[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, Dog Eat Dog Angel, Brussels, Soho, Cardiff, Barcelona, Clerkenwell, DogHouse Glasgow, Rome, Castlegate, Leicester, Oslo, Gothenburg, Södermalm, Turku†, Helsinki, Gray's Inn Road†, Stirling, Norwich, Southampton, Homerton†, Berlin, Warsaw†, Leeds North Street, York, Hong Kong†, Oxford, Seven Dials, Reading, Malmo, Tallinn, Overworks, Tower Hill, Edinburgh Lothian Road, Milton Keynes, Canary Wharf]
21-31 Essex Road, London N1 2SA. It's an address that's had so much bad luck attached to it, you'd think it was a former Indian burial ground.
Nevertheless, this oddly-numbered BrewDogging post marks a first for the series. At the top there, you'll notice that several of the bars listed have a † symbol next to their name, indicating that they've shut down since they were reviewed here (or, in one memorable case, before they were reviewed). It's a simple fact of life: they couldn't pull in enough punters, and the decision was made to kill them off. You wouldn't normally expect one of them to come back to life. But this one has - twice, technically.
This is how Dog Eat Dog came about, the first in a proposed chain of BrewDog hot dog restaurants. It opened in October 2015, and The BBG and I took time out of our busy LFF schedule to visit it shortly after that. It was okay, though I note that "miles away from the compressed tube of rat anuses you normally find at your local Odeon" was as complimentary as my review of the food got. About four months later we popped in for a second visit before a trip to Sadler's Wells, only to find things in a slightly odd state, with several items unavailable and promises from the staff that a new menu was on the way. We didn't realise it at the time, but we'd coincidentally stumbled into the joint the night before it closed down without warning. Nobody's said anything more about a chain of Dog Eat Dogs since then.
Dog Eat Dog shut its doors at the end of February 2016, and everyone assumed that was that. But BrewDog were still keen to make the site work, despite the council's ongoing reluctance to convert it from a restaurant to a pub licence. So that August, it re-opened as Punk Kitchen, with a whole new restaurant concept attached: a series of pop-up operations would take the site over for one month at a time. For the first four weeks, it offered up spicy noodles from London Laksa: for the second four weeks, it hosted the barbecue stylings of Billy Smokes. There was no third four weeks - in fact, the place shut down unceremoniously halfway though Billy Smokes' run. And let's be honest, any site that can't make the combination of beer and BBQ pay is having serious problems.
After its second closure in October 2016, everyone assumed that was really that. And yet, BrewDog still weren't prepared to sell up and cut their losses. There seems to have been an assumption throughout that the lack of a proper bar licence was what was really holding them back, but Islington council still refused to give them one. This stalemate continued until June 2018, where after more than 18 months of darkness the building suddenly reopened as BrewDog Angel. Is it not a bar, then? Well, it is, but there's a twist. BrewDog have made Angel their first Hopworks location: a bar that doubles as a microbrewery for hire, effectively making it educational as well as a place to get pissed. And if this is the dodge that allowed them to get past Islington council, then fair play to them. The bar still feels very much under probation: the outside seating is removed on the stroke of 8pm, and the whole place is shut by eleven every night. But we've seen this happen to other bars in Islington - after a period of demonstrably good behaviour, they get to extend their licence to something approaching regular hours.
This makes the homebrew facility - a sectioned-off area to one side of the bar, roughly where the old restaurant kitchens used to be - a crucial part of the whole enterprise. In brief, the offer is this. Turn up for five hours or so, pay a standard fee for the equipment, a bit more if you need to be taught how to use it, and extra for the ingredients you use - probably adding up to something in the region of £120 - and after a few weeks where the magic happens, you get to walk away with twenty litres of beer you've brewed. For the last few months, The BBG and I have been juggling with the idea of getting a few of our Pals together to do this: not so many that we get in each other's way (it's only a small brewing area), not so few that we each end up with a ridiculous number of half litre bottles to carry home on the tube. We may still get around to it. Watch the comments below.
Apart from that, Angel's much the same as any other BrewDog bar: the decor was roughly in line with the house style as far back as Dog Eat Dog, and the only major change since then has been the replacement of the artisanal soda fountain with a fridge full of cans. But there's something going on here that's a little different from the norm. Maybe it's the bar not being on the gargantuan scale of some of this year's more prominent openings: maybe it's being a little off the beaten track, so that the atmosphere is buzzy without feeling uncomfortably crowded: or maybe it's the seating, where a combination of large booths and even larger tables means that people are generally forced to share. All I can say is, on our most recent visit two separate sets of people we shared a table with got into conversation with us, and that stuff just doesn't happen in London. The friendliness extends to the bar staff, who have the time and space to pop out and chat to us punters directly - in one welcome instance, offering us free tasters of a beer that Wild Weather Ales had brewed on these very premises as a small batch experiment.
21-31 Essex Road has had a hellish three years, there's no denying that. But today we can celebrate its current incarnation, which has now lasted for exactly six months: longer, in fact, than both of its previous incarnations put together. I think that counts as success, finally. So: three cheers for BrewDog Angel, The Bar They Couldn't Hang.