The Timeless Appeal of a Proper Local

When I was but a scamp I remember countless tales describing how communities used to be; half of the street having your spare door key, first name terms with the milkman, meals together at the dinner table without distractions - the typical anecdotes about the good ol’ days that modern society simply couldn’t compare with. And there was always another important feature that popped up, that synonymous establishment - your local boozer.   

Patrons of The Crown public house, on Blackfriars Road, London. 1947

Patrons of The Crown public house, on Blackfriars Road, London. 1947

Growing up in South London Suburbia and I always found these stories intriguing because my parents weren’t big drinkers and the pubs in the area were lacking in anything that could be described as ‘atmosphere’. So what was it that had changed?  What powers did these mythical houses of solidarity possess to entice such devotion? The answer to this alluded me until fairly recently...

Before we get on that though it’s important to mention that the British pub industry has been through testing times since Grandad Pat’s heyday. It’s estimated that 1 in 3 pubs across the UK have closed since the 1970’s, a fall which can be attributed to a multitude of factors like an increase on alcohol duties, cultural attitudes towards booze and cigarettes, smaller independents being priced out by harsh business rates - it’s a long list. And whilst London seems to be immune to so many of the nation’s plights, last year the BBC reported that the Big Smoke has lost 1,200 pubs in the last 15 years alone!

W - The - F!?  This came as a surprise and the reason for my disbelief was due to Hackney, where I’ve lived for a decade, being the only borough where openings have increased. There’s an abundance of excellent pubs within the Mare Street catchment ranging from real ale specialists (The Cock Tavern) to vegan-only menu’s (The Spread Eagle) to Michelin-starred kitchens (The Marksmen). Most of them following the well-tested theme of being a building with fascinating heritage renovated & rejuvenated by passionate young publicans who understand their Millennial clientele’s want for newstuffthatlooksolddonewell. But its not only  Gen. G(entrification) - my parents proudly boast to friends about the flourishing East End drinking holes they’ve visited being “how pubs used to be!”.

The Spread Eagle, Homerton High Street, Hackney. Refurbed and fully vegan. 2018

The Spread Eagle, Homerton High Street, Hackney. Refurbed and fully vegan. 2018

Having this meze of haunts to choose from bring us back to the question of what makes a great local, one that you’re loyal to, take pride in recommending and visit above the rest? A prime example is close to home for me, literally. The Chesham Arms on my road was having its sign re-painted the day we moved into our house and it’s been an intimate relationship ever since. If you haven’t been, go. An 150-year-old building that became a ‘community asset’ in 2013 after being saved by its locals from the council selling it off to developers. Leaving it’s local beer options, sun-trapped garden, eardrum-massaging music selection & winter fireplace to one side for a sec, it has an environment that epitomises what I was told all those years ago. There’s no secret hi-tech POS systems guiding bar staff on what my favourite drink is, and that doesn’t matter. They recognise you, have a friendly chat and keep it simple. Aside from a few sausage rolls there’s no food on offer and, thanks to an inspired agreement with Yard Sale (pizza, Clapton), and that doesn’t matter either. The freedom to order your favourite slice straight to your table makes the place seem more and more like sitting in your own living room.

The Chesham Arms, Mehetabal Road, Hackney. Under new management

The Chesham Arms, Mehetabal Road, Hackney. Under new management

It’s a hard thing to put your finger on but as soon as you walk through the door you feel comfortable, be it as a group on a fully-fuelled Saturday or riding solo with a book on a Tuesday night. The more I think about it, the reason for this is obvious - it’s somewhere run by passionate people that don’t try to be anything they’re not. A mindset that each and every customer absorbs.

I think the best pubs have an incredible ability to make punters feel secure, at home and able to forget about what’s outside.  Thanks to The Chesh I’m starting to understand what Big Pat was talking about and I think he’d happily hang his tankard up in his grandson’s local, happy to see the most beloved of British traditions still going strong.

 Here at Déjà Vu we’re constantly questioning loyalty and what makes a regular haunt good enough for Londoners to be loyal to. Let’s continue the conversation with #unlocksomethingdifferent and #dejavuloyalty over on our Twitter and Instagram pages.

Jack Donovan