Will Hackney hipsters give the heave-ho to Dalston’s old-style boozer users?

Lauren Johns & her bike at Three Compasses Dalston Lane Lon E8 ©∂å

CHRIS Johnson, manager of the revamped Railway Tavern in St Jude Street N16, tells a story.

“One of the regulars from the pub’s previous incarnation came in, asked for a pint of Stella Artois,” he says.

“I said ‘Sorry, we don’t have Stella. We’ve got Meantime. It’s from Greenwich.’

“‘Nah, mate,’” he said. ‘I don’t want any of that foreign muck.’”

Johnson adds: “We haven’t seen him since.”

The story illustrates the difficulty facing many pubs seeking a new and, they hope, bigger-spending clientele, preferably without losing all the old regulars.

The Railway Tavern (not to be confused with the same-name pub several hundred metres away next to Dalston Kingsland station), is clearly aiming at hip young Dalstoners.

The latest to try to make the same difficult transition is the Three Compasses, a once-rundown building in Dalston Lane near Ridley Road market.

The first clue that there has been a change is the new manageress’s conspicuous placing (with lock) of her pink retro-style bicycle in the pub’s front yard.

Lauren Johns is keeping the original regulars’ favourite John Smith beer, and the darts board, so the locals can continue to use it in their league competitions. The oldest regular is 83 and still drinks at the Compasses, regardless of the DJs and live music that now play there.

New ales, British and foreign, and real lager are being steadily introduced, along with DJs and live music. Once-a-week chess classes have attracted regulars and newcomers.

Johns tells Loving Dalston that the interior and exterior decoration will be changed over time.

A kilometre north of the Compasses is the Shacklewell Arms. It was taken over last year by Tom Baker, of Eat Your Own Ears, which presents Field Day, and Dan Crouch. They run the “Shack” as part of a small chain of pubs and have tried to hold the previous management’s clientele and to keep the pub “a good old local”, with music out the back, instead of little more than a music venue. Real ales and ciders are on tap, as are good eats.

The property boom closed the Norfolk Arms and several other Dalston pubs for conversion to flat blocks and other developments. The future looks a bit grim if you want just a simple boozer.

David Altheer 180112

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4 thoughts on “Will Hackney hipsters give the heave-ho to Dalston’s old-style boozer users?

  1. I hope that’s some kind of ironic comic persona you are commenting with there, King of Dalston.

    Fancy that, eh, locals turning up to a “fete” in the new edgy area and not buying cupcakes or moustache wax… drinking from cans instead of from the “popup” cocktail bar… no money, no honey in this new garden!

    Oh how I despise the term “popup”. Cupcakes, burlesque, popup this n that, shoes with no socks… yawn, yawn…

  2. I don’t think the (new) Railway Tavern has been especially revamped to cater to the influx of hipsters. It’s just started serving good ales. The same thing I used to drink when I started going to pubs 30 years ago. Hipsters might want to drink there because they think it’s a terribly renaissance or chic thing to do, but the bare fact is that with pubs dying, real ales are coming to their rescue. And, unsurprisingly, there are a fair few drinkers in there who had waxed moustaches and muttonchop whiskers first time around.

  3. Hmmm, again, aggrieved locals complaining that they are being forced out of public places, because a number of paying proprietors actually wants to spend money, propping up the local economy while they (the locals) prop up the bar, cradling one pint over the space of an entire afternoon.
    It’s about time that people woke up and realised that nothing comes for free — including fetes and festivals laid on for the community where the “locals” simply turn up with a couple of cans of Tennent’s Super, enjoy the entertainment, hassle everyone and spend nothing.
    Bring on the paying public and the revenue that Dalstonites seem to crave but never deliver!
    Sheeeeesh.

  4. I’m on the fence about whether these sort of places can accommodate differing groups. A (rarely mentioned) truth of Hackney is that it divides along class lines quite viciously. Especially pubs. There are rare examples (of which the Shacklewell Arms was one a few years ago, as was the The Stags Head in Orsman Road), where a happy co-existence continued. But as Dalston has become more of a destination, those mixtures have imploded. The Shacklewell inadvertently helped with that.

    But truth be told there is little incentive for pubs not to change. In these tough economic times, pubs need to find a bigger clientele, The Victoria in Queensbridge Road is trying to balance being a locals’ pub and live venue. I had a similar conversation with the owners, who were adamant that they wouldn’t kill the locals’ culture by letting it be dominated by hipsters.

    I remain sceptical, because of the overwhelming spending power that a hipster brigade can apply when suitably motivated (and drunk) to quietly nudge away the faces that don’t quite ‘fit’. But, I applaud the sentiment it certainly sounds like the Three Compasses wants to be a community pub, and I hope those running it can do it. [I spoke to the people at the Vic for this report, but I wasn’t sure of their relevance. I’ll rethink. — Ed.]

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