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Archive for March 2013

Black Friar shines a white light onto a great pub – one of London’s finest

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In world of the weirdly, weird, this pub is different.

It starts with the outside – the building looks like a mini version of New York’s famed flatiron skyscraper – while part, of the exterior is seriously down at heel, any visitor should take a look up, as above the utilitarian door is an ornate clock and a statue of a jolly monk, which only hints at the drama that lies in wait inside.

From 1880 to 1910 a generation of writers, designers and architects were influenced by the Arts And Crafts movement, which was instigated by artist and socialist William Morris in the 1860s. Using a mediaeval style of decoration it advocated craftsmanship and truth to materials. The style has much in common with its contemporary art nouveau and it played a role in the founding of Bauhaus and modernism.

The narrow end of the pub, somewhat dark pub, assumes a pseudo baronial hall which passes on to a sumptuous and intimate room at the back. Many thought that the Art and Craft movement was somewhat prosaic but the Black Friar is the cure. Friezes in copper, marble and plaster show monks enjoying themselves. One is about to boil and egg, some are singing others collecting fish and eels to eat on meatless days. Above are signs containing aphorisms such as “finery is foolery”; don’t advertise, or tell a gossip”. Other motifs say “haste is slow”, “industry is all” and a “good thing is soon snatched up”.

There are more than 50 different types of marble employed in the building, which with its stylised light fittings, furniture and wood carvings means that it is far more than a just a pub. Its interior is unique, and deserves to be preserved. It is hard to believe that in the 1960s the pub, because of its prime location, faced being demolished and replaced by an anonymous office block.

The pub’s décor is an elaborate fanciful, joke. A sign above the bar suggests that this is the place, where the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the Papal Legate and Henry VIII a met to discuss Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. Perhaps they did, the site of the pub was a Dominican friary between 1279 to the Reformation in 1539 – but such an assignation would have surely made the jolly monks scowl.

The pub’s design might be an elaborate joke, but the beers are not. This busy, bustling pub, run by the excellent Nicholson’s, has a good range of real ales many from the UK’s new wave of imaginative brewers.

The Black Friar

174 Queen Victoria St, EC4V 4EG

Tim Hampson has written about this pub in his books London’s Riverside Pubs and London’s Best Pubs, both published by New Holland.

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March 29, 2013 at 3:47 pm

List your local pub as a communitty asset and it could thwart developers

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Do you think your local pub might be under threat of closure one day?

Well you have a new weapon in your armoury to stop it happening, having it registered as a community asset with your local council.

Listing a pub as a community asset is a simple process, requiring support from just 21 local people on the electoral register. Already, more than 50 pubs in England have been registered as community assets, but there is no reason why it shouldn’t be hundreds. In the Localism Act 2011, an asset of community value is described as a building or a piece of land in either public or private ownership that is considered to have community value if:

  • The main use of the asset is currently or in the recent past furthered the social wellbeing or the cultural, recreation or sporting needs of the local community;
  • This use is realistic and furthers community interests, the things that people value in their lives and contributes to them accomplishing their potential into the future.

Listing pubs as assets of community value is really important – where pubs are listed it enables communities to stop the clock if they’re put up for sale to consider options for saving the pub such as putting a bid together for community ownership and looking for an alternative to a developer turning it into housing or a mini-supermarket.

With 18 pubs closing every week registering a pub is fantastic opportunity. If a pub is accepted by the local authority as a community asset, nothing happens until the owners decide to sell.

It’s easy to do, won’t cost you money and doesn’t commit you to anything – other than giving much support to your community pub.

More information, guidance and support is available for CAMRA members at http://www.camra.org.uk/listyourlocal or contact your local council.


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March 24, 2013 at 3:32 pm

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Norwich City of Ale gets ready for the action

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The organisers of this year’s Norwich City of Ale – 23 May-2 June promise that this year’s event will be bigger and better than last year’s event.

Last year 45 city pubs offered 240 beers from 35 local breweries and hosted 192 events and it is hoped this year’s event will top that.

Now in its third year the festival brings together pubs, local breweries and real ale throughout Norwich city centre and strengthens its reputation as “UK’s City of Ale”.

The whole idea of the festival is not just to get more locals back into pubs but to encourage visitors to walk the winding lanes of this fabulous mediaeval city centre and enjoy the comforts of its pubs and ale culture.

Several pub trails and other events are organised in an extravaganza of pub culture. One of the highlights is expected to be the Brewers’ Market on Millennium Plain at the Forum, on Saturday 25 May with many local brewers offering samples of their craft ales to try and buy.

It’s is a superb initiative, which allows me a moment to reflect on some of city independent minded pubs.

So where to go to drink? First of all, the Vine, Dove Street, part of the medieval patchwork of streets, small in size but big in character. When a beer festival is on the seemingly impossibly small space is even fuller with barrels of beer and people enjoying them. On quieter days try one of its Thai meals. They pair well with some of Oakham’s swilling citrus ales.

On Friday nights the Plough, St Benedicts Street, seems impossibly busy. Who said pubs are dead.  It’s a swirl of conversations and the excellent beers from the Grain brewery. The Blonde, an unfiltered wheat beer is fantastic.

