When I first moved to Leyton, pubs were in pretty scant supply. There was the William the Fourth and the Drum at Bakers Arms, the Birkbeck at the other End and, well, not much in between. There still isn't, in fact, and some have closed or been lost since – including the Antelope and the Three Blackbirds on Leyton High Road (demolished and replaced by flats after a mysterious blaze ripped through it at half two in the morning one Bank Holiday Sunday).
Another pub I never got to sample the 'delights' of was the King Harold, a few minutes walk from Leyton tube, though it wasn't open long after I moved here, and didn't seem particularly appealing whenever I went past, all dimly lit with moody-looking net curtains – in fact, I hear it had a chequered rep as the kind of place you could get more than a pint if you know what I mean (I mean drugs).
It shut in 2014 I think, and the iron shutters in front of the right hand entrance became a repository for all kinds of trash drifting up the high road, or stuffed in there by passersby. For a while it was touch and go whether the pub would make it, and it looked like it would be turned into the inevitable one and two bed luxury flats before – miracle of miracles – the same people who run the Star in Bethnall Green bought it, and reconverted it to a pub, and a very nice one it is at that.
Inside it's been done out simply but well, with a bar in the middle. Apparently (the lovely bar-girl from Leeds told me) this had to be hauled out of the basement as the developers had got as far as dismantling it, before an ACV order was slapped onto the pub, scuppering their plans for a quick buck. They've not gone overboard on the shabby-chic stylings, which makes for a nice contrast to Antic Pubs' (who run the Technical) house style. More 'London boozer brought up to date', with decent furniture and – slightly unusually I thought – a carpet!
The pub has two entrances, one on the corner, and one on the right (with curved glass panels beside it and the aforementioned shutters) and I wonder if the two were doors to separate bars in the past – ie, a snug and saloon?
When I went, the island in the centre of the bar was surmounted by a blonde, fierce-looking furry thing that I took to be an albino badger, but it turns out is a honey badger.
On both days I went it was scorching hot, so I retired to the wonderful beer garden out back, which has palm tree sculptures, and an aesthetically pleasing wooden raised section surrounded by wooden booths, where you can retire if it started to rain (as it did, on the first ocasion, forcing me and my compaion to beat a hasty retreat back indoors).
For drinks they had a good selection of craft ales, and I treated myself to Camden Hells and Pale. For food, they cook burgers out back, and from the looks of it, there are quiz nights, and DJs and the like on the weekend.
Which is all great, but really, I'm just pleased there's a pub here, run by people who *actually* care about pubs, unlike other ones, who are just sitting on a property they bought and trying to sell it for too much money, but who will remain nameless (cough, The Heathcote).
Cause in a world which increasingly looks like EM Forster's The Machine Stops, except the screens are on the buses and with worse music, it's good to have places where local people can come and spend time, and stare at dead stuffed badgers.
In celebration, here's 'Underneath The Plastic Palm Trees' by the Leyton Buzzards. Enjoy (or don't).