In January 2013, I emailed The Belated Birthday Girl a picture I’d just taken of a disused tanning salon in Stockholm, and she got very excited. Seven months after that email, she came back to Stockholm with me, by which time the tanning salon had been converted into BrewDog Kungsholmen. They make BrewDog bars out of the most unlikely places, but that was the only time I could claim to have before-and-after pictures. At least, until now.
There’s a post on this site that went up in November 2007, discussing the opening day of the new Eurostar terminal at St Pancras International. It’s so comprehensive a discussion that it opens with a picture of the old Eurostar terminal at Waterloo station, taken just minutes after the last train to the continent had left from there.
Fifteen years later, that terminal’s now a BrewDog bar, which makes for a rather more spectacular before-and-after comparison.
If you're reading this on the day of posting (August 18th 2022), then BrewDog Waterloo opened to the general public today. But because The BBG and I are shareholders and live in London, we got to go to a special preview last night. (See also: Shepherd's Bush, Soho, Homