18/02/2014 at 20:58 | Posted in Crawls | 1 Comment
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In the midst of 2014’s very wet winter, we braved the wind and rain on Valentine’s night for a walk around the Finsbury area of Islington, led by Phil.

Not for the first time we started near Angel, but this time at the Charles Lamb, a delightful and lively corner pub in Elia Street; the pub was named after the author in 2005, as he used to live around the corner in Colebrooke Row. It has a small but excellent range of beers, and we largely went for Windsor & Eton’s Knights of the Garter, with one or two Hopheads thrown in for good measure.

We then headed south and paused at Spa Green to get a glimpse of Saddlers Wells Theatre through the trees, founded by an artesian well in 1683 and a notorious place of “relaxation” soon afterwards.  A place to go if you didn’t have a valentine for the night, perhaps.  But not this particular night!  The curiously named Blacksmith and the Toffeemaker on St John St was next up. Approached from the north it appears to be a smallish corner pub, but in fact it extends along the side road and is very spacious towards the back. A house beer has been seen on the bar before apparently but wasn’t in evidence when we were in, but the Deuchars IPA, Flying Scotsman and Theakstons Black Bull were, and slipped down very nicely.

Continuing south we gazed upwards at the 1968 housing project – the brutalist styled Finsbury Estate – and the extremely high Michael Cliffe House, the site of many suicides in the 70s.  We came next to the Peasant, a large one-room gastropub (quite possibly the 2nd in the UK), with the foodie bit largely confined to an upstairs area, leaving the main bar feeling very much like a decent pub. I went for an American Pale Ale from the Hackney brewery (founded by a couple of guys who worked together at the Charles Lamb and the Eagle, which we come to later), others enjoyed the Bath Ales Barnsey and Two Cocks Roundhead bitter.

cheersThe walk was made a little longer by an explanation in the rain of the Spa Fields area, its role as a weekend “resort” for the less well-off and later where the influential  Spa Fields Riots took place in 1816.  There was also the “boneyard” – the Spa Fields burial ground – built to hold 1,316 but hosting around 80,000 burials curiously commemorated by the local council with a information board. We passed along Exmouth Market to the Wilmington. (We skipped the excellent Exmouth Arms as we’ve visited it on a previous crawl.) The Wilmington is a largish corner pub doing a good trade in Valentine’s meals when we popped in. Five interesting ales were on; I went for a lovely Twickenham Sundancer, while some others went for Trumans Blindside, all served in nice handled glasses.

We paused in Coldbath Square – another site of a well – before making our way to Greene King pub opposite the Royal Mail’s Mount Pleasant sorting office (on the site of Coldbath Prison), the Apple Tree, which was surprisingly quiet with just a few regulars in when we called in, though it’s likely to be much busier after shift changes. Sadly there was no mention of the 18th century strongman Thomas Topham, who was a legendary landlord entertaining his guests with outrageous acts including raising three hogsheads of water using his neck and shoulders.  The beers were decent enough but from the standard GK range, so nothing revolutionary on the taste front. They were very good about the glass I accidentally broke to my horror, when my jacket caught as I squeezed out of the table when we were leaving.

A short stumble through the increasingly menacing winds brought us downhill to the Coach & Horses, a small corner pub, which like the previous stop was fairly empty by the time we arrived, as we were getting close to last orders. I went for a Brentwood BBC2, which at 2.5% was a very good way to slow the pace after five pints, with Doom Bar being the main beer on offer.

Another pause, this time at the site of where Charles I supposedly tasted the latest food craze – a pickled egg – preceded the final stop of the night – the Eagle on Farringdon Road, credited with (or blamed for, depending on your view) starting the gastropub revolution when it was opened in this form in 1991. It was too late in the evening to see it operating in its full glory with the chefs cooking gourmet food behind the bar, but we at least had plenty of room to sit and sup our Hackney Brewery Golden Ales in comfort before heading out into the stormy night for home.

With that, onto the Pub of the Crawl. As I spotted a number 63 approaching as we stood outside we voted for this one by email afterwards rather than reaching a consensus on the night; the vote was split among four of the pubs showing the good range of hostelries visited tonight, but the winner was our meeting point, the Charles Lamb. Congratulations! 

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