Looking for a pint while you wait for your train? This series takes a look at the pubs found in London's mainline stations.
An armed guard stands outside Hamilton Hall. We suspect he's there to patrol Liverpool Street station, rather than specifically defend its main pub. But still, he makes one hell of an intimidating bouncer.
Inside, the atmosphere is scarcely more relaxed. It's a Friday lunchtime, and the place already approaches what might be called a throng. Certainly, there are no tables free.
Well, everyone, by the looks of it. The main contingent seem to be casually dressed travellers, perhaps waiting for the Stansted Express, or embarking on a dirty weekend to Lowestoft.
Close by, a stag party commands the floor. It's going to be a very long weekend for the groom-to-be in the flamenco dress. His compadres are already louder than the rest of the pub combined. It's barely noon.
We get the impression that this is a place oft-frequented by large, raucous groups. It's the favoured Liverpool Street stop for Monopoly pub crawlers, for example. Londonist Flickr contributor psyxjaw snapped these fine fellows a few years back:
What's the vibe?
Hamilton Hall is such a looker of a pub that we scarcely care how noisy it gets. It trades from the former ballroom of the Great Eastern Hotel — one of those massive Victorian railway hotels most remarkably executed at St Pancras. The name comes from Lord Claud Hamilton, erstwhile chairman of the Great Eastern Railway Company.
Golden chandeliers and rococo flourishes adorn this vast, usurped space. In the upper reaches, naked forms writhe from the plasterwork — nothing to do with the stag party.
One corner of the pub is given over entirely to fruit machines. We counted seven. There may be more, but we had to turn away because we'd exceeded our recommended daily allowance of flashing Noel Edmonds faces.
The mezzanine level seems a little more civilised, has its own bar, and is your best bet if you want a food table. You might also try the small side-room on the ground floor, which lacks any real atmosphere but is much quieter. There's also an 'outside' space — the one taken by our bowler-hatted chums above — which abuts onto the station entrance.
How's the beer?
This is a JD Wetherspoon pub, which means three things: no music, no sport and cheap and varied ale. Service is also smart. The bar staff seem able to serve seven customers simultaneously. Hamilton Hall has an impressive 10 cask pumps, with a mix of the familiar and novel. A fridge dedicated to bottles of craft ale adds further depth. Our pint of Gold from Exmoor Ales was well kept, and cost significantly less than the Benugo sandwich we grabbed on the way home.
Strangely for a pub in the Square Mile, we don't spot anybody in a suit. Not one. Well, apart from that silver-haired chap in the photo above... but he's right on the boundary.
It seems that the banker types come here first thing in the morning. Mark Mason, in his wonderful London travelogue Walk The Lines, recounts a conversation with the bar staff about dawn drinking at Hamilton Hall:
A sign behind the bar says that the pub starts serving at 7am.
'That’s for food, obviously,' I say to the guy serving us. 'What time do you start serving alcohol?'
'The same,' comes the reply.
'Really? Who needs a drink that early in the City?' It's not as though this is Smithfield, famous for its early licensing hours on account of the meat market being open all night.
'You'd be surprised. We have regulars in here every day. Suits.'
'Have they been in the office early to catch the markets in the Far East?'
'No, no, they're on their way to work. They'll get the train in from the suburbs and be in here for seven. Between then and nine they'll have four, five pints.'
'Then they go and do a day's work?'
'Oh yeah. They don't get drunk. It just puts them in a happy frame of mind. There's one guy who comes in every day, orders a pint of Strongbow and then drinks it as he walks out. He's finished by the time he gets to the door.'
Which might explain the banking crisis.
Reasons to visit
- Very cheap beer and food
- Excellent beer selection
- Free toilets, versus the 30p charge in the station
- Unique decor
- Lots of space for large groups (if you're part of one)
- You need a drink at 7am
Reasons to avoid
- Lots of space for large groups (if you're not part of one)
- Paranoia from the armed police and surveillance cameras
- Unsuitable for anyone with a Noel Edmonds phobia
Hamilton Hall is readily found at the Bishopsgate entrance to Liverpool Street station.
Get more beery ideas in our Best Pubs in London database.