Livin’ la vida local series – The Great Northern Railway Tavern

The third in a series of collaborative posts with my friend, neighbour and Good Beer Hunting writer Matthew Curtis, documenting every public house in the N8 postcode area.

The Great Northern Railway Tavern (GNRT) is a Grade II listed building that opened in 1865 before being rebuilt in 1897. I first visited five years or so ago, before it was my local and when Hornsey was a mystery to me. It’s a resplendent establishment but I observed on that first visit that it was clearly a shadow of its former self, retaining only a suggestion of its erstwhile glory.

It has an area by the bar primarily reserved for drinking, a larger lounge-type area towards the back, a separate dining area and a spacious beer garden. To their credit, current stewards Fuller’s have lovingly restored the GNRT and its grandeur is no longer delusional — it’s fully realised. Where before it was gloomy and forlorn, it’s now bright and welcoming and boasts twenty plus taps (both keg and cask). As well as the usual Fuller’s range you’ll also find the ‘elite of craft’ pouring in the form of Verdant, Northern Monk, Beavertown et al. In fact, using the Untappd app I can view the live menu from home and decide what beer I want prior to arrival (you can also select notifications so that you are alerted each time a new keg goes on). Convenience is king (for the indolent)!

So far, so modern. Which is great, but as I noted when I previously wrote about the GNRT, it’s one in a long line of London pubs that have been similarly ‘re-crafted’, which often heralds an area’s gentrification. It’s no surprise therefor that those on a low income (who haven’t yet been priced out of the area) may opt to drink at home. I am of course conflicted; while this issue troubles me, as a beer enthusiast with a disposable income it’s incredible that I have such an amazing ‘beer destination’ as my local, especially one so well-managed (by  Jess Trerise, who clearly appreciates beer). My bourgeois guilt aside, it’s also good that the GNRT can now enjoy a period of prolonged stability after the uncertainty of the preceding years. Now, where’s my phone — Northern Monk / Fieldwork Travel Notes on keg? Why not. I’ll be there in five.

Below is Matt’s take on the GNRT.

I’ve lived near The Great Northern Railway Tavern for over a decade and for more than half of that it’s been the closest pub to my North London flat. In 2013, my partner Dianne and I hired it to celebrate our 30th birthdays (the party’s theme was Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I assure you it was a hoot). At the time it was a pretty decent pub, then operated by Punch Taverns. The beer selection was never that exciting, but it wasn’t that shit either.

But the pub never seemed to hang on to managers for long, perhaps a symptom of working for the often maligned pubco. As a result, there was rarely time for a proper personality to instil themselves behind the bar — never quite infusing the pub with the character its, quite frankly, beautiful decor, deserved. Its relative spaciousness, intricately curved wooden bar, stained-glass windows and almost “old world” appearance may explain why it was used as a set for Ricky Gervais’ and Stephen Merchant’s 2010 film, Cemetery Junction.

The life of the Great Northern Railway Tavern was to take another turn when it was acquired by Fuller’s in 2016, adding it to its estate of 400 or so pubs — no doubt attracted to this quiet slice of north London by the adjacent housing development nearing completion. It reopened in April 2017 but not in the way I expected. Instead of a traditional Fuller’s pub — which I’ll be honest, I am quite partial to — we instead were treated to 24 keg lines, pouring beers from the latest and greatest craft brewers, along with offerings from Fuller’s itself. And to think I was merely looking forward to regularly enjoying perfectly presented pints of cask ESB on the regular (spoiler: I do).

Coming here after visiting The Wellington and The Toll Gate beforehand somehow felt like coming home. I know the type of pubs I like and this is one of them. To be able to take a seat at a bar and order a schooner of a beer like Wiper and True double IPA merely enhances that feeling. I do worry though that there might even be too much choice here for the relatively quiet Hornsey High Street and, after coming here for nearly a decade, I fret that I still haven’t worked out my favourite place to sit. It’s a spacious pub for sure, but I always feel a little exposed, perhaps by the large windows or lack of nooks or crannies to hide away in with a comforting pint. I like this pub a lot though, and I’d recommend a visit to anyone.

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