The ebb and flow of pub closures continues in Leytonstone. Firstly, some good news. The Loaded Dog has reopened. This has had a pretty chequered past, even being run by Jamaican Yardies at one point, which resulted in a dramatic termination of licence involving stun grenades. For a couple of years after it was a good music venue, but got torpedoed when the pubco went bust. It was boarded up for a year or so, and now seems to be serving generic lagers to generic punters. Next door, the Britannia is being converted to flats. Kirkdales, a pub/winebar hybrid with a ravishing view of the bus station closed suddenly last year and has been replaced with The Olive, a mediterranean restaurant. Up the road from there is Zulus, one of the oldest licenced premises in E11, and for decades was the Red Lion. Apart from a brief flirtation with being an *ahem* Mexican cantina, Zulus was the boozer of choice for Leytonstone’s large population of South Africans. At the moment, the building is tinned up – rumour has it that there’s a refurb in the offing. Mind you, they said that two years ago about Lincoln’s, which still sits like a beached cruise liner further down the High Road.
The Woodhouse Tavern is up for sale with a view to being demolished and turned into a four-storey block of flats. The pub dates from 1865, and has a nice lounge bar with wood panelling from a 20s refit, and a newer half with conservatory, rebuilt after a visit by the Luftwaffe. The landlord was interviewed recently, saying that they don’t get many customers in any more. I hate to say it, but I’m not surprised. Clean and pleasant as it is, you do have to wonder what would make you go there when they don’t even serve one ale, and the rest of the very ordinary fodder is much cheaper to drink at home. Where’s the added value? I’m very happy to pay a premium for a good pub experience, and I suspect most people are, but I’ve no wish to drink Smoothflow to the sound of a ticking clock. I’ve been in about three times – I like to give pubs the benefit of the doubt – but each time the place was virtually empty, with all the atmosphere of a crypt. On my first visit, I went in with my dad. When he asked what was on their four handpumps, the barmaid looked surprised and said “Oh them? They’re just for show”.
Leytonstone has a large and growing middle-class demographic. A lot of drinkers spend their money in the West End rather than locally, because apart from the excellent North Star, there just ain’t the choice unless you like Karaoke and Carling Premier (and I do, now and again). Much as I loathe so-called Gastropubs with their contrived blackboardery and gigantic plates, I’d be pretty happy if one opened round here, just for the variety.