In the introduction to this irregular series, I wrote about the importance of pubs for creatives as conducive environments for thinking and dreaming, disconnected from the real world. And so I thought it only right that I begin this meandering tour of Britain’s finest pubs for writers and artists on my doorstep, at Hagen & Hyde in Balham, South London, the place where I wrote a significant chunk of my forthcoming novel, Pendragon.
I’ve never understood why some writers go to an office to put down words, or always sit in the same corner of the back room. If you’ve given up on the nine to five, if you’ve gone for the freedom that the writing life entails, why not work anywhere and everywhere? Why not work here?
Hagen & Hyde has just the right amount of studied quirkiness to spark the imagination. A 1930s radio, a shelf of old shoes, a sewing machine, and, importantly, bookshelves with actual books on them. That’s a sign. The main bar is nice and airy – high ceilings, long bar, with an industrial aesthetic of oak walls, brick floors and iron girders. Pretend you’re doing actual work, like they used to do in the old days.
It’s a rabbit warren, with a lower level bar where they put on bands and DJs at the weekend, a balcony, an outdoor balcony and a beer garden (which has some actual vegetation around it so you can ignore the Sainsbury’s loading bay beyond the end wall). Always somewhere to hide. Pretend it’s a memory castle, with a new story prompt in each drinking space.
I don’t like those big atmosphere-less pubs designed only to serve cheap beer to the masses until their legs buckle. You know the ones I mean. This is an independent with a neighbourhood feel. Here you’ll encounter people of different ages, different ethnicities, different social classes. Modern London, just as I like it. Too many pubs in Britain are monocultures these days, and they’re dying because of it.
It’s a pub for beer-lovers, with an ever-changing selection of craft beers – today Squawk BC session IPA, Gipsy Hill Southpaw and Beaverton 8 Ball Rye – and okay food – deep fried squid, pulled pork, halloumi fritters…
On this journey, in life, in the pub, you mark your time with stories, both in the world around you, and in your head. The old man singing to himself in the corner. The woman carrying the armful of champagne bottles up the stairs to the balcony bar, each teetering step one wrong move from disaster. Writing The End on the last page of my novel.
This is a good place for stories. And a good place to start this quest.