Category Archives: Crisps

Pubs

I’ve only ever really had one local, that is a pub I visited at least once a week for a couple of years. But what a local. Crocker’s Folly was one of London’s best pubs, a beautiful old gin palace, with a stunning saloon bar that featured 50 kinds of marble, Romanesque marble columns, Jacobean ceiling, cut glass, chandeliers and carved mahogany.

The pub even had a great back story. It was built by Frank Crocker in 1889, who got wind that a new station was to open at Marylebone and so placed his extravagant new hotel at what he believed was going to be the perfect location to attract the thousands of travellers. Sadly, the station was constructed half-a-mile  to the south and – it’s said – a ruined Crocker leapt to his pavementy death from one of the upstairs window. (In truth, he died in 1904 of natural causes.)

I used Crocker’s when I lived on the nearby canal at Lisson Grove, popping there for a pint after work, for a quick lunch or long dinner, to watch the football, for a sneaky drink between visits to the launderette, to take part in the pub quiz, to meet friends, to be alone. We had a great landlord and the pub was always full of canal folk and locals, a place you felt welcome, where there was always somebody to talk to or enough room for you to settle down on your own, with a packet of cigarettes, a newspaper and a couple of quid for the fruit machine.

Then, pretty abruptly, things changed. A new landlord was brought in by the owners and you couldn’t tell exactly what he was doing wrong, but it was clearly something. Dodgy kids from nearby estates become more prominent. The quality of ale declined. Less events were held. The food menu got worse. Suddenly, Crocker’s became a little rough – it was no longer the sort of place you’d expect to encounter the annual Christmas party held by national newspaper crossword compilers, as had once been the case in the late 1990s – and so we’d walk past it on our way to other, now better, pubs around Warwick Avenue. That’s the problem with pubs. If they aren’t good enough, there’s always a better one around the corner. Until that one closes as well.

I noticed on one of my last visits to Crocker’s that the door policy had changed to an almost unheard of ‘Over-25s only’. In 2002, shortly before I left the canal behind, it closed.

It’s still closed.

Lord know what Crocker’s looks like inside, even though it is a listed building and being carefully watched by CAMRA members. Last time I passed it was as boarded up as ever, but there is planning permission for flats to be installed in the many upstairs rooms. Work has begun, I’ve heard, but CAMRA do not think a pub is part of that plan. What this means for that astounding ground floor, I do not know.

Crocker’s Folly was a beautiful building, open to all Londoners, serving many needs and creating a community around it, and it’s demise is as great a tragedy as that imagined for its creator, more so because it always felt deliberate, as if the company that owned the pub were opting for managed decline, an excuse to close the pub and find a way to sidestep planning permission so they could sell it to developers. That never happened and so the pub was left to rot, like so many others in London.

If you can stand it, scroll through this amazing Flickr archive of London’s lost pubs. I knew some of these, once.

I’ve written about the threats to London pubs and what can be done to save them in this month’s Metropolitan magazine for Eurostar. 

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Credit crunch: combating recession with potato-based snacks

When I first clocked a recession was imminent – after I’d checked the relevant terms of my contract and cancelled the statue of myself in solid gold I was having made for the front garden – I began to think about the opportunities that a recession can create.

It’s now well established that many business start up during a downturn, largely because lots of people are out of work and have nothing better to do than be a bit imaginative. This time round, with the recession taking such a toll on incredibly wealthy financiers and bankers, who earned far more money during the Great Moderation than they could ever spend no matter how much they ballsed up house prices trying, I was convinced some fascinating new businesses would emerge.

And so it has proved. A while back, a man called Ajit Chambers got in touch with me to promote his bold plan to open up London’s disused Tube stations to the public. He is still ruthlessly pursuing his vision and will, I believe, realise it, sooner rather than later. For more, watch this space.

At around the same time I heard from a friend, Marisa Leaf, who has set up a company called Hubbub that takes orders from customers for posh delis around Islington (of which there are many) and delivers them all in one go to your door. I wrote about it in 2008 and on Tuesday, she was interviewed in the Evening Standard. In that piece she mentioned in passing one of the people whose food she sells, a banker from Highbury who jacked it all in to become a fisherman on the south coast. I interviewed him yonks ago, and the piece is due to run in Time Out sometime before I die, or so I have been promised.

So that’s three stories that have come to me without me even looking, as all the best stories should.

Where am I going with this? Well, I am in a decent position to start up a business of my own, being all of a sudden time, if not cash, rich and finding freelance journalism a potential struggle given that I’m not descended from anybody famous, daringly tedious/controversial or Stephen Armstrong.

But there is a problem: I am suffocatingly risk-averse. And I am quite lazy. However, I do have one idea that I would love to take forward if somebody else is prepared to do the taking forward bit for me.

It’s a crisp shop. A shop dedicated to selling not just any crisps, but the most interesting crisps – or other potato-based snacks – from around the world. These would be crisps of the rarest and most unusual flavours, the best packaged, golden oldies, with lots from Japan, where I do not know for sure but am pretty certain they make some of the most incredible crisps known to the crisp-world, in wonderful flavours and colours, and all with pictures of schoolgirls on the cover. This shop would be in south London, probably Streatham, and look like one of those trainer shops where people buy lurid and expensive footwear that they never intend to wear. It will be a design classic, floor-to-ceiling cellophane. Whenever Jay-Z comes to London, he will make my crisp shop one of his first ports of call, because I am sure Jay-Z loves crisps.

The irony of this is that I do not particularly like crisps. Or Jay-Z for that matter. But this only adds to the beauty of the concept.

If you like it, I will next tell you about my plan for a restaurant that only serves starters and desserts, because main courses are, and we really should be prepared to admit it by now, invariably a crushing disappointment.