Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Hampstead's unique pubs - the heart of a London 'village'

I’ve seen Hampstead, the enclave of the well-heeled in north-west London, described as a “fascinating hill-top village” – in other words a must-see destination like Montmartre. But frankly any tourist on a tight schedule can give it a miss - unless they have a passion for English pubs.
The winding lanes that lead from Hampstead tube station are unusual but the cafés, restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries are of a good standard but not exceptional.
Admittedly its crepes are excellent, but I think the queues in the high street for The Hampstead Creperie stall in the summer reflect the lack of anything better to do on the part of tourists.
There are a handful of small museums in the area but Keats House in Keats Grove, for example, is underwhelming - when it's open.
The outstanding feature is Hampstead Heath itself – a large, mostly undeveloped green space of small hills, woods, and lakes. Perhaps it could do with more gravel paths, toilets, and cafés. But then it would risk losing its unique character. The idea of those who control these things is probably not to become too popular. The burghers only see the workers on bank holidays when fairgrounds come to the Heath.
I absolve Kenwood – to the north of the Heath - and specifically Kenwood House from my jaundiced summary of Hampstead. There is a Rembrandt and a Vermeer among much else in the House to see after which you can treat yourself to a cream tea in the café garden followed by a short stroll to one of the best views over London.
To visit Hampstead without supping at one of its pubs is like eating a boiled egg without salt. The area is redeemed by having a fine selection of pubs within a short distance of each other. Each has its own history and personality. They survived a trend a few years ago which was closing pubs for redevelopment exploiting Hampstead’s high property prices – and are therefore much cherished by locals. Any tour of Hampstead that ended in one of these hostelries would complete a worthwhile itinerary.
Here are just a handful of my favourites in alphabetical order:-
The Flask (14 Flask Walk). This is one of my regular watering holes especially on a Sunday for one of its excellent roasts. It retains its public bar – an unusual feature in today’s pubs.
The Garden Gate (14 South End Road). The pub is within crawling distance of Hampstead Heath but once you've settled in its large garden – the best I know – you are unlikely to want to leave in a hurry.
The Holly Bush (22 Holly Mount). Although close to the tube station this isn’t the easiest pub to find – but well worth the effort. It can trace its origins back to the late 18th century when it started life as a stable.
The Roebuck (15 Pond Street). It is sited opposite the Royal Free Hospital and is popular with medical staff there. It is what I call an honest boozer and is included because it’s the closest to where I live and has never disappointed.
The Spaniards Inn (Spaniards Road) Built in 1585 as a tollgate inn, this pub oozes history from every ancient beam. The highwayman Dick Turpin is said to have stabled his mount Black Bess there

1 comment:

  1. Yes GC, says Jaffa, you seemed to have chosen some of the Hampstead locations that have retained their charm and tradition. Yet overall Hampstead has been spoiled by consumerism and shopping and traffic and parking restrictions. Try Highgate too. A little less commercial, perhaps. I do agree with you regarding the Spaniards Inn. It has to be experienced at least once for its authenticity and its link to the past. It does not seem to have been 'modernised'and so it is a real find for the the seeker of something unique.

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What do you think? GC