The King’s Arms, Bethnal Green, E2

No pump clips. I get it; I really do. It says exclusive and begs an au fait drinker. Or one who doesn’t care. More dark green paint, more tiles, more stripped wooden flooring, more uneven chairs and tables that rock. Whoever the interior designer is who has cornered this market, I salute them and their sheer neck to have managed to flog the same look to so many blithely gullible ‘craft’ publicans desperate to convince their oh-so-hip clientele they have attained that to which they aspire. This has ‘craft’ etched in every finely sculpted nook and cranny imaginable. And it’s ugly.


Ian Nairn dubbed the ubiquitous architecture and halfwitted planning that blighted post-war towns ‘subtopia’. This is pubtopia. An identikit checklist of features so desperately trying to be original it fails to spot how prostrate to homogeneity it really is. I’m moved to buy shares in Farrow & Ball, whose dark green paint dulls the life out of so many other similar pubs, to in some way offset how mundane this visual assault has become. Yes, the beer is incredible and not horrifically priced; and no wonder. The owners of this place also run the fantastic Earl of Essex in Islington. But where that place hauls itself out of the moribund morass of artisanesque, the King’s Arms fails to grasp its bootstraps and plods lumpen into a bubbling, tastefully decorated and criminally ironic cesspool of arriviste East End caricature. The case for the prosecution? Dire Straits on the stereo and a 1960s grocer’s bacon slicer behind the bar.


On the face of it, there’s much to commend. But only to those who never took heed of The Stranglers’ advice to watch out for the skin deep. Because there is more falsehood, deception and flat-out dishonesty about this pub than you would find in a Vote Leave campaign. I’d like to ask fellow patrons to look after my coat while I make use of the conveniences, but none appear trustworthy. All are either ploughing their own unoriginal furrows of alt-beauty by wearing deliberately mismatched clothing or just so ridiculously good looking they seem to have stumbled in from a look-book shoot. You feel like they’ve never had to lift a finger or show the remotest concern in their evidently short lives. On this visit, my immediate neighbour – or rather, the louder of the two – brays like a silver spoon-fed, Burberry-clad donkey having its ears pulled off by a howler monkey with a megaphone. An awful, pitiful and fucking loud specimen I am doubly shocked to witness is deemed halfway attractive by his companion. I will never understand.


And that bewilderment becomes ever more acute in outlets such as this. It’s desperate. Barren. Devoid of anything approaching what might generously be termed character. The staff are nice enough, but if this is the arena in which beer is now to be taken, it can whistle. There is nothing – not even the great beer selection – that can salvage this pub from the approaching shake-down’s wrecking ball unless it pulls its head out from up its arse. If ever there was a potentially great boozer groaning under the weight of its customers’ sense of identity, this is it. Should it one day be turned into luxury flats – as on this showing it surely will – I’ll be overcome with relative indifference.

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