I don't like Hackney….oh no….. I love it!
I can think of few less attractive propositions than a tube trip across London on the hottest day of the year. But there’s no gain without pain, as the saying goes, and the prospect of a day out drinking in Hackney was definitely worth any suffering.
The most apt way to get to Hackney would surely be a cab, and given Keith’s uncanny ability to scupper public transport, it might well have been advisable. It seems like none of TFL’s staff had turned up for work on this particular day, so the overheated tube system’s rolling stock was reduced to a handful of trains, necessitating a much more tortuous – and stifling hot – route to Liverpool Street.
Using the depleted Underground and then the mercifully air-conditioned Overground, we arrived wombling-free at Hackney Downs, and from there it was ten minutes on foot to the delightfully named Bohemia Place, a less delightful-sounding service road between a bus garage and the mainline railway. Have a look on Street View - Bohemia Place appears as a line of lock-up car repair businesses, but since the Google car last visited, it has become a series of bars, breweries, clubs, shops and a vibrant Caribbean street market.
The Hackney Church Brew Co was our first stop, but only because our planned opener, Brew Club, was still padlocked. HCBC occupies two large arches, one of which creates a cavernous drinking establishment, the other is the brewery. There were several pavement tables, which thankfully were in the shade. A printed menu and personal table service is a nice touch, which sounds remarkable, but these days is sadly not the norm. A pint of Drive Me Hazy American IPA (4.8%, fruity tangerine flavours) slaked my incredible thirst, and a lunchtime snack was washed down with half of Heaven Help Me, an Imperial Stout (11.5%, roasted, coffee and quite an alcoholic tang). An excellent start.
Almost next door is The Experiment, a joint venture by Pressure Drop Brewery, from Tottenham, and Verdant Brewery, an old favourite of mine from Cornwall. I plumped for The End is Always Near (6.5%), a Verdant brew described by the brewer as “Danky Fruit. Fruity dank. Ganja, gooseberries, grapefruit goodness. Bit piney. Bit sweaty.” It tasted better than this billing, but we could have driven to Penryn to sample it in its home town in the time it took to get the app to work and for somebody to bring the sweaty ganja beer to our table. There’s a lot to be said for maintaining the human touch. The ordering app has to be the worst pub innovation to come out of these pandemic times.
The kind chap serving at Hackney Church Brew Co had made enquires on our behalf during our visit, and could find no reason for Brew Club to be shut, so a quick recce was organised (it’s about 50 yards), where it was found to be open and trading. We secured tables on the forecourt amidst the throng of people, reggae music sounds and Jamaican food smells. The vibrancy here was fantastic, and people-watching was just as interesting as the beer. Brew Club operates a brewery that you can hire and produce your own beer (in bottles) but also runs a bar next door, outside which we were now very happily entrenched. Eight taps were serving; my choice was Brew by Numbers 05 IPA (6.2%, single-hopped with experimental new season hop HBC 472), promising flavours of creamy coconut and cool mint intermingled with a pronounced vanilla and subtle woody character. Not sure I appreciated all of these sensations, but its thirst-quenching qualities were not in doubt. The Kernel Table Beer was also well-received, less so the Sith Faced Stout which was billed as creamy but was thin and faintly sour.
Our final stop underneath the arches was Deviant and Dandy, approached through the railway arch and past the brewing kit into a sun-drenched and noisy, if not very busy, courtyard. It has a distinctly DIY feel: the beer is served from a shipping container, the seating was benches and trestle tables, some of which were in a modicum of shade under a home-made polycarbonate canopy. Unfortunately the shaded areas were closest to the booming speakers. A haven from the bustle of Bohemia Place this was not. We stayed for one beer, delayed by app issues again, so we did get to try a D&D beer brewed on the premises, a West Coast IPA called It was a Good Day (5.6%, a good dash of citrus). Not the most memorable beer of the trip, but decent and a very apt name.
We left Bohemia and set off for a few local pubs. The first of these was the Chesham Arms, only a couple of streets away from the carnival atmosphere of the railway arches, but a pleasant calm retreat that at least I was grateful for. There’s something special about classic London pubs like this: in a terrace of houses, the bar in the front room opening out into the street, a few tables out front and a courtyard garden to the rear. On a hot sunny day they are at their best, and it was love at first sight. The garden was packed so we sat inside near the bar, with a choice of three real ales and a few more kegs. Mainly because I had never heard of it, I chose Fastback by 360 Degree Brew Company, another West Coast Pale brewed with Cascade, Centennial, Chinook and Citra hops (5.2%), but the Moor Hoppiness was popular too. In app-free, lean-on-the-bar times, I could spend many happy hours here.
The Hackney Tap was once the Town Hall of Hackney and is so inscribed in the pediment. It was built in 1802 as Hackney village grew to such a size that it needed such a municipal building; when the area was just fields, it was here that the horses used for pulling the nearby city’s hireable carriages were stabled, hence they were known as Hackney carriages. The Town Hall is now elsewhere (home to a very good beer festival), and this grand building has since served as the Midland Bank, and more recently a bookmaker’s shop before becoming a pub. The founder of Tesco, Sir John Cohen, who had a market stall in Hackney before he became a Sir, opened his first bank account here over a hundred years ago, and we deposited a decent sum of money for a round of beers, most of which were pints and halves of another juicy US session Pale, Thornbridge Astryd (3.8%, cask). Again, the welcome here was as warm as the weather, and we’d have loved to stay for a second, but we were suffering from a distinct case of app fatigue, or perhaps app-athy, and anyway, we had a table booking elsewhere to honour.
Our appointment was at the Pembury Tavern, though in hindsight reserving a table probably wasn’t essential, as we were offered the choice of virtually every table in the pub. A wedge-shaped building with a grand entrance at the junction of two major roads, there’s evidence of its former multi-room layout, now sadly opened out into one large room. As a lover of traditional pubs, I think this is a shame, but clearly doesn’t detract from the quality of the beer, or the pizza. The Pembury was hosting a “Beers from the Farm” weekend (UK farmhouse beers), and is also the home of Five Points Brewery, so craft and cask lovers were well catered for. I went for cask as I do given the option; a refreshing pint of the Five Points Pale, quickly followed by another, which is always a sign of contentment.
There’s still plenty more to do in and around Hackney, so I’m sure we’ll be back, plus there’s a few from this crawl I’d happily return to. The railway station to commence the journey home is conveniently just a stone’s throw from the Pembury, and despite the travel problems, we arrived back at Paddington with enough time to wait for our train in the Mad Bishop and Bear. Pints of Hophead all round (at a price) and a toast to an excellent day.
Thanks again to Douglas for the research, and to Keith for the photos.