Beer and Loathing
Craft beer Company, Clerkenwell.
Doesn’t sound like a pub, sounds more like a factory. But it is a pub; it’s the new venture from the people behind the famous ‘Cask Pub and Kitchen’ in Pimlico and as such has loads of different beers on. Loads. It is in a part of London I had, up until this point, never been to before but I’m glad I have, because now I know where that scene with all the Jewish jewellers at the beginning of Snatch was set.
Yeah, Clerkenwell is weird. Not because of the ethnicity of many of the local shopkeeps, I’m no anti-semite. That large brimmed hat and long black coat vibe they rock all year round is timeless. I have big love for people who stay true to one look regardless of what the rest of the fashion world are doing. They do tend to get super pissed off when the vicious trend cycle makes another pass through and suddenly everybody is dressing like them again, though. Remember how pissed off true skins got after This Is England came out and every 18 year old in Britain started wearing braces and acid wash jeans? Well you can multiply that grief by about ten when some film about Orthodox Jews being all anti-establishment and cool comes out and all the kids start instantly dressing like them. There’ll be blood on the streets. But yeah, Clerkenwell is weird because it is apparently London’s jewellery district? I didn’t know we had need for a jewellery district. They don’t do a very good job of advertising themselves as the jewellery district, do they? If I was going to buy some jewels my first thought would not be “Fuck. Best get to Clerkenwell now.” Judging from all the ‘To Let’ signs this lack of self-promotion isn’t doing any of the hundreds of jewellery shops all vying for custom any favours. Also, the recession means that wearing shit as ostentatious as jewellery has just become socially obscene. People get their jewellery from Primark now, Clerkenwell. I’m sorry.
It is quite odd that they chose this area to start a specialist beer pub then, but judging by the amount of suits that were sitting dejectedly on bar stools we must still be near enough to the city to attract the financial class beer lover crowd (that’s a type of crowd now). There were about three of them when I entered, alone, at 3pm on a Monday. They were all sitting alone too. And it was deathly silent. Nigh on the moment I got to the bar my phone rang. It was a charity that I had previously donated to trying to get me to sign up to donating more money, on a regular basis. I am shit at fighting these dudes off. But even more so when I am in a silent pub with three guys and a bartender all staring at me intently, listening to my every word. I managed to convince the lovely fundraiser on the other end of the phone that I was a penniless student “I just can’t commit to anything at the moment, man. When I have a solid job I promise I’ll call you back” but only after he had told me, in depth, about how horrible it was to die of cancer, alone and unloved.
So, properly negged out by cancer stories and slightly embarassed by having an entire pub listen to me claim I was too poor to cough up £3 a month, I re-approached the bar, opened a tab, and got one of their most expensive pints. Instantly forgetting that the bartender had just heard me bemoaning my complete lack of currency. He must’ve thought I was such a cunt.
I had a nice, unremarkable time reading my book in the corner, getting up every ten minutes or so to get another half pint of something I hadn’t seen before and have a quick chat to the bartender about what he would suggest. The clientele stayed fairly solidly suity and boring. The only person of note for most of my visit was this drunk American man propping up the bar and starting a conversation with you every time you got near him about how impressed he was that England had good coffee and good beer and kept repeating “I’m on holiday, y’know.” Wicked, mate. I gathered that from your accent and the fact that you have apparently dressed to cross the antarctic.
This review would probably end there (or with some tedious list of which beers I rated, complete with carefully compiled tasting notes you don’t give a fuck about) were it not for a troupe of my age-ish kids who came in and sat directly behind me. From what I could eavesdrop they were in a band and were discussing their next gigs and a single release. As everybody does when you hear people discussing their band but you can’t see them to pass judgement on whether they are cool enough to be a band, I instantly assumed they were probably a shit metal cover band and that this ‘single’ they were going to release was nothing but a CD they had burned off their laptops that was to be ‘released’ by hand at one of their ‘gigs’ at the back of a pub in Bromley. However when I heard them discussing whether to play their next show at the Old Blue Last or the Shacklewell Arms my suspicions that they might be a band I had actually heard of were duly aroused. And when I then heard them discussing their upcoming US tour I stopped reading my book entirely and just stared blankly into it whilst I actually put the entirety of my focus into eavesdropping. I had to text a few people who actually know something about music with snippets of convo I had picked up just to be sure but I am like 90% certain that the band sitting behind me was O Children. I am too musically clueless to really know who they are or to be starstruck, but when we had some friends from Eastern Europe come to visit, one of the main events in their three day London itinerary was to go see O Children so I knew they must be quite big. I adjusted the dial on the Hipst-o-meter accordingly.
O Children were there. People tell me they’re cool.
As we have previously ascertained I know nothing about the area I was wandering about slack jawed before stumbling upon the pub. Looks a bit grimy and rundown, but it’s in central so it’s actually more difficult to avoid boarding modes of transport out of the area than it is just bowing to the inevitable and going somewhere nicer. There were lots of windy little ye olde London streets here and there that could house any number of interesting shops and boozers though. So maybe I am just not giving Clerkenwell the proper going over she deserves.
Blah blah blah considering how rare the beers you’re drinking here are it’s actualy very reasonable blah blah blah. You’ve heard me spout all this crap before. The raw facts are that I sat in the pub for a solid three hours putting away halves, reading and eavesdropping on NME fodder yet only paid £20 for the privilege. I reckon that’s alright.
Not great, man. The whole silent as the grave buzz they’ve got going on here really doesn’t work for me. It made every conversation that was had in the pub a slightly cringe one. Especially when I played “show off to the barman about how much you know about beer” or the even more embarassing game of “palm off the drunk American that keeps talking to you without looking like too much of a rude cunt in front of every other person in here.” I reckon a bit of mood music wouldn’t go amiss. Silence isn’t golden. It’s awkward.
