Then look no further than some of the finest establishments in London, right here on our doorstep in Primrose Hill.
The six venues we still enjoy ‒ The Albert, The Queen’s, The Princess, The Engineer, The Lansdowne and The Pembroke Castle ‒ were all founded around the mid-nineteenth century. They were literally built to be cornerstones of the landscape, as they evolved around the burgeoning railway infrastructure at the Camden Goods Yard.
Our village has seen many changes in 170 years, and our public houses, as ‘mirrors of society’, must have witnessed some of the best and worst of them. It’s fascinating to think that between the six pubs, there is service to the community approaching a combined total of over 1,000 years!
The role of pubs in providing a friendly public space to meet old and new friends may never have come under such pressure as during the pandemic. The businesses themselves have had unimaginable hurdles to jump during the rollercoaster ride of a lifetime, where restrictions and rules have changed at breakneck pace, making planning for trade a formidable science. Our precious pubs and their valued teams have risen to the challenge with gold-medal responses.
As we hope to be emerging from the worst of the bad days, I decided to go on a little pub crawl to speak with some of the people who have kept our ‘locals’ intact throughout.
the tourist trade we would normally expect has dwindled slightly, for obvious reasons; but because people are working from home more than ever before, we are finding that they are using the venue in ways we had not anticipateSam Moss
My first visit was to see Sam Moss, proprietor of The Albert. Sam told me: “Opening The Albert after its six-year closure was fantastic. We were so excited to see all the locals turn up for the launch on 29 October 2020, and thrilled that Andrew Marr came to cut the ribbon. Sadly, just 8 days later the next lockdown came into force. However, we always knew we were in it for the long run, and despite a few stop-starts we are so happy to be finally providing the great community pub we had always envisaged.
“The irony of the current situation is that the tourist trade we would normally expect has dwindled slightly, for obvious reasons; but because people are working from home more than ever before, we are finding that they are using the venue in ways we had not anticipated. Once people start to reconvene in public spaces, we are also looking forward to welcoming back the many local groups who signed up to protect The Albert through the Asset of Community Value: such as the congregation at St Mark’s Church, staff from the Zoo and the sports clubs who play in Regent’s Park.
“Generally we feel very optimistic about the future and are looking forward to seeing all of our lovely customers throughout the autumn in the run-up to what we hope will be a fantastic Christmas!”
Around the corner and up the road to The Queen’s next, for a chat with Fraser Newman who has managed the pub since summer of 2018. Enjoying a prime location directly opposite the park and with views to Primrose Hill from the legendary balcony, this pub oozes PH appeal. Fraser has cleverly ensured that the venue attracts visitors and locals alike.
He commented: “The last 18 months have certainly been unprecedented, but we have worked hard to keep a good service on offer to the community in the circumstances. I think the team has been key to that. People simply like working here and our customers can see and appreciate that.
“The added complication of Brexit on top of the pandemic has caused severe staffing problems within the hospitality industry. There is fierce competition for exemplary talent, both back and front of house, but we have been lucky to hold on to a dedicated group of enthusiastic people who are committed to showing The Queen’s at its best. We all hope that the coming months will prove to be less difficult and that we will be able to continue extending our special welcome to the people of Primrose Hill and beyond!”
Back down the road to the ‘heartland’ of the village, where The Princess beckons. Refurbished in 2015 and boasting street art by someone rather famous in the garden, this pub also has extensive function rooms regularly used for community and private events.
Manager Loni is enthusiastic about a return to pre-Covid times: “The Princess of Wales is delighted to welcome you back as we return to full capacity. We still continue to operate with the highest standards of safety and have taken every precaution to maintain those high standards throughout your visit.”
The Engineer on Gloucester Avenue was my next port of call. An imposing corner building directly adjacent to both the railway lines and the Regent’s Canal, this hostelry has a fantastic walled and heated garden for those who still prefer to do their pubbing outdoors.
Supervisor Andreas Matta told me: “Local people have started to return, cautiously but in increasing numbers, and it is great to see them all again. While nobody can predict what future months will bring, there is clearly a degree of confidence as we are already taking a considerable number of bookings for the festive season.”
Just a couple of minutes up the road I took a break at The Lansdowne, famous for its unfortunate address of Dumpton Place, and its place in history as one of the first ‘gastropubs’ in London, with visits from Harry Styles. The impending facelift of the little street on which the pub is located promises to provide a big improvement to the space outside the pub on the junction with Gloucester Avenue.
Emanuel Delaj was overseeing operations when I visited, and informed me: “It’s lovely that the pub is being supported by the community, and I think it has been a beneficial two-way street for the locals and our staff to finally be able to interact under the safest of conditions. We are taking the most stringent precautions and hope this will encourage people back out to the pubs. After all, if you don’t use it, you lose it.”
Final destination: The Pembroke Castle. Neatly perched on the edge of the iron bridge at the entrance to our little island, this impressive inn is magnificently spacious with grand interior details that remain gilded and adorned as they were in the original interior design scheme. The pub became renowned for its Britpop patrons in the mid 1990s, and a request for an Oasis track or two may still be provided if you ask nicely.
That completes my Primrose Hill pub crawl. I hope that we can all continue to enjoy and support these very special places together in the months and years to come. Cheers!
NB Phil Cowan was not harmed in any way during the writing of this article. In fact all interviews were conducted in the mornings, alcohol-free!