The Carpenters Arms, Bethnal Green, E2

That the landlord spotted immediately my beer was the last from the barrel and didn’t even allow me to try it speaks volumes. I am in a pub. One that knows its chops. Sure, the décor of a hundred copycat establishments is out and proud. Farrow & Ball shareholders will doubtless delight. But something about the coat hooks at the bar and the curfew curtain at the entrance and the uniformity and stability of the tables says proper, solid boozer. It’s new/old, but in a way, it’s respected some basic rules, which lends the place more authenticity than can be levelled at many similar pubs in the area. Here, I feel more than comfortable entrusting my belongings to the watchful eyes of fellow drinkers. They are more real; more human than the voids who populate this pub’s pretenders.

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And this gaff has East End history in barrel loads, though it’s as murky as the pint I was first served. The Kray twins bought the place for their mum back in the 60s and it’s rumoured they built the bar top out of coffin lids, though how much truth there is in that is anyone’s guess. The contentious counter is all that remains of the former gangsters’ haunt and in all honesty there’s very little left – in the pub and the local area – that serves as a reminder of its grim, not-too-distant past. Probably for the best, really.

Speaking of best, if you’re after a couple of decent pints in this area, you’ll struggle to find a more accommodating place. It’s friendly, relaxing, unthreatening, cosy on a cold winter’s evening and rarely uncomfortably packed. There’s plenty to look at so the lone drinker isn’t damned to glare at their phone all evening, there’s a back room so you can hide from the prying eyes of casual passers-by and there’s a relatively pleasant outdoor space to satisfy the fresh air seekers.

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Yet no matter how much it towers above its peers, I’m about to damn it a little. All is neat, clean, in its place and just so. And that’s not a pub in my eyes. Where are the rough edges? Where the darkened corners in which a weary man can skulk bitterly? Where are those who walk the precarious tightrope between settling in and being thrown out? They are elsewhere. They don’t seem welcome. No subversiveness looks allowed here. All is sanitised. I’m not suggesting a return to its considerably shadier past, but character is bestowed upon a pub not only by the scars it bears but also by those who patronise it and, on recent visits, they seem very much of a particular kind. Not a bad sort; just all of a similar ilk. Which is a shame, because this place, more than any others I’ve noticed in this area, could be the one that bridges the divide. The Stone Roses or Happy Mondays of the boozer world that achieves the crossover between great beer and genuine pubbiness. So, so close. Perhaps it just needs a bit more time.

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