The Gardeners Arms or is it the Murderers, Timberhill? The pub with two names is in the town’s centre. Popular and busy it is a pub for seasons and all people. Phil the landlord orchestrates the action with practised perfection. Noise swirls around the bars, it’s the joyous sound of people enjoying their night out. It is a flurry of nooks and crannies and of course well-kept interesting beers.

Almost in the shadow of the cathedral is the Adam and Eve. Here Adnams beer does the work, where once the labourers who built the cathedral once slaked their thirsts. It is a curiosity of a small, higgledy piggery pub, a living, vibrant organic place.

Closer by is the Wig & Pen, St Martins Place. It not really a far enough walk to work up a thirst, but it helps to have one when you get there. This friendly 17th century pub is ideal for reading papers while sipping on a seductive glass of Adnams Southowld Bitter.

The good pubs just keep coming. Find time for the King’s Head on Magdalen, it’s a treasure trove of the understated values which turn a good pub into something near perfect.

The Ribs of Beef, Wensum Street and Take 5, Tombland are worth spending time in. and if there is time take in the great Ketts Tavern at the bottom of Ketts Hill. A must visit pub has to the Fat Cat, West End Street which is a bit of a way from the city’s centre. But it has set the standards which other have tried to emulate.

The Duke of Wellington, Waterloo Road has bags of character and an excellent choice of beers.

Go to http://cityofale.org.uk for more information on this fabulous celebration of pubs and beer.

Tim Hampson is the author of CAMRA’s 101 Beer Days Out, which is available from the CAMRA shop and all good book retailers, (www.camra.org.uk/shop) priced £12.99 (£10.99 for CAMRA members).

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March 23, 2013 at 11:27 am

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People power sees dramatic cut in beer tax

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A Swedish friend of mine says that in his country that a love child has many names.

The cutting of the beer in the budget http://www2.beerguild.co.uk/?p=3928 is indeed a momentous moment, which many people can rightly claim they have contributed to and claim as theirs.

But for me the biggest contribution was made by ordinary folk, beer drinkers who lobbied Parliament in December last year.

I wrote the following piece for use in What’s Brewing on the day of the lobby, it was my humble attempt to encapsulate the passion of their campaign.

“Remember this day 12/12/2012”, said CAMRA Chief Executive Mike Benner, “when we lobbied more than 300 MPs. You should be very proud.”

They came in their hundreds, from all parts of the United Kingdom. From the north, south, east and west more than 1,200 members journeyed to London to take part in CAMRA’s mass lobby of Parliament.

Some travelled by trains and boats and even one member by plane. South Herts member Ian Boyd had flown into London that morning from Taiwan to see his MP. And 10 coaches bought members from around the country to Emmanuel Hall in Westminster, where activists gathered before walking to Parliament to see their MP.

Some made placards and posters, there were licensees and brewers but most were ordinary CAMRA members, who had taken a day off work, to ensure that MPs get the message loud and clear that over the past 40 years there have been few threats to the UK pub industry as severe as the beer duty escalator.

Parliament witnessed the largest mass lobby in CAMRA’s 40 plus years, as more than 205 members had pre-arranged meetings with their MP and more than 300 MPs met with CAMRA members from their constituency.

One MP said CAMRA had created a real buzz in Parliament and it was the largest and best organised lobby of Parliament he had seen. Even Labour leader Ed Milliband wanted to get in on the act, as his office contacted CAMRA to find out if anyone from his Doncaster North constituency was attending the lobby.

North Oxfordshire branch chairman John Bellinger said the day was the “greatest opportunity, possibly ever, for ordinary people to have a positive effect on the decision makers of this country, to address this ridiculously unfair tax,

And John knows first-hand about the crippling effects of the tax. A former licensee, he used to run the Bell in Adderbury, Oxfordshire until April last year. He says the beer tax escalator contributed to exceptionally high costs making his business unviable.

“The Government needs to recognise the harm this policy is doing to well-run community pubs,” said John.

South Herts member Steve Bury had made arrangements to meet his MP, James Clappison. Steve said: “I know my MP supports the campaign to scrap the beer duty escalator, but I want to ask him to canvass other MPs to get them to support the Early Day Motion (EDM) 703.” The EDM call for a review of the economic and social impact of the beer duty escalator, which should report back to the Treasury before the 2013 Budget.

Rutland branch secretary Jon Whowell had travelled to London that day with three other members of the branch.

“We are only a small branch and I am really pleased with the turnout. I am really impressed by the organisation that has gone into this day,” said Jon.

Alexandra Bardwell came up from West Dorset to see her MP. “He is very supportive, but I wanted to be part of the big noise,” she said.

Reflecting on the undoubted success of the day CAMRA National Chairman Colin Valentine said: “Today is not the end, we must keep putting pressure on MPs, so they keep putting pressure on the Treasury. Let’s not be careful out there, let’s do it to them, before they do it to us.”

And they did it. Not only was the escalator scrapped but beer duty was cut by 1p.

And I am sure like good campaigners, CAMRA will not stop. Laurels are not for resting on. The selling of alcohol at below cost prices by supermarkets needs to be stopped.

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March 20, 2013 at 5:08 pm

Posted in Budget, CAMRA, Uncategorized