Camden Town’s legendary pubs: my fond memories

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Manchester-born Tim Chadwick moved here forty years ago. So he knows a thing or two about the area’s boozers past and present


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The Good Mixer, Enterprise, Lock Tavern and Barfly

In the early 1990s the Good Mixer pub in Camden Town was a quiet, back street pub mostly frequented by residents of nearby Arlington House. I was not one, but liked to play pool there; and, as it had two tables, you could always get a game.

Then a strange thing happened. It started to attract young people in droves, until by the end of 1993 you couldn’t get near it for Japanese tourists.

Good times: the Mixer as it was. Photo: Flickr
Good times: the Mixer as it was. Photo: Flickr

The reason for this dramatic overnight transformation was simple. Blur had started using it. Why? Because it had two pool tables and you could always get a game. (Well, you could till their fans showed up.)

For Britpop in 1993/4 Camden Town was ground zero: it changed the character of both the pubs and the market, and the gave them a character you can still see today. But what were the boozers like before all this?

In the early 1980s the Enterprise in Chalk Farm, now a well known music venue, was a hang out for the Rajneessh movement. Better known as “the Orange People”, they all wore coloured robes (and later red, maroon and pink clothes, at least until the middle of that decade). They also bought their Indian guru 27 Rolls-Royces. When the press asked about this, the followers merely replied: “We’d like to buy him 365, one for each day of the year.” The all-orange atmosphere could, it’s worth mentioning, be a bit oppressive.

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The Rajneessh movement was at its peak between 1970 and 1985. Photo: Creative commons

The Enterprise was run by a Thatcherite landlord who changed the pub sign to that of a man selling ice creams to Eskimos. Music didn’t feature, but it did boast weekly pool competitions and a lock-in on Sunday afternoons when pubs were meant to close. Then, at some point in the 1990s, someone decided the upstairs meeting room could be used for live bands. And the rest, so they say, is history.

The Belmont in Belmont Street (later Bar Tok, and currently Joe’s Bar) was a musicians’ hang out because there was a recording studio directly opposite. The only tunes in the pub came from what the landlord fancied, but on different occasions I glimpsed Siouxsie and the Banshees, Mick Jones, Jimmy Nail and Lemmy in there, the latter glued to the fruit machine and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s all night.

Amy Winehouse at the Monarch. Photo:
Amy Winehouse at the Monarch. Photo: ICYDK

What is now the Barfly was the original site of the Monarch. No live music either, but they did have a DJ on Saturday night (and quite a few fights). The new Monarch, when it launched in 2008 its current Chalk Farm Road spot, bagged a name DJ on opening night: Amy Winehouse, who inevitably made the papers the next day.

The Lock Tavern was boarded up until it reopened as a ‘rave pub’ a decade ago, then in 2011 it upped the music element and – sacrilege – unveiled a neon sign. A fag butt’s chuck away, the Hawley may now be notorious hangout, but in the 1970s and 80s nearby Dingwalls club was better known and hipper, and the Hawley was for those who couldn’t afford, or had been thrown out the club; a sort of ante-room.

The Fiddler’s Elbow – and the lost pubs around Queen’s Crescent

Monkey Chews no more - one of three pubs on Queen's Crescent NW5 that have closed. Photo: John Salmon
Monkey Chews no more – one of three pubs on Queen’s Crescent NW5 that have closed. Photo by John Salmon

Round the corner is the Fiddler’s Elbow, which in the 1980s was called Mother Shipton. For London buses it was a well-known stopping point and appeared on the 24 route Routemaster bus stop indicators. It also gave its name to Shipton House block of flats next door. (Incidentally, next door is St Silas the Martyr Church, probably the only Anglo-Papalist pile in the UK and one that attracted the likes of T.S. Eliot and Beryl Bainbridge, who had her funeral there even though she was a catholic convert.)

That many of these pubs have managed to stay open is quite a feat when dozens of others close and are demolished, or converted into apartments.

The Admiral Napier was closed down by police.
The Admiral Napier was closed down by police. Photo: Closed Pubs

Only round the corner, for example, is Queen’s Crescent which used to have four pubs on its half-mile long stretch; yet of the Mamelon Tower, Dreghorn Castle, Sir Robert Peel and Queens/Monkeychews only the Peel survives.

And as for the nearby Admiral Napier (on Warden Road, near Talacre)? Well, that place was crazed in the mid-80s; drug deals there were hardly concealed and people openly smoked spliffs, all just a couple of hundred years from Holmes Road police station. Inevitably they closed it.

Fast forward to 2015 and nowadays I drink in the Southampton, the Boston and – before it too shut, at least for a few months – the Dartmouth Arms.

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Enjoyed that? Follow Tim Chadwick @poxdoctorsclerk on Twitter. Further reading? Read about five local bars you might have partied in, or London’s lost clubs here

Got a memory about a pub in Camden or Kentish Town? Share it below or email us on info@kentishtowner.co.uk

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  • Christine Lacki

    I really enjoyed your potted history of Camden pubs. As a resident of Camden since the 70’s, I have drank in almost all of the above except for the few in Queens’s Crescent which were no-go areas at that time. I worked both in the Hawley and Dingwalls when they were both iconic – during the Punk era and pre Goth – the Hawley had the best juke box in London and was one of the first free pubs in Britain. People would start ddrinking in the Hawley then would move onto Dingwalls. Such amazing times!

  • Amanda Russell

    My parents ran the much loved family pub called the new mitre in grafton road by the bridge. Great memories of fancy dress parties pram races pool and darts tournaments !another pub turned I up flats !

  • Andy

    Not sure your comments about the “boarded up” Lock Tavern are strictly true. I’ve been drinking there for over 25 years, and apart from brief closures to refurb I’m not sure it was ever really shut for long. It was originally run by Iris, an eccentric woman who always wore a ball gown, and the walls were plastered in theatrical memorabilia. It was then run by Keith, and it eventually went down hill, and at that point was bought by Jon Carter and others and reinvented as the ‘rave’ pub as you call it.

    You also forgot to mention that Bartok/Joes etc was called “The Engine Room” for quite a while. Always had a muso crowd and had the hardest pop quiz in London!

    Andy

  • Richard Buckton

    Yes, nice article but the Engine Room quiz deserves a mention, lots of music biz types, good quiz, hideous loos. The Lock Tavern was great around 94, Iris and her partner, who would pick up an unattended bag, ask if anyone owns this bomb then chuck it out of the door.
    The Monarch was very much a live venue then as well, with gigs followed by generally 60s themed club nights (like Blow Up at the Laurel Tree but not quite so mod). The Falcon was on its last legs at the time too but had a few good nights there.
    The really sad loss for me was the Stag’s Head just off Chalk Farm Road, lovely Irish pub with pool table and Thai food, closed a few years ago.

  • Jackie James

    Myself and my hubby Andrew owned the Engine Room from 91 to 98 and Andrew wrote the pop quiz every week. Often think of the fantastic times there including ‘Come down and meet the folks ‘ on Sunday afternoons Have a pub in Reading now.