The Crosse Keys, The City of London
Say what you like about Wetherspoons but they do manage to acquire some pretty fucking awesome places to turn into pubs. I used to think the old cinema in Forest Hill was the raddest ‘spoons but now I think it’s this chap that wins the crown for grandest bastard I have ever drunk a beer in.
The pub consists of one gigantic high ceiling-ed entrance hall with a little circular bar in the middle of it. It smacks of the majesty of the British empire at its height, when all architecture was designed primarily to scare foreigners. For a while (basically, until I found the little plaque telling you what the pub used to be that exists in every ‘spoons) I thought that the building was originally built to house some sort of racist stock exchange or something. This vague train of thought was sparked by the statue at the back of the room of three little Chinese boys wearing the most Chinese hats doing clichéd Chinese things on a clock. Turns out it was built to be the London headquarters of the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation or, as your acronym addled mind is likely to know it as, HSBC. So in a way, yeah, a racist stock exchange or something.
The pub prides itself on having bare ales on tap. Like 30 or something (including a racist anti-EU ale.) They even have a little TV screen above the bar listing what they have. This is all lovely but the fact of the matter is that unless you know a particular ale because you have had it before, the drinking game you are forcing us all to play by having 30 different ales from tiny microbreweries listed up there is ‘Alcoholic Lucky Dip’. A lucky dip where you base your decision entirely on the name of the ale/the picture on the pump. Fair enough, there are often encoded suggestions to what the ale itself will be like in these names and pictures. For example an ale called “Nightmare” with a picture of a horse’s skull on a black background is likely to be a dark affair, whereas a beer called “Tiny bloody elfen times in the woods with your pixie m8s” with a picture of golden woodland creatures surrounded by hops and sunshine is probably going to be very light and hoppy. Unfortunately there is, more often than not, a huge middle ground where you can’t actually work it out. For example, one of my pubm8z was won over by a tap front of a stag looking majestic as fuck on a rock somewhere underneath a tagline “the most golden ale ever. watch out. fuck” and I’ve forgotten what the ale was called but let’s go with “Golden Stag.” First of all. Gold isn’t a taste. It’s a colour. So he was taking his life in his hands from the off as far as I’m concerned. And the stag doesn’t connote anything other than power and maybe pride. And you can’t taste pride. Or power.
Anyway, It was jank.
It tasted foul and smelled fouler. The odour that we decided upon was ‘memory of poo’. Like, not actual faeces but rather the suggestion that faeces had been in the room at some point in the recent past. The sort of stench that goes hand in hand with a pre-warmed loo seat. Not a bouquet that you really want greeting you before you take a swig of yellow liquid.
Although the game of real-ale-ette (imagine if saying that actually sounded like Roulette, that would be the best pun ever, pretend it does) was great and all, the best bit about this place was definitely just walking about gawping at all the splendour. So much splendour, man. There’s just so much to look at that even going to the toilets was something to be excited about because they were so impressive. If you went to the back of the building there were two little wooden panelled rooms that probably used to be offices but now held a couple of tables. We came upon them whilst exploring and I looked in one and a pubm8 looked in the other. Mine had some old suits in it (everyone except us in The Cross Keys was a suit) and they looked up as I stuck my head in round the door. “What was in yours?” asked pubpal “Some old dudes drinking ale, what about yours?” I replied.
“Some men having a business meeting or something” quoth he.
“Really? In a spoons? A business meeting? What were they doing?” quoth I.
“Like, all round this table talking”
“Hmmm. Not sure that was a business meeting, mate. Sounds like it might have just been some men going to the pub”
“Whatever, when I went in it was awkard they all looked at me.”
“Yeah so did the men in mine, let’s not sit in there”
As per usual in weird places where I see nothing but suits I am going to have to say that we could feasibly see east kids in here but I didn’t see any. I saw some men that looked like they might be games designers or something? They could have just been well groomed backpackers. I don’t know if that counts. They looked like they smoked weed. Or at least had at some point. They had jobs now, I think. One of them had a Blackberry.
The walk to and from the pub may have been the best bit of the whole experience. I love the City of London. Skyscrapers are so rad that you actually say the word rad without even knowing you did it. Like a tick. We had a good old look at the inside out Lloyds building on our way there and had a serious group discussion about the potential ramifications about running up one of the unguarded stairwells to the top of the building. Didn’t do it in the end, though. Did get super hyped about the new cheesegrater building, though. And we looked at the Gherkin again. There were some policemen there with guns. Then I went home. By Jack aged 23 1/2.
£2.80 on all guest ales is bloody good considering what part of London we’re in. Looks quite pricy if you’re buying anything else in there though. The only thing I can remember off the top of my head is the grapefruit vodka at like £3.80 a shot. Probably shouldn’t be drinking that anyway, though. People will start to talk.
People were admittedly having a good time in the sickest room ever but the pub was lacking in presentation. My housemate came in breifly to get some keys off me (in The Crosse Keys! no way! Fate, right?) and upon being pressed for her immediate impression of the place she said that it was “very bright and horrid.” Which was really fair. I realise Wetherspoons go for the whole unpretentious I-am-a-man-and-I-drink-beer-and-low-lighting-is-for-poofs vibe but it was like being on the factory floor of a manufacturing plant that made something that you needed to see really well in order to make and not kill anyone. I don’t know what. Grenades maybe. It was as bright as the factory floor of a grenade factory. This analogy is strained. See you next week.
Do you have any god awful pubs in mind for Jack to go to at some point in the future? If you do please harass him on twitter @beerandloathinz