If there were ever a cast-iron reason for banning piped music from public houses, this is it. How can such an otherwise exceptional pub as Marylebone’s The Barley Mow allow its gloriously convivial atmosphere to be blighted by the excruciating banality of pre-retirement Phil Collins? Thankfully, that’s the only insult to all that is human you’ll encounter on crossing the threshold of what must be the best Baker Street boozer by a billion miles.
I was on the point of writing there is nothing special about the place, but stopped abruptly on the grounds that’s complete horseshit. There ought to be many, many more examples of pubs like this dotted around central London and further afield. But there aren’t. What will have most pub fans salivating (alongside the beer) are the deftly preserved original historical features – oak panelling, snazzy little private booths (first come, first served), period light fittings. These are all commendable. The beer choice – while nothing spectacular – does the trick. When availability allows, a choice of six cask ales of reasonable quality and some excellent bottled offerings should be enough to satisfy all but the most faddy drinkers.
That they haven’t seen fit to piss-ball about with the décor has much to recommend its management too. Especially when you see the half original wooden floor (probably from the 50s or 60s) butted up to a brass stopper and simple, burgundy leaf-patterned carpet. You don’t see that kind of quality carpet fitting round anywhere near enough horseshoe bars these days either. Available coat hooks and a foot rail perfectly positioned at the bar make you feel they’re actually spoiling you. The beautifully geometrical, curved red signage outside on the corner of what is a building clearly constructed for purpose is remarkable enough to merit a visit by itself.
What elevates this place above many similar joints is that people use it as a pub. Properly. For drinking in. There may be food available, but it’s not shoved down your throat. It’s possible they hold quiz nights and the like, though again, these aren’t overtly publicised. But they sell drinks to people who want them, drink them, then either have another or clear off. With courtesy and a nod to pleasantry, though never overly familiar or intrusive. All terrific qualities.
And the clincher is the sticky door. You really need to give it a good old shove to get in. But caution must be exercised. Go too far and it will stay open, letting in unwelcome cold, fresh air and bringing with it the opprobrium of fellow punters that would befit such a blatant outrage. I only ever knew one other pub like this – the Rose and Crown (now sadly demised) in Clapham Old Town. Its carpet was too long and only regulars knew this, with audible consequences for the newly acquainted. ‘Door’ the unceasing refrain till the unknowing miscreant had retraced their steps and helped the fixture back to its previous, rightfully closed position. Here, a gesture from the staff that encourages pushing harder is all new arrivals receive by way of helpful information. Failure to pick up on the sign means a longer crossing of the threshold than any customer would have envisaged or really want. They’ll know next time.