Sunday, 31 January 2016

Good Hackney Boozers

It shouldn't be this hard to get a good drink in a city this size, but somehow it is. There's a talent, and a knack, and a certain shameless geekery that comes with doing these things well. Do you know when a lime is just right for juicing? Understand the difference between sweet, dry and perfect Manhattans? Did you cool my martini glass before you started mixing my drink? Then you, my friend, are in my good books. And I was a bartender for many, many, too many moons - so I like to think of myself as an authority on these things.

It helps, also, that I am a shameless old lush.

There's a lot of noise and hype in this borough, there's a lot of silly nonsense involving kitsch themes. As a Hackney kid of many years past, and not to mention a PR hack by trade, I am natural cynic when it comes to any marketing USP, from space-tiki barware to reclaimed seating crafted from sterilised hypodermic needles or old coat hangers or whatever. I was born sceptical, so you won't find much of that here, just my five favourite boozers in the Hackney area.

Image from
"Great cocktails, no wallies," says the website and it isn't wrong. Not only are the house drinks fantastic, but the staff are incredibly knowledgeable when it comes to the classics. The decor in this tiny candle-lit basement bar stays just the right side of pretentious. Happiness Forgets is a popular spot but always calm, making it a great location for a date.

Due to its dinky size, Happiness Forgets only accepts bookings for parties of up to six. Luckily there's now a "little" sister bar, Original Sin, in Stoke Newington, with similarly talented staff but much more seating. A lot of intimacy is lost in the bigger venue, but it's still a fantastic boozer with reasonable prices.

Happiness Forgets is open from 5pm to 11pm every night at 8 - 9 Hoxton Square, N1.

Original Sin is open from 6pm every night at 129 Stoke Newington High Street, N16. 

A photo posted by Old Ship Inn (@oldshiphackney) on

The only reason I like the Old Ship Inn is because they show the tennis in summer. No, the only reason I like the Old Ship Inn is because they make cracking roasts. Or because they're kind of tongue-in-cheek hipster and funny, and they serve decent beer, and they have a good 2-for-1 on burgers on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the bartenders are nice to chat to.

In short, The Ship is a great local watering hole, but worth a wee trip if you're looking for cheap burgers. I am still sad to this day that they have stopped selling their fabulous squid starter but I am hoping that if I whinge enough they will one day hear my pleas and #bringbackthesquid.

The Old Ship Inn is open from midday til late every day at 2 Sylvester Path E8. 


Most people rate Hawksmoor for its quality steaks and fantastic dining experience. Unfortunately, in my five years of dating in the Big Smoke, no one has considered me worthy of a £300 dinner. So I have no idea about these sumptuous steaks or what the Observer dubbed the best Sunday Lunch in UK. 

What I do know, however, is what a good cocktail looks like, and let me tell you, these guys make the best Manhattan I have ever had every damn time. They've nailed the classics, and the contemporary classics, and the bar snacks. They have this shit down, so it's no surprise that their drinks menu provides the inspiration for so many cocktails bars across London.

And, you know what, I really do like drinking in a basement bar that looks like the inside of a ship, I'm completely into it. Ahoy-hoy.

The bar at Hawksmoor Spitalfields is open from 5.30pm Monday - Friday, and from midday on Saturday, at 157a Commercial Street E1. 


A photo posted by Pinch Hackney (@pinchhackney) on

Hackney's Smallest Wine Bar, or PINCH, is tucked away in a converted residential garage on a teeny tiny side street between Dalston and Hackney Downs. It sounds like it should be hipster nonsense but somehow it's not - the wine is good and the staff are lovely and, although the bog is subpar, this is admittedly to be expected in a converted garage. You can expect a couple of self-assured dicks in amongst the clientele - I was once accused of 'bringing the tone down' by some bell-end in polka dots - but all in all, a lovely joint with a good selection of wines.

Pinch is open from 5pm til 10.30pm every night at 51a Greenwood Road E8


Rob Peters once described this humble Wetherspoons as, "Perhaps too good." Who is Rob Peters? I have no idea. Just some guy who appreciates a cheap pint of almost-off Tuborg and a slapdash chocolate sundae enough to give Baxter's Court a whopping four out of five stars on Google Review.

The thing is, guys, he's not wrong. If you're looking to enjoy a half-decent pint for a couple of quid, you're sorted. Got a tenner to spend and want to get leathered on a stick of six Sourz shots and walk away with change? You, my friend, are in the right place! It is what it is, but it's unpretentious and usually on the hygienic side of clean. Loosen up and enjoy.


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