Westport Inn reborn as The Bluebell

The longstanding Irish boozer on Malden Road has reopened as a craft beer bar. And we’ve had the first peek inside

Imposing: the new Bluebell exterior
Imposing: the new Bluebell exterior. Photos: Stephen Emms
If, like us, you regularly traipse up and down that sloping thoroughfare, Malden Road, you’ll appreciate the refreshment options are a little limited. But did you know a century ago it was a thriving shopping street, complete with trams to South End Green and back?

Anyway, at least the three remaining hostelries have long been lively haunts: the earthy and increasingly hip Fiddlers’ Elbow, on the corner with Prince of Wales Road, hosts live music most nights, while the Robert Peel, adjoining Queen’s Crescent, is always thronged with locals. Just up the hill, the emerald green Westport Inn was the cosy Irish alternative for two decades, and home to many a Saturday night karaoke party.

And now it’s reborn as a more contemporary craft beer pub, The Bluebell. Known for over a hundred years as the Gipsy Queen, a boozer has occupied the site since the 1850s, although the current building in fact only dates back to the the 1930s.

Simple, modern interior: the Bluebell
Simple, modern interior: the Bluebell
Current owner Thomas Browne’s parents took it on in in 1991, renaming it after their hometown in County Mayo in the process. “At the time there were bare knuckle fights in the cellar,” he says, “and the owner was so scared he allowed his Alsatian to roam the building.” Ouch.

But Browne’s father managed to turn it into a traditional neighbourhood favourite for 22 years, until it closed for refurbishment late 2013. And so why the new moniker? “It’s simple,” he says. “The bluebell is one of my favourite flowers, but it also creates a softened identity, contrasting the harder edges of the previous name.”

Thomas explains how he and his team faced “quite a task” in trying to bring a 1930’s pub into the 21st century. “It lacks the Victoriana charm of our neighbours, and was essentially a big box, with a huge counter and pretty bad toilets. Our redeeming features were immaculately kept macro beers and a pretty-ish bar.”

When we swung by last night, there was still plenty of work to be finished in the interior (by architects Linedota); but it was coming along nicely. There mood is long black banquette seating, upcycled chairs, bare bulbs, and lots of “architectural salvage”, plus an open kitchen with dining tables at the rear.

Interior view through the open kitchen to the bar beyond
Work-in-progress view through the open kitchen to the bar beyond.
Along one wall is a mural by students from Central Saint Martin’s: “Gospel Oak as it used to be,” says Thomas. The food offering is still being finalised but promises to be loosely Mediterranean, with the emphasis on tapas and small plates. But the real focus for now is craft beer: there’ll be a rotating choice of twelve on draught, including Schiehallion, Bitter & Twisted, Brooklyn and top English pale lager Freedom Four; plus fourteen bottles, from the award-winning Northern French blonde beer Bellerose to the trappist Orval.

Artisanal spirits like Sipsmith line the back bar, and there’s a comprehensive wine list too. Future plans? Sunday folk jams, DJs playing “relaxed electronica”, a refurbed garden out back in time for summer, and boutique hotel upstairs with eleven rooms. Not unambitious, in fact.

“Things have changed substantially,” he says, “and we earnestly hope the changes have improved our venue to the benefit of our loyal customers, as well as the community as a whole.”

This is box title
The Bluebell is open “softly” – we’ll keep you posted on the official launch. Beers from around £4. Find it at 166 Malden Rd, London NW5 4BS

  • Show Comments

  • youngdonkey

    I live next door to this pub for 3 years and have never been inside it in its former guise. Never appealed to me.

    Have a feeling this will become like the Grafton, not a bad thing, but I suspect the existing clientele may find the £4 a pint an interesting proposition.

  • AD

    I too have lived next door to this pub for 6 months and (being completely honest!) have been too terrified to go in!
    I’ve been watching the refurb and eagerly anticipating its arrival. Something similar to the Grafton would be interesting. Beer garden too – will it rival the stag. Cant wait to find out!
    Its definitely the way forward for Malden Road in general. It needs a little tidy up and this may encourage other new businesses into the area. Dare I say other ‘hip’ pop-ups?

  • Beckie Crum

    I live round the corner in Gospel Oak, DJ sometimes and relaxed electronica is right up my street, (along with a bit of underground house and suchlike for peak time). If The Bluebell ever wanted me to be come and spin some vinyl, i’d be delighted – just shout me on FB.

  • Hannah Amies

    I live literally around the corner in what used to be the Malden Arms and for 3 years have always avoided the Westbport Arms, due to a generally unfriendly vibe emitting from it despite it being my nearest pub (Robert Peel and Southampton Arms, are fine for a quick drink, but are mostly hubs for long timer locals!)

    Agree that it will be great for that stretch of Malden Road, which can be a bit rough around the edges at time, be nice if it became populated with some new businesses…

  • The Bluebell NW5 (@TheBluebellNW5)

    Firstly, thank you so so much to The Kentishtowner for this incredibly kind preview and for making the time to visit us. Such generosity!

    To the people who hope that we will be a friendlier more ‘open’ place: when we do physically open – I promise that we really will be. Your comments resonate with me far more than you can know.

    Though ‘The Westport’ was loved by a some – clearly it was avoided by many. We hope that the changes will make ‘The Bluebell’ a more appealing spot for everyone:
    former ‘Westport’ customers, inquisitive people who felt excluded previously and those who maybe even were repelled by the place.

    On the point of draught at £4+ I’d just like to clarify, that even our lowest-priced lager is craft and in my opinion an excelent pint (It might even be one of our best.) We believe that people will aporecuate the difference and therefore ‘get it.’ But drinkers vote with their feet, so really; it is an interesting proposition, agreed.

    In terms of whether we will be like ‘The Stag’ or ‘The Grafton’ (never forgetting the superb ‘Tapping The Admiral’) I have to say that I’ve enjoyed all of these places (and hope to continue to do so.) But we WILL be markedly different. I think it’s great that Kentish Town has such varied night-life, though with the variety being absolutely key. Please do come and see for yourselves.

    Ms Crumb, your selection sounds great, perhaps when you get a minute you could pop in with an mp3-player, we will certainly reach out to you on FB. Feel free to tweet us: @TheBluebellNW5.

    So in closing, huge gratitude to The Kentishtowner and to all of the commentators. Please do give us a chance, I hope that we’ll meet your expectations and cheers for the feedback.
    Love to all,

  • Jessie

    Can’t wait to try out the new-look Westport. A much needed addition to Malden Road!

  • Jamie larke

    Loved the old Westport with the likes of joe and Kerry behind the bar and am looking forward to seeing them again in the new refirbed place.