The Flask (Hampstead) 3 x ½ Winter Warmer £4.50
Now this is more like it. There are a number of decent pubs around Hampstead, but The Flask is just about the best of the lot. It’s down a small alley on the left as you walk down the hill from Hampstead tube station. Nothing could have been more welcome at this point than walking in out of the cold to find an open fire and the smell of some real pub food.
This is a properly fantastic pub. It’s split up into a saloon bar and a cozy public bar at the front, with a large drinking and dining area out the back including a very inviting conservatory. As for the beer, Winter Warmer is a great pint anyway, but this was possibly the best kept beer of any pub we had visited so far. We hadn’t found much real ale so far today, so this was seriously welcome in every way.
Right then, now for the educational bit: Would you believe that once upon a time (about 300 years ago in fact) Hampstead was full of – gasp – poor people! Apparently six acres of land here, including water-wells, was bequeathed to the “unfortunates” of the area – who promptly started selling the water at three pence a flask (probably at an equally ridiculous profit margin to bottled water today). As a result of this bit of enterprise, a) the local tavern that packaged the water got its new name, and b) the place started to become both moneyed and fashionable. All these years later, The Flask is still going strong and when we arrived it immediately became a candidate for best pub of the whole tour.
Liam told us he was impressed by both the toilets – saucy vintage “art” on the walls apparently – and also by the fact that they were advertising a full Burns Night supper on the 25th Jan. To be fair, this even looked tempting to us non-Haggis fans. We gently sipped our beers and gazed longingly at the food menu, not massively keen on moving on. But, as usual destiny called us and we reluctantly pushed up our collars and moved back out, away from the comfort of the fire and into the wilderness.
The George (Belsize Park) ½ Youngs, ½ Broadside, ½ 1664 £4.40
Coming out of Belsize Park, I confidently stormed off to the right in search of The George. This is another pub owned by The Spirit Group, formerly a soulless Rat and Parrot chain pub. Nowadays however, despite still being a bit chainey, it is a much friendlier place with friendly staff, a good beer range, and a simple but decent food offering (anywhere that has both a Pie of the Day AND a Sausage of the Day is ok by me)
More history! Back in the day, this road was the main route out of London, and this was a haven for travellers all the way back in the 1600’s. The pub used to be called the Scotch House – apparently because of the all the Tartan that used to hang around the walls (presumably shed by Scottish travellers who realised that it was, in relative terms, warm down South!)
Other good points: 3 Screens actually showing some rugby rather than the usual football; quick service; and some classic Rod Stewart playing in the background.
The bad points: Beer in only “ok” condition; truly disturbing carpets; and, er, Rod Stewart playing in the background.
The surreal point: When Liam started telling Keith how good he looked for his age (he’s not actually that old). A bit early to start the “you’re brilliant, you’re me best pal” love-in, I thought!
(Editors Note: The confidence I displayed charging up the road was typically misplaced. Having revisited Belsize Park a couple of months later I realized that we had forgotten about The Haverstock Arms, a little bit down the hill, and also very close to the station. What followed was the slightly embarrassing sight of me walking up and down the hill muttering under my breath and making passers-by slightly nervous as I paced out the distances. Of course it was never in doubt, and the Haverstock Arms was actually quite a bit nearer. Yet another mistake, and one that we have yet to rectify, so Belsize Park has now officially gone back on the To Do List……Watch this space.)
The Enterprise (Chalk Farm) 1 x bt Red Stripe, 1 x bt Budvar, ½ Youngs £7.50
Just over the road from Chalk Farm station is a venue almost entirely unlike Captain Kirk’s famous Starship, but very much like a scruffy but funky booze and music haven. Walk in through the front door of the Enterprise and you are greeted by sparse wooden tables, scuffed wooden flooring and the bar right in front of you. Turn around and you are greeted by the sight of a large dummy all dressed up as a blues man, posing above the entrance. Stairs to the side of the bar take you upstairs to the room where they have regular live music (The Enterprise has a very good reputation for this), and the walls around the bar are covered with photos and pictures of either music or literature related stuff.
The bar itself is a cracking central horseshoe type affair, the sort of which seem less and less frequent these days, and there are more tables and chairs to the rear designed in an equally “casually thrown together” fashion. Not really expecting it to be much of a real ale pub, Mr Lewis was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the beer was in very good condition too.
There are lots and lots of pubs around the Camden/Chalk Farm area, and a lot of those are very much geared around music. If you do find yourself in the area, it is well worth popping up here to The Enterprise, ‘cos it’s definitely a good one. Realising it was time to get moving again, we finished our beers and waited for our Scottish friend to finish trying to take a photo of himself in the huge mirror that marked the entrance to the loos (Its my fault. I didn’t show him how to turn the flash off…..)