A rough guide to London, circa 1967: a weekly look at Len Deighton's London Dossier, a guide to modern London published during the height of the allegedly swinging 60s.
"For me", says Adrian Bailey, who might then have had the beginnings of a problem, "eleven o'clock in the morning is the best time to get the atmosphere of a pub". How so? "You may well have the bar all to yourself". But Adrian clearly loves his pubs, and the ale that flowed within. Because it was predominantly ale that did the flowing back in the 1960s. Proper ale, too — this was just before Watneys and others introduced their universally-despised keg beers. But what about lager? Relax. Adrian reveals that the Bunch of Grapes on Yeomans Row "has Holstein on draught, worth remembering in the summer".
Got that? In 1967, ONE pub in London had lager on tap.
Pubs did seem to specialise a lot. We learn that there were pubs for airline pilots and globe-trotters, for humorists, printers, painters, writers, dockers, actors and lawyers. The Admiral Codrington in Chelsea specialised in whiskies (these days it specialises in charging a small fortune for a beer, then handing you your desultory change on one of those stupid metal trays.) The Cask and Glass at Victoria kept quarter bottles of champagne in an ice-bucket on the bar.
One of the delights of this chapter of Len Deighton's London Dossier is learning how much or how little the pubs you know have altered. Remarkably, the total number doesn't seem to have changed much. There were about 7,000 pubs in London in 1967, which according to some sources is the same number as exists today. And those that were steeped in history are still as steeped today. Perhaps even more steeped.
Ever had a favourite pub themed up? It's not a new phenomenon. Adrian rails against the pub owners and property developers who want to revamp, rebuild, refurbish or just plain demolish the local boozers. He cites the paradox of the Greyhound in Kensington Square, whose Victorian furniture was ripped out during modernisation, while half a mile away a modern pub was renamed the Hansom Cab and given a Victorian theme. Crazy.
In his brief introduction to the chapter, Len Deighton provides advice about London's pubs that is today spectacularly useless. Public bars are always cheaper than lounge and saloon bars; that sort of thing. "If you are looking for the best value in cooked lunches, ask in the public bar. (You'll get) a handful of bent cutlery and an excellent hot, meat-and-two-veg-style, meal. Food served in pubs is subsidised by the breweries."
Next time, Daniel Farson messes about on the Thames.