From the wood panelling (I’d say oak, but I’ve no idea), ornate wallpaper and stripped, solid wood flooring to the beautifully jaundiced mirrors, warming stoves and sign pointing the way to the lavatories, this pub is the kind of place you never knew still existed. And with such an unassuming exterior too; you really do feel like you’re stepping out of the modern world and into another time when you cross the threshold. Whether or not things were better in those days is up for debate (though the ancient pair of regulars who accosted me with fearsome cheese and onion crisp breath on my first visit insisted they were). But if most public houses looked anywhere near as appealing as this one, they were certainly doing something right back then.
The central bar echoes the shape of the outside building and is adorned with brass water dispensers (for whisky), miniature lampposts and a satisfyingly diverse range of handpumps that summon up the Fuller’s staples of London Pride, ESB and Chiswick Bitter alongside a couple of other breweries’ offerings. The whole place exudes an atmosphere of calm reflection and thought. It feels considered. Exact. Just so. As the beer takes hold, you feel the overwhelming desire to spend hours just gazing at the cool attention to details that provide gently diverting fodder for the eyes. But you can’t get too comfortable, the seating is too upright for that. At least downstairs. It could get more uncomfortable were it fuller too and the acoustics are such that you can hear what’s being said clean over the other end of the room. But should the crowds ever descend and breach the relative peace of an early afternoon, there is always the sanctuary of the upstairs theatre bar and library. A word or two on these: I understand things need the odd spruce up over the years, but it could be done more sensitively than applying thick paintbrushes full of wood preserver all over the original panelling and updating the paintwork. A look at how they’ve done this at the Grenadier* before tackling might have helped. Meanwhile, the lavatories are immaculate, save the too-cold hand dryer, but that’s a minor niggle.
What I find fascinating about this place, though, is the look of wonder on newcomers’ faces as they first walk in. I almost certainly cracked the same look. There is such a contrast between what you expect and what meets the eye and greets you on entry. The jovial manager is the pubs perfect foil, at every glance and turn he makes the mood lighter as the lights are lowered. Jolly without being over-familiar, he engages his guests (and that’s exactly what he considers us to be) in friendly badinage without ever outstaying his welcome. He also delights in declaring there is no longer a minimum spend on debit or credit cards – a sure sign a pub treats its customers with due respect. As the pub becomes busier, the noise levels rise, but not disconcertingly. The conversation lilts like the polite applause provoked by a single stolen at Lord’s while sharper sounds are dampened by the increased body count.
*don’t look at much else there, mind.