Every day on the way to work, I pass a place that taunts me. It’s called The London Pub, near Tavistock Square, and feels like what O’Neill’s is to Ireland – over-condensed and inauthentic. A London-themed pub, in London… it shouldn’t really exist. It’s a simulacrum of the city it’s actually in, which is like going as yourself to fancy dress. It doesn’t make sense.
Yet it often riles me. Standing there, weirdly confident in its summation of Our Great City. Is this actually a devastating exposé on the predictability of the capital? On the futility of iconic landmarks? I got a hot hunch the answer’s no, but only one way to find out – so I jump off the bus and pop along.
The pub sign is a mighty collage of nonsense. It shows Big Ben* (three miles away), Waterloo station (two miles away), a Beefeater (three), a Horse Guard (1.5) and a bus (no complaints, there are buses really near it). The place is on a hotel-covered street, with a clientele that’s almost exclusively tourists – what kind of impression of London are getting if this is what they see?
(*Yeah, I know, Big Ben is the bell. The tower is called Elizabeth Tower. But this is a cr*p sign outside a pub. The person commissioning it definitely asked for Big Ben.)
Inside it isn’t great. There are fake bricks on the inside of the brick walls. There’s a sort of porch thing that doesn’t have a ceiling. There’s a small queue to take pictures of a brass dog. A queue! A mural on the way to the toilets shows a Tube train going through a tunnel halfway up Big Ben, like the most pleasant version of Blade Runner ever.
Let’s be clear: London pub is in no way typical of a London pub. It’s as sterile as a departures lounge, as raucous as the drive to have your cat put down. And where’s my £8 gravel-infused turbo stout? Where’s the six-minute kitchen takeover from Apricot Fried Tacos?
But it is cheap as hell, super friendly, and with an impressively varied group of people in it. I can hear at least five different languages being spoken, and loads of accents. There’s a couple of posh country folk in their 40s dressed in tweed who are fairly confused by the Russian guy with chin-dreadlocks next to them but are pretty drunk and don’t seem to care.
So while it totally isn’t The London Pub, if this is the impression people are getting from their quick visits to London, it’s not the worst. They’ll be leaving thinking of us as friendly and welcoming – way more than we actually are – and of London as a proper melting-pot where all kinds of people can unite in the desire for a pint. That’s pretty nice.
Like, I’m not going back – Jesus Christ, life’s too short – but at least it’s something. And I’ll never feel angry again when I go past it.