I took a stroll along the River Lee to Springfield Park and ultimately The Axe in Stoke Newington last month. I’d been to see Pressure Drop’s new site, which is located in the same industrial park as Beavertown, and is further testimony to Tottenham’s status as a beer destination. As I sat down with my well-earned pint I realised that this is the third version of the pub I’ve drank in. Now aged 40 and having lived in London for 13 years, it feels like my personal beer journey is mirrored in the evolution of London’s pubs.
When I first visited it was called The Cricketers, and was a typical local’s boozer – a descriptor which is increasingly redundant as gentrification continues to swallow up such pubs. I’d only been a handful of times when it closed and reopened as a Belgian beer bar called Jan’s, and while not yet beholden to beer, I was nonetheless keen to familiarise myself with the relatively exotic range. I was largely thwarted by its irregular hours, however; you were never sure to find Jan’s open no matter the hour of the day or day of the week. The manager was surly by all accounts, and on those rare occasions it was open it was untroubled by custom – whether this was due to his alleged brusqueness or erratic timekeeping I can’t say.
The Axe recently reopened after an extensive refurbishment, and is now part of the Grace Land/Barworks group. It’ll be familiar to anyone who’s been to the King’s Arms in Bethnal Green or The Earl of Essex in Islington. It’s certainly a boon to have a good beer pub in the area besides The Jolly Butchers, the toilets of which have been cursed by the most ungodly of smells for as long as I can remember. I was also a regular at The Jolly Butchers’ previous incarnation, Father Ted’s, another traditional locals’ pub known for its karaoke nights and late weekend licence (this was just before the introduction of 24-hour licensing). There was a real sense of abandon at Father Ted’s, despite the sometimes over-exuberant security – both my friend Javier and I were ‘asked to leave’ on separate occasions, despite us being the epitome of respectability and conviviality. If on a Stoke Newington pub crawl, it was common to see familiar faces from earlier in the evening at Father Ted’s, all looking for one more one more for the road. The good times weren’t to last however, and when one man’s love for The Southampton Arms inspired him to create a pub in its image, the plug was pulled on the karaoke machine for the last time.
I’ve drank in most of Stoke Newington’s pubs over the years, and have at least one worthwhile story from each, but I’m saving those for my memoirs. The Rose and Crown, Ryan’s Bar, the Daniel Defoe (now the Stoke Newington Tea House), The Red Lion and of course The Auld Shillelagh have all changed, some more than others. One Stoke Newington pub that has stubbornly refused to is The Yucatan. When I first moved to the area it was my local in the literal sense, and it was with joy when I first walked through the doors to see Celtic memorabilia adorning every available space, including a window sticker of a young Celtic-supporting boy urinating on the jersey of our erstwhile rivals. It transpired that the pub’s manager was a Dubliner and, like me, a Celtic fan. I henceforth became a regular, with 12pm kick-off times ensuring an extended stay. It was, and is, regarded as dodgy by some, but while it always had an ‘edge’ I always found it welcoming. It also remains the pub with the most ethnically diverse patronage I’ve ever drank in, a phenomenon more common to London’s working class pubs than its more salubrious venues.
I love the variety available to beer drinkers in London, but I also lament the decline of the traditional boozer. This is of course a symptom of the decline of working class communities themselves, victims of the ideology of austerity and so-called gentrification. In a dynamic city such as London and in these politically volatile times, continuity is to be valued. I salute The Yucatan for holding on and continuing to serve its community. If on entering one day I am greeted by a wall of ‘craft keg’ taps, exposed light bulbs in wire cages and an American BBQ menu I’ll be sad, because it won’t just mark the passing of time, it’ll mark the passing of my time.