The White Hart, Whitechapel, E1

If there were any pub that illustrates what I’m trying to do with this book, this would be it. The White Hart Brew Pub in east London is a fascinating place that displays the qualities I’d seek in a pub without ever being one I’d recommend people drink in. It has everything and nothing. A soulless vacuum filled with all you could desire, this really is an oxymoron with extra morons; a pub without publicness; a house without home. Why you’d want to visit is still making me scratch my head after I last went. It has all you could need and very little you’d cross the road for, but cross a road you must if you want to get to it.

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Whitechapel and Cambridge Heath Roads brush with each other obtrusively; cars and other speeding vehicles abound. But The White Hart occupies a position of prominence on the corner and is an impressive and imposing sight. Only some of the seating outside this place is covered and there are looks of envy from those smoking patrons not protected from the elements. I wonder whether that becomes a source of conflict once drinks have been taken.

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It looks as if few of the frequenters who exit and enter regularly are regulars. In fact The White Hart exudes transience, not only out of the mooing acquiescence of the clientele, but also out of its interior’s steadfast refusal to pin itself down to any period in time.

Columns rub uncomfortable shoulders with Victoriana advertisements and chalkboard modernity. The scourge of open kitchens wreaks extractor fan-lacking havoc on customers’ clothing. Pitiful, half-knowing red lights smudge the overall forced goldness as if paying homage to an overseeing dulling deity. Substantial, sturdy wooden tables share floorspace with tiny, tottering ones surrounded by outsize armchairs and uncomfortable school-canteen rejects.

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And then there’s the people. A confusing mix of those new to the East End and those who know it only too well. All seemingly life-castrated taste-voids who keep the tills ticking over and slump semi-dormant at their incongruous tables and chairs while some eldritch overseer leeches their soft-earned from their willing pockets.

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What do they get in return? Substandard beer served by people who probably wouldn’t change it if you took it back. And, bizarrely, a selection of now-no-longer-brewed-in-the-cellar ales that deserve to be delivered in much better condition. I imagine they were once. But then I imagine this place has a past that far overshadows its current status as one to spend as little time in as possible.

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