‘Gastro’ is often the dirty prefix when it comes to lovers of traditional pubs – signifying the changing of the guard, unpronounceable bar snacks and cold, insipid beer. The reality, of course, is that there are plenty of outstanding gastropubs out there – just as there are many run of the mill examples, and a few shockers. Stripping back the floors to bare boards and throwing in mismatched furniture is no guarantee of success – but neither does it mean the pub will have become uncomfortable and unwelcoming.
Pub goers in Islington may well be more familiar with the concept than drinkers elsewhere in the country, but for the Gastro-curious I would recommend without hesitation the Drapers Arms in Barnsbury. The large blue/grey frontage sits flush with the extremely dapper three-story townhouses that line the roads of this part of London (I’d also suggest a wander around the nearby Lonsdale Square to get an idea of the neighbourhood). Where the three doors used to lead to different parts of the pub, they now all open directly onto the open-plan dining area.
If just reading that paragraph causes you to tut and shake your head wistfully, then fair enough – I can sympathise with the very many pubs ruined by having original features removed. But in the case of the Drapers – any changes they have made fit with the building, and really work. The large green wooden bar looks great, as does the upstairs dining room and the beer garden out the back. The toilets even have Belfast sinks and quilted toilet paper*, with the walls adorned with old painting and sketches of the exterior.
Gastro obviously pertains to food – but many of these pubs have great beers on as well – such as the Drapers three handpulls. During our visit Dark Star’s original Dark Star was flying out, and with good reason. I knocked back three pints before I really knew what was happening. As the pub began to fill up, we ordered some food and ended up with a superb steak and kidney pie, which took over half an hour as it was cooked from scratch in the oven.
So if your much-loved spit n’ sawdust local was swallowed up by the late 90’s Gastropub revolution, I feel your pain. But – like footballers who play for the ‘big four’ – they can’t all be bad. Take that chip off your shoulder and replace it with a bowl of chunky ones, cooked in goose fat. Take a punt on a haggis scotch egg (as seen on the bar snack menu). At the end of the day, we’re all the same – as long as good beer’s involved, we can be gastro. Go to the Drapers Arms – you won’t regret it.
* Yes, quilted toilet paper. In a pub.