As I walked down the City Road from Angel station I remembered an old nursery rhyme: ‘up and down the city road, in and out of The Eagle, that’s the way the money goes – pop! Goes the weasel.’ I looked out for a pub called The Eagle but couldn’t see one. The Wenlock Arms is a few minutes walk up Windsor Terrace, which turns into Wenlock Road. It is a tiny glow of energy on the long darkening street: people moving in and out, some standing or sitting on benches outside. I sat on the edge of the pavement with my friend Ruth when we arrived, partly because of lack of space inside, and partly because we like to sit outside. On our right was a small park with a playground, and directly in front across the road was a huge corrugated iron gate. Inside, the bar is a rectangular stretch of beer taps and bartenders, with small circular tables dotted around it. The old pub recently acquired new management who have successfully maintained its reputation for having a vast selection of ales and lagers. But you are allowed to drink other things too, they are very open-minded. At first I didn’t notice the band, a jazz band that plays there every Friday night. Of course I could hear them, but I couldn’t see them, so I pushed past a bunch of people and had a look. All dressed casually in black with straight faces, they weren’t on a stage or roped off but just standing there, as if they were just punters who’d found some instruments and started playing. They reminded me of the band in The Aristocats: I could imagine them picking up their instruments and slowly walking outside – without stopping – and playing their music through the streets. A couple of days later I looked up The Eagle pub to see if it had closed down, but it’s still there, only a couple of streets further down the City Road. But even though Wenlock doesn’t rhyme quite as well as Eagle, I sincerely recommend you going down there on a Friday night to spend your weasel.
© Olivia Hemingway
Time Out rating:
Time Out says
Posted: Fri Jul 29 2011
On an unremarkable backstreet in the Hackney/Islington borders is an old pub with a story. An all-too-familiar story in the world of the urban boozer: developers submit planning application to demolish and replace with residential units. Most of the time this tale has the same ending, and it’s not a happy one for drinkers. The Wenlock was a tap for the nearby brewery of the same name, and poured its first pint in 1836; it closed with its parent company in the 1960s, then reopened in 1994, whereupon it won awards for the quality of its real ale and plaudits for the toastiness of its real fire.
But in 2010 the threats of redevelopment began, with many ups and downs, false dawns and setbacks. Wenlock regulars were more motivated than most, launching campaigns to defend it, but things looked bleak.
However, last year a sympathetic Hackney Council extended a conservation area to safeguard the pub, and a couple of months ago the owners of the Red Lion & Sun in Highgate stepped in and signed a lease. Sleeves were rolled up for a refurbishment which involved a quality paintjob, some new furniture and even more beer fonts. The Wenlock is once again the quintessence of all that is good about pubs – it’s a taproom with minimal decor, minimal food (salt beef sandwiches, own-made scratchings) and brilliant beer. Plus it’s a free house, meaning it can buy from any brewery it chooses. At the moment the cellar holds barrels from Portobello Brewing, Dark Star, and Clarence & Fredericks. Boxes of real cider sit on the bar and a row of keg taps dispense Budvar Yeast, Camden Hells and, to prove the landlord is anything but snobby, Carlsberg.
The Wenlock Arms has risen while so many others like it have fallen, but the fact is that most of our London pubs deserve to survive. I hope it lasts another 177 years, and keeps the older locals happy as well as the craft-beer-loving youngsters. Visit and remind yourself that in a city full of institutions, the London pub is perhaps the best one we’ve got.
Reviewed by Euan Ferguson
Wenlock Arms 26 Wenlock Road