What’s the hallmark of an authentic East End pub?
This month Ben Locker props up the bar in The Kingsland to find out.
“Me mother was a Swan,” said a Cork voice behind me at the bar in The Kingsland (37 Kingsland High Street, E8 2JS). I looked round, but I couldn’t pick out any more of the dialogue from the group of Irishmen who, like most people I’ve ever seen in Cork bars, were drinking lager rather than stout.
I was of course waiting for a pint of Guinness. Besides, when I’m drinking, I prefer to pretend I’m Scottish, not Irish (unless I’m in Scotland, of course, where people understand my Fenland dourness in the same way they appreciate a bottle of Buckfast wrapped up in a copy of the Sunday Post).
That’s the thing about The Kingsland. It’s ever so familiar, yet melded together in a slightly different way than what I’m used to.
Sure, it’s friendly enough. The Guinness is good, and reminds me of the stuff I used to get in Edinburgh’s Scruffy Murphy’s, when its Dublin-brewed stout was a selling point. The pork scratchings are of the exact same brand I used to eat in the Mirrlees Blackstone factory club, where I drank Abbot Ale at 90-odd pence per pint and watched ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ whilst thinking John Sessions was funny and Josie Lawrence tried. Too. Hard.
And the Kingsland’s got the right smell. I’m not sure what it is, but it first hit me in a pub in Aberdeen, just up near King’s College. Which in turn reminded of the barber’s shop I used to go to when I was eight – the one where I’d ask for a parting and come out with a bowl.
But best of all, The Kingsland loves its punters. You’ll see notices inviting you to mourn or celebrate with the locals, near or departed. You’ll hear talk that doesn’t concern you, but is musical to listen to. And when you drink your stout, and you head to the quieter part of the pub, you’ll look at the sleeping man in the corner and think to yourself:
“I remember Mrs Swan. Surely it can’t have been the same one?”