You’ve almost certainly heard the joke already: how many hipsters does it take to change a light bulb?
Well, it’s a really obscure number, you’ve probably never heard of it. A classic, no?
Whenever I think of east London’s unlikely transformation from no-go zone to impossibly cool habitat of hip, I’m reminded of this gag. Of course, there’s more to places like Hoxton than fixie bikes and post-ironic couturial self-abasement – for a start, the selection of bars and pubs on offer is enviable. There are so many unusual and inviting places to socialise within. The Hoxton White Horse is one of the latest additions to this fine repertoire.
From the understated exterior, I wouldn’t have turned a single eyelash towards The White Horse; but if obscurity is necessary to be trendy, this can only be a bonus. Stepping inside, I wonder if the renovation is yet complete: large triangular slabs (pretty sure they were isosceles, but maybe that’s the ‘B; in GCSE Maths talking) of what appear to be MDF (I wasn’t too hot at Design & Technology either) are patterned along the far wall opposite the bar. The adjacent bare redbrick works much better. The vibe is one of artful manipulation, of fraudulent mismatching of genres, with contrasting emphasis on disguise and display: how else do you justify an upside-down tea-party on the ceiling, complete with inverted table lamp? It’s as though Alice followed the white rabbit into the hole and ended up in downtown Detroit.
The drinks menu, however, is a resounding success – there’s an old-school dedication to local cask beers and ales, a commitment which pays dividends when it comes to the taste test. As I take my maiden sip of Camden Pale Ale, I‘m struck by how sharp and clean it tastes. This particular ale is a medley of earthy, oaky flavours, about as far as you can get from a Carling. Any more authentic and there’d be bits of soil floating in it.
Downstairs I find The Bolt Bar, a smoky, blues-y basement lounge with a middle-of-Mississippi feel to it. Soft lighting and cosy furnishings lend The Bolt Bar an intimate, atmospheric quality, making it a promising venue for some chilled tunes. As the basement begins to fill, and the music starts to play, it’s clear that the acoustics are ideal for live bands. To complete the setting, the selection of whiskeys and spirits on offer behind the bar is nothing short of encyclopaedic. There’s definitely a more appealing vibe to The Bolt Bar than parodied East End boozer upstairs.
Still, the promise of pies leads me back up the staircase, where I find a selection of the Pieminster kind. This specimen, filled with spinach, sweet potato and Somerset goats’ cheese, is a cut above what you’d usually encounter in the overly-familiar world of pub grub, with a surprisingly crumbly texture for a pie that is after all ready-made. Still, if you’re going to offer pre-prepared food, it’s sensible to exercise considerable discretion over the choice of brand, and I’m yet to find a preferable pie – it certainly knocks Pukka out of the park.
I leave with the sense that I’ve not yet seen the best that the White Horse has to offer. The Bolt Bar has a great vibe to it, and even if you don’t wear box-framed glasses, there’s a cold beer and a warm pie waiting.
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words Chris Zacharia