If a pub has ever reflected (or even merely followed) the fortunes of an area, none can have done so more accurately than The Axe.
Once a dreadful Watney’s hole with toilet tiles for an exterior, it caught the mood of European integration in the early 1990s and became Jan’s, a Belgian beer pub that, curiously, always smelled of detergent. But this corner of London has moved on since those hope-filled, heady days. N16 is now a fully paid-up member of the ‘rich/poor gap widening society’, rubbing shoulders with such boroughs as Wandsworth and Kensington & Chelsea. Can’t be long before some kind of social strata brush sweeps away the down-at-heel and all the low-rent businesses that service their needs.
This place is in no danger. Someone has gambled a lot of money my social cleansing scenario will play out soon if the décor is any kind of barometer. The same people who bet correctly that already affluent Islington needed the Earl of Essex and Bethnal Green borders was short of a poseurs paradise such as the King’s Arms. They have yet to fail to collect on those wagers.
Here, we have a similar formula: expensive wooden floors and benchwork, typeset beer boards no pumpclips, a lot of Farrow & Ball paintwork – the kind that makes you think it’s always twilight no matter what time of day it is. Honestly, the place is immaculate. If my flat were half as nice, I’d never leave.
This is upmarket boozing par excellence. And the attention to detail is really impressive, not just in the beer selection (which is terrific), but also in the touches such as coat hooks, houseplants and high-end beer bottles for vases. It’s even got a Kilner jar of dog biscuits and some half-pint glasses filled with crayons for the kids – especially useful for the inevitable invasion of new-mum coffee mornings that cant be far off.
Look, this is a great place to drink, despite the noise of the Stoke Newington one way system that competes gamely with the not-at-all-bad piped music. I could easily waste an entire afternoon here working my way through its impressive beer list. I like its tastefully lived-in outdoor area. It’s not even that pricey.
But it doesn’t feel like a place in which you could encounter all of life. Certainly not that which would have enjoyed its appeal when Watney’s ruled the roost.