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BrewDogging #43: Homerton

Pizza to the left of me, beer flights to the right, here I am...[Previously: Bristol, Camden, Newcastle, Birmingham, Shoreditch, Aberdeen, Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Kungsholmen, Leeds, Shepherd's Bush, Nottingham, Sheffield, Dog Tap, Tate Modern, Clapham Junction, Roppongi, Liverpool, Dundee, Bologna, Florence, Brighton, DED Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton]

You know the structure of these pieces by now. Central to each one is a review of a particular BrewDog bar: but to give that review context, I always like to include some discussion of other things going on in the vicinity of the bar, to get a feel for the cultural life of the area.

This particular bar's in a place called... (checks map) ...London. Okay then, are there other things worth visiting in London?

Here's the thing. As BrewDog shareholders, The Belated Birthday Girl and I are entitled to a number of perks, and one of those is that we get invited to preview nights for bars the day before they officially open to the public for the first time. For some reason, the London bar openings tend to happen towards the end of the year: so in November 2013 we attended the first night at the Shepherds Bush bar, while in November 2015 we did something similar for the opening of Soho.

This month - December 2016 - we got invited to the preview night of the newest London bar, way out east in Homerton. Only there was a catch: they announced the date with very little notice, and we'd already double-booked ourselves for another event that evening. Still, with a bit of juggling, we realised it was actually possible to do both. So we did.

The early part of the evening we spent in Marylebone, which isn't in the least bit convenient for Homerton if you think about it. We'd booked for a performance at the Cockpit Theatre called Impro For Elders, devised by the theatre company Improbable. The idea was this: Improbable gathered together twenty or so over-60s residents from the area around the Cockpit, and held a series of workshops to introduce the group to the basic concepts of theatrical improvisation. These workshops would ultimately lead to a pair of performances in front of a paying audience, and it was the second one of these we were attending. Why were we there? Because SeaPea, one of Spank's Pals and occasional contributor to these pages, was one of the 'elders' involved (although she didn't much care for the title herself).

It turned out to be a rather enjoyable evening. The show played to a full house, with a few members of London impro royalty scattered around the audience, like Comedy Store Players Josie Lawrence and Andy Smart. The elders were arranged in a rough semi-circle at the back of the stage, with two members of Improbable calling out the situations and the changes for each section of the performance. Someone suggested afterwards they'd have liked to have seen the group work with suggestions from the audience, but I think that's way beyond what these people could do after a few sessions: having Improbable drive the show meant none of the cast were pushed outside their comfort zone.

In the end, it was a bit like a less manic version of the games that the Comedy Store Players use to structure their shows: a situation is set up, the cast work their way through it, and every so often a change in the situation or the cast is used to perk things up a bit. Interspersed with these sketches are some more devised pieces, allowing each of the elders to get a solo moment in the spotlight. Biased though I may be, SeaPea's moment was a rather lovely one, mainly because I know her viewpoint on washing-up is exactly the one she expressed on stage.

It's a very enjoyable hour: the fun being had by the people on stage feels in no way self-indulgent, and transmits itself to the audience wonderfully. I found myself wondering if Improbable had plans to repeat the experiment in a decade or so, as it struck me as the sort of thing I might enjoy doing myself. (The BBG might need a little more persuading, though.)

There was a separate second half to the show more focussed on Improbable themselves, but The BBG and I obviously had other plans. By the time we'd got the Overground out to Homerton and negotiated the scary backstreets onto the main road and the bar itself, it was getting on close to 10pm. It was a little quiet when we walked in: most of the tables were occupied, but it wasn't the manic crush that we've seen in previous bar launches.

So, what's to be said about BrewDog Homerton? Well, it's one of the smaller bars, which is always a good thing in my book: they've taken an old-fashioned East End boozer, bashed the walls about a bit in the house style, but otherwise more or less left it alone. It's got a cosy, intimate feel to it, so it didn't seem all that barren even with a relatively small number of people in it.

Food-wise, the big news is that Homerton is currently the only London BrewDog bar offering pizzas rather than the burger menu that's flooded all the other bars in the capital: in what's either a bold statement of intent or a potential health and safety violation, the pizza oven is visibly located at one end of the bar. Beer-wise, they only have a dozen taps on offer, but (at least on opening night) they're a decent mixture of BrewDog favourites and local guests from literally down the road, like Howling Hops. And the staff are the usual helpful and good-natured types, even playing along with the BrewDog publicity stunt du jour (getting customers to spin a roulette wheel to win more beer, a reference to a bit of transatlantic hype that went magnificently off the rails just days later).

So, all that's all well and good, but that low number of people on the night we visited might be a bit of a concern. The BBG's worry is that she's not sure who would make the trip out there to visit it, and what else they could do once they were there. (It's not like there are any over-60s impro performances in the Homerton area, for example.) Myself, I'd like to think there's enough of a hipster population in that part of town to keep the bar ticking over, but I've no real evidence for that.

It's been four weeks since BrewDog Homerton opened, and low footfall in bars has become an issue all over again with the recent announcement of another closure. The place that started life as a bottle shop called BottleDog King's Cross, which then opened a bar in the basement and changed its name to BrewDog Chancery Lane because it wasn't really in King's Cross, and then changed its name again to BrewDog Gray's Inn Road because it wasn't really on Chancery Lane either... well, it's shutting down this weekend because not enough people have been going there. I visited it a few times: it was an excellent beer shop and a delightfully compact bar, and it's a shame to see them both go. It is, however, possibly an indication of how important a good location is. (Or at least one where people can agree where that location is...)

I hope that someone at BrewDog did their sums before buying the Homerton bar, rather than just picking up the first property in a trendy bit of the East End they could find. We'll see, either way.


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