Pat was ‘in oil’ and worked away a lot, often in some truly miserable places. Like Kazakhstan. He once told me one of his favourite pubs was Murphy’s, an Irish bar in the middle of Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, his favourite terminus. I think the word he used was ‘brilliant’. A ‘brilliant’ pub. Faintly ludicrous praise for what in truth, and knowing Pat, was probably just a passable travel amenity. Sure enough, having later been laid over between flights connecting to Cuba, CrowsFeet and I found Murphy’s to be exactly that; a pub in an airport.
Tap East is a pub in a shopping centre. Incorporated into the Great Eastern Market precinct of Stratford’s spanking new Westfield, it offers an experience no less transitory. The ambient temperature when we were there didn’t help, a product of the high, open dimensions and glass walls of the retail space it occupies as much as the weather outside. Even if it hadn’t actually been freezing in there it would still have felt cold. But it was freezing and as a consequence Tap East has barely been able to trade beyond 7pm whilst we remain in the grip of Winter. The air in there, they admitted when notifying the ether of early closing, was ‘colder than the beer’. I’d say it was about even.
The beer selection itself is current and varied, if not quite so broad as expected. We drank San Diego’s Stone Levitation at an arguably inflated £6 a pint. I say inflated because I’ve had it elsewhere in London for less and would prefer to think that if one place could afford to offer it for £5 (still a lot but competitive with the $8 you’ll pay in California), so could they. I don’t pretend to know the specific purchasing/pricing considerations of either outlet, it’s just that ever since my one and only visit to Tap East’s parent Rake bar I’ve sensed a sort of righteousness about the way they operate. A feeling that because their set-up rather pre-empted a proliferation of like-minded outlets across London, that their shit somehow smells sweeter. About twenty per cent sweeter. That said, I paid a lot more per pint yesterday and am also increasingly open, it seems, to times being what they are and to the fact that if you want imported draft it’s going to cost you.
The food offer at Tap East consists of Pork Pies, Cheese, and the like. All good in essence. However it’s an area in which the administration evidently has little clue. Or fosters little care. I remember being in Barcelona a few years ago and our guide warning us off the places that would advertise their food with photographs. And not unlike when Chinese takeaways place plastic incarnations of items in the window, Tap East’s attempts to sell up their sandwiches involves plating up a cheese one, with garnish and a few crisps, and leaving it there amidst an unimaginatively merchandised cold cupboard as a measure of what one might expect if one ordered one. Why, when catering to a clientele whose discernment you depend on, would you presume to excite their senses with stale bread? I ask you…
I don’t know what to expect from 2012. Make no mistake, I think the Olympics will be great for Britain. They’ll give the economy a much-needed shot in the arse and, so long as the organisers resist trying to light the torch via another ill-fated River of Fire, the decade or so they’ve had to prepare really ought to reveal Seb & Co. actually could piss it up in their own brewery. At the same time the prospect of a World event on home soil seems to have put our sense of perspective all out of whack. You know? Like, all of a sudden anyone whose bedsit commands a view of the velodrome thinks they’ll be able to rent it out for the duration of the Games and then retire on the proceeds. Not only that, specialist beer pub proprietors are inclined to set up shop at the Mall. Maybe the rent there is as reasonable as anywhere else they’d weighed up, the square footage ample enough that they might economically trade and brew from the one spot. But it’s not a commercial pitch for somewhere that’s niche, and come October time, when everyone bar the local residents forgets where Stratford is, I’d guess they’re going to be relying heavily on their wholesale output if the enterprise is to have legs.
Photographs courtesy of www.ravengarcia.com and food.uk.msn.com