The renaissance of the Great Northern Railway Tavern

I’ve been aware of the Great Northern Railway Tavern (GNRT) in Hornsey for five years or so, introduced to it by my wife Gemma who is a (relatively) longtime resident of the area. As we entered on that first visit its beauty was obvious, albeit the grandeur faded from years of neglect. A Grade II listed boozer, Fuller’s has presided over a wonderful renovation, not only physically and aesthetically but also in terms of the draught beer available and bottle/can menu. As well as the core Fuller’s range, beers from the likes of Beavertown, Brew By Numbers and Tiny Rebel were pouring on my visit, with 14 cask and kegs lines devoted to such laudable guests. To me, this demonstrates that Fuller’s is well aware of the current direction of travel of London’s beer scene. Food is also available with the back area as you enter reserved for dining, and the previously shabby beer garden has also been restored, resplendent with bunting on this fine spring afternoon.

When I visited yesterday it was the grand reopening, and while above plaudits are well deserved, it was that not all of the regular patrons are happy with the new GNRT. The gentrification/regeneration (pink) elephant in the room for beer bloggers was evident; it’s one I’ve attempted to deal with in previous posts, although never in a satisfactory way. Yesterday, as I sat with my beer, an old boy with a walking stick entered, smartly dressed in a shirt and tie, tweed jacket and flat cap. I immediately had him down as an Irishman, and not just because of the pint of stout he was clasping. He looked slightly lost; the pub was busy, busier than I’ve ever seen it, and the one table that was free had a reserved sign. Just as I was about to offer him a seat at my table he took one, and in no time at all an acquaintance came over to say hello. The acquaintance was a Dubliner and while I couldn’t hear what the old boy was saying I got the gist – he was lamenting the lack of Guinness available and giving out (to use an Irish phrase) about the pale (dark) imitation before him. Then on leaving I passed couple on their way in who were being debriefed from a friend of theirs who was just on his way out. ‘So there’s no happy hour anymore?’ they asked, to which he sardonically replied: ‘Yes but it’s £5 a pint’.

I’m at a loss on what to say about the whole ‘gentrification’ issue. Despite being relatively comfortable (albeit I’m not a home/property owner and have no savings) my background is classically working class. However, I understand that good, independently produced beer is more expensive to produce than the pints of Tennent’s I drank in my younger years and I’m happy to pay for it. Even so, the people I referred to above are not only being pushed to the periphery in an economic, cultural and societal sense, they are being literally pushed to the periphery geographically. That’s not Fuller’s responsibility, it’s a fact of 21st-century capitalist society but I’ve never before seen it actually unfold before my eyes in real time, and I don’t know where the patrons of such lost pubs are expected to drink (aside from ‘Spoons). It’s not that the GNRT is overly expensive, to me anyway, but it’s all relative…

As ever I suppose I’ll retreat to my bubble, and despite this earnest diversion to melancholy I genuinely believe Fuller’s has made a significant contribution to the regeneration of Hornsey’s somewhat lacklustre high street. That said, the manager of a nearby tied hostelry was indulging in wishful thinking when he suggested the GNRT may form part of a Hornsey pub crawl – I don’t imagine many drinkers will leave the place once they arrive, unless for the ringing bell.

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