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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