Sunday, 15 August 2010

Commercial Tavern Review.

Exterior of the (rather wonderful) Commercial Tavern.

I’m not convinced by Shoreditch’s drinking holes. At the weekend the Old Street end is full of marauding hen and stag nights. The other parts are full of scenesters and then there are the junkies and nasties hanging around to prey on them. Late at night the place has a palpable air of aggression. I also now find the carefully eclectic interiors with ironic bits and pieces annoying. Twenty years ago it was charming but now you can almost produce a list of requirements for bars and pubs of this genre:

A neon sign saying anything (but sadly not C***y like the Colony Rooms)

Gaudy flocked wall paper

Graffiti ‘art’ in the loos

A print of Elvis, Bob Dylan, Dennis Hopper (delete as appropriate)

A lot of crappy old mid century furniture

A couple of mashed old sofas

One really expensive piece of furniture (just so you know they are actually really quite wealthy but are just being sarky)

A glitter ball

Barman in twat hat who calls himself a ‘mixologist’

Vaguely disinterested service

Pleased with itself Indie soundtrack interspersed with old ska and dotted with Lady Gaga or Cheryl Cole (like, we’ve got a sense of humour, ya)

Now I am not a Camraphiliac and prefer a cocktail to a pint but I do think that there are a few things that are essential for a pub or bar to be able to hold it’s head up high in London. Considering the prices and the hype of the trendy East End the bar should be set even higher. The interior should be fit for purpose and appealing and the staff should be interested and efficient. A decent range of wine and well kept draught beers is a good thing as are decent cocktails. These things are basics, desirable extras include a regular friendly clientele and an interesting sociable landlord. Personally I am not too concerned about food, but am satisfied with decent pork pies, scotch eggs or a bag of crisps. East London does however have a couple of good bars and pubs, and one of my favourites which manages to be fashionable, arty and yet still a decent pub is the Commercial Tavern.

I first visited this place on a hot Sunday afternoon a month ago, en route to Soho Shoreditch House. This used to be a very grotty pub, but it is now a jewel box of a place. It was always an attractive building with its circular façade. Now the interior is a fantasy of antique wall papers, distressed painted wood work and furniture in pale palette. In the airy upstairs bar you sit at tables next to wide windows watching the street below. If this sounds a bit twee it is not the case because the décor is not the usual corporate take on notting hill ethereal but a bit gothic and Alice through the Looking Glass.

There is a wit to the place that is playful rather than archly knowing and just a little dark. In the upstairs bar the plates on the wall feature, on closer examination a bestiary of creatures such spiders and cockroaches creeping across the porcelain. Above the doorway a flock of stuffed birds stare down and I felt momentarily like Tippi Hedren. Another wall is covered with jigsaw pieces painted gold which must have been a painstaking process. The gents (I was informed) is wallpapered with Popeye and chums whilst the games room has paintings of iconic Eastenders adorning the walls. It is pretty, witty but not ‘up itself’.

The pub sells Greenwich Meantime beers on draught. The first time I went in I was vacillating in front of the barmaid about my drink. Even though busy she volunteered options and offered to give me a taste of anything I wanted. How refreshing. The second time I visited I had both cocktails and wine, both of which were good quality. The cocktail choice was limited, but it was nice they were available and the one I had was well made and inexpensive. The rose I subsequently glugged was also moreish.

Perhaps the real strength of the place is the landlady: Maria. This is definitely her pub and her personality, having met her is stamped all over the place. A stylish husky- voiced lady she was present both times I visited. It is sad that so many places now are just corporately managed. A good pub or bar requires someone with character at its helm. We had a fantastic evening, I don’t remember getting home, feel I should apologise to the bar staff for something or the other and one of my group found lots of polaroids none of us remembers being taken in her pockets. They depict us looking inebriated yet very happy -one of the best waking states to find oneself in.

This place might not suit some, but it definitely suits me and probably the kind of people I gravitate to: bohemian, stylish, drunkards. Certainly the Commercial Tavern is now my drinking spot of choice in that part of London.

Minn x


Dimplesandcherrycheeks said...

A great review of a great place. I stumbled (fairly literally) across the pub a few days ago and had a brilliant evening there.
Looking forward to reading more of your reviews.

Unknown said...

What a great review. Particularly loved your description of twattish elements usually found in trendy bars. So true. Btw, that photo is evil knievel. YOU COW!

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