cosy conversation over a pint or four, this is as good a place as any.
One final word. The first time I came here I was accosted by some old gent at the bar who took pleasure in telling me that the only people who drank there were ‘coppers or gays.’ As I eyed him wearily trying to work out what, if any category he could fit into he got to his point.
‘And you’re clearly not a copper.’ Who says London isn’t still full of characters.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Brew Wharf, Borough Market

It was not so long ago that any London pub which specialised in ales and bitters tended to be frequented by people of a more 'earthy' nature. Criminals, in other words.
However, on the back of a loose association with the organic movement, real ales have made inroads with the type of drinker who more recently would have been necking European lagers or champagne. Often at the same time.

One place trying to help ale make that leap from being socially acceptable in pubs to fashionable in bars is Brew Wharf in Borough Market.

Brew Wharf is the younger, more boisterous, and less sophisticated sibling of the wine shrine that is Vinopolis. Located in an old Victorian storehouse, this is a big drinking venue with an almost barn-like interior. Exposed brickwork, benches for tables, and stainless steel taps meld together to create the sort of place you might find in Northern Europe. This is probably not a coincidence, as according to the website, Brew Wharf takes its food inspiration from Alsatian food prepared with British ingredients sourced from Borough Market. (One assumes they mean the region rather then the breed of dog.)

However I doubt that the punters - mostly male, mid-thirties, suited and booted - come here for the food. Recognising the needs of its drinkers, Brew Wharf boasts its own microbrewery producing two real ales, and stocks a selection of beers from other breweries, most notable of which are from Meantime in Greenwich. But despite its pretensions (or are they aspirations?), Brew Wharf’s atmosphere is more beer festival then wine tasting. The staff on the night we visited seemed friendly, but harassed. They certainly were not in the mood for offering advice as to which beer might best suit our palates. The decision to allocate half of the available bar space to glass clearance and collection didn’t help, and the resulting scrum in the service section was not for the faint hearted.

Brew Wharf does have a spacious, yet sparse courtyard, which works a treat in the warm weather, and helps to de-clutter the inside bar of impatient City commuters. Yet while you can’t help but admire its ambitions, Brew Wharf has a way to go before it can measure up to its wine-imbibing big sister. Perhaps ales and bitters are best left to the pubs.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Shoreditch House Revisited (as featured in Here is the City News)

If there was a premier league of bars and clubs, then the mighty Soho House group would always be at - or near - the top.
In central London, the original Soho House has successfully usurped the Groucho Club as the media’s favourite watering hole, while out East, its younger sister private members' club, Shoreditch House reigns supreme as the bar destination of choice for the fashionable set.

Located in a former tea warehouse, Shoreditch House is a bigger, brasher version of its West End sibling. The club includes a bowling alley, games room and several private event rooms. However, it is the fifth and sixth floor bars, restaurants and roof terrace where 'the 'ditch' as it's affectionately known by its members, lives up to the hype. The rooftop includes bar, kitchen and lounge (complete with a glass roof that opens in the summer), along with a decked pool area and the most breathtaking views of the City that you can find in London. Down on the fifth floor there is the main dining area and two bars - one lounge style, the other nightclub - all filled to the brim with beautiful people.

With its open-plan, modern warehouse styling and glamorous clientele, you can be forgiven for thinking you're in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, rather than on Bethnal Green Road. Unlike Soho House, there aren't nooks and crannies in which you can hide away from prying eyes, but a night at the 'ditch is all about seeing and being seen. With a high celebrity and beauty count, the place oozes glamour - albeit in a flashy and occasionally overstated way.

But those who criticize the superficiality of the place (and there are plenty, judging by other bar review sites) miss the point, because Shoreditch House a great place to spend a night. It’s not cheap, but you shouldn’t break the bank, and it does have that special buzz that only comes when people feel they are lucky to be part of something. Enjoyment is high on everyone’s agenda, and people are friendly - even if they are mentally scoring and ranking you stylistically while you speak.