The Southampton Arms in Kentish Town has only been opened since 2009 but in those couple of years it has blazed a beer trail that has burned bright, illuminating and invigorating the North London beer scene. It has gained a reputation for being an esoteric environment to enjoy an exciting and eclectic selection of Beers and Ciders.
It's also just been voted North London Camra Pub of the Year. No mean achievement given that it's too 'young' to appear in Camra's 2011 Good Beer Guide. Whilst in London for a couple of days, I thought I'd pay a visit to The Southampton Arms to see what all the fuss is about.
It's a short five minute walk from Kentish Town tube station and as you approach the pub, the first thing that catches your eye are the words 'Ale, Cider, Meat' painted proudly on the side of the pub wall in eight foot high writing. As a statement of intent, it doesn't come much bolder or simpler than that. It's a no nonsense and straight forward message that proclaims - 'This is what you came for, This is what we've got.' I was warming to this place already and I hadn't even put a foot over the door.
I got there just as it was opening and the first thing that struck me was the interior. The light cascading through the huge single paned glass window revealed the pub in all it's glory. With the stark and brilliant white tiled wall behind the bar juxtaposed against dark wood walls and floor it felt as if I had gone back a hundred years or so. There were reclaimation yard church pews, a working fireplace and even a piano that seems to form the backbone of most evenings entertainment in The Southampton Arms.
I was so taken in by the pub interior that I hadn't even noticed the dozen or so pump handles on the bar standing to attention and ready to serve the beer cause. When I did, though, my heart skipped a beat and my jaw hit the floor at the phenomonal array of awesome ales. Lined up in front of me were 18 pumps dispensing 10 beers and 8 ciders. The Southampton Arms are committed to serving only the best beers from the best independent breweries from London and around the country. I was spoiled for choice.
There were beers from Dark Star, Brodies, Redemption, Crouch Vale, Camden and Thornbridge among others when I was in and over the course of the next couple of hours I was to sink a few halfs of Dark Star Mai Bock, Redemption Pale Ale and Camden Pompous Red Ale. The beers were all superbly kept and served. My favourite was the Camden Town Pompous Red. It had a basketful of hoppy flavourful loveliness that blew my stripey socks off.
They are keen to promote some of the best UK breweries and have had beers from Manchester's Marble Brewery and even from Scotland's best brewery Fyne Ales. It seems that Fyne Ales' beer Jarl went down a storm the last time it was on emptying two Casks of it in just over a day. When I was in, they also had 5 litre mini casks of Thornbridge Kipling for sale as well as the opportunity to take away some of The Southampton Arms beers away with you in two and four pint packs. It seems the drinkers of North London are being spoiled by the pub.
This really is a lovely pub with friendly locals and knowledgeable bar staff who have a commendable appreciation of, and enthusiasism, for great, tasty beers and seem keen to bring the best beers that London and across the UK has to offer to growing audience. They also have a great taste in music judging by the Jazz and Blues 33s and 45s being played on a record player behind the bar.
Everything about the pub feels lived in, sociable and very comfortable in a shabby genteel sort of way. Judging by the conversations being struck up among strangers all around me it is a place to chat, swap stories and make new beery friends with people who share the same common interests; drinking quality beer in a great pub.
The Southampton Arms really is a fantastic place to have a beer or two and should be used a blueprint for how pubs could be.
The secret of The Southampton Arms is simple. It simply gets everything right. A cracking, diverse and well kept beer and cider range served by beer savvy bar staff in a warm, friendly and welcoming environment.
Oh,.....and the pork pies are great too.