05 January 2011

n.d.p. in london: pembury tavern, hackney

This previous week I spent in London felt particularly long. It was a combination of burnt-out friends and random misfortune. (The house I was meant to stay in was burgled by some miserable bastard on Christmas Eve, while its inhabitant was out treating ten of us to lunch in Soho. In the kind of cosmic bitch-slap that only happens to truly good people, news of the burglary arrived simultaneous with the bill, via text message.) No matter how long I stay in London, however, I always seem to leave thinking I have not spent nearly enough time or money at the Pembury Tavern.

It is just a wonderfully unassuming, kind of pokey beer-geek hang-out in Hackney. A place where I always seem to have good conversation.

Partly this is because my good friend / evil twin A is also a great fan, and we tend to go there together when I am in town. But I'm convinced it also has something to do with the spacious dorkiness of the atmosphere, which, with its free wi-fi, bright lighting, and board games on offer, strongly recalls a student union.* Then there is beer, which, although not specifically required for great conversation, is known to be very conducive to it.

Image swiped from deadpubs.co.uk.

The Pembury Tavern is either owned or partly owned by a group called Individual Pubs, with unspecified ties to the Milton Brewery, near Cambridge. I suppose ordinarily I feel a pang of mistrust towards any pub that leans very heavily on the beers of any one brewery, but in this case the beers rotate regularly and are all fairly fantastic.** The 16 hand-pumps (!) are complemented by a diverse bottle list (Belgian, mostly). And it's all screaming dirt cheap, particularly if you arrive from Paris where you are accustomed to paying out the ear for a cruddy sudsy pint of nobody blanche that is mostly head from unclean taps.

There is wine availabe, but you'd be crazy to order it. And there is a skimpy endearing food menu - recent blog coverage mentions a switch to vaguely Italian-themed from vaguely Middle-eastern themed. Whatever. As I recall it, it's composed primarily of gut-simple night-off food, the kind of things a young bachelor would assemble himself in his tiny kitchen alone at home, if he weren't in such a hurry to go drink excellent real ale among friends.

* For non-British readers: a student union is where British students gather to get beer at university. A space known for cheap lager and superficial discussion of Sartre. And yes, they have pubs on campus in England. It represents one of the many graces of the British education system that their hellish unthinkable new government is even now probably scheming to destroy, or at least charge drastically more for. 

** I will, characteristically, voice one complaint, the unsophistication of which probably proves I'm not a true beer geek: I wish there were another draft stout on offer besides the Milton Brewery Nero. It's nice enough, but the alcohol is slightly too apparent and the texture not half creamy enough. 

The Pembury Tavern
90 Amhurst Road
Hackney, E8 1JH 
Tube: Hackney Central
Tel: +44 20 8986 8597

Related Links:

N.D.P. in London: Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly
Griping about the lack of beer at La Gazzetta, 75012

An informative listing for the Pembury Tavern @ TimeOut
An article on the Pembury Tavern @ GoodBeerGoodPubs
Recent coverage of the Pembury Tavern @ FuckYeahHackney, a brilliant name, just brilliant.
More recent Pembury coverage @ TiredOfLondonTiredOfLife (I am not making these up)


  1. Next time you're in London, I recommend giving the Southampton Arms Beer and Cider House a shot (http://www.thesouthamptonarms.co.uk/). It has an interesting, always rotating selection of both titular drinks. I was a big fan of a cider aged in rioja barrels last time I was there.

  2. looks excellent! will definitely have to check it out next time i pass through the city. thanks for the tip! (i particularly like how on the banner page of the website they actively call out another bar for biting their signage.)