Monday 24 October 2011

The Southampton Arms, Kentish Town

Until quite recently this was my local pub. It was with some regret that I changed that situation, largely owing to how scandalously expensive the neighbourhood it sits bang in the middle of is. This place is not particularly new, but I figured start with what you know - and there are few drinking holes I know better than this one.

Ale. Cider. Meat. The wonderful sign that I see regularly on the already ridiculous activity of an evening run, which makes it seem all the more unjustifiable that I am outside rather than in. It adorns a small public house just south of Parliament Hill in an ever more affluent region of North London, one in which predictable new ventures spring up weekly to absorb the disposable income of the aspirational locals. But rather than finding one of the new wave of smart, comfortable, and one-size-fits-all gastropubs, you discover a rather spit and sawdust, elementary little drinker’s paradise, under a bridge and on a main road.
        The Southampton Arms has overtly rustic benches that stretch the length of the small bar, in addition to a piano and the all too uncommon pub dog. A real fireplace, more wood, an outside men’s bathroom and a small concrete outdoor seating area continue the impression that this is not a swanky new cocktail bar, but something more elemental, more lasting.

        It has a very local feel for a place that quenches the thirst of many tourists, and long travelled lovers of orchard fruit and hops. The mission statement above the bar is challenging and exclusive – only beer and cider from small independent producers (they claim to be the only London pub doing this). However the heart of the place is very simple – give people decent beer, cider, pub grub and a place to sit, without charging the earth for it, and they will probably have a ruddy good time. And what’s more, come back.
        This approach leaves the bulk of the work to the quality of the products, which is where the pub largely excels. 12 beers on draught, including 2 permanent kegs of the very local and very excellent Camden Town brewery. The remaining 10 cask ales generally covers the brand names in UK craft brewing – Thornbridge, Brewdog, Dark Star and the like, in equal measure with interesting less known offerings that will be new to most casual ale drinkers. 8 Ciders, including some fantastic brutes matured in whisky and brandy barrels continues the artisanal selection, often in addition to a mulled something or other. Beyond this they have wine and spirits and other stuff – but why would you bother?
          Pub snacks best describe the chalkboard of food options, but superior pub snacks certainly. The sausage rolls and pork pies are worth a go, especially if you wish to avail yourself of a few different hoppy treats throughout the evening. This is a really fun place to drink, full of atmosphere and hospitality, while still maintaining a sense of the local and a real public house. There are already several quality pubs within drinking distance, the Bull at Highgate, the Pineapple, the Bull & Last, and when, as we’re promised, Brewdog set up shop in Camden, this section of North London is going to have a pretty impressive pub crawl. And this place might be the best of the lot.       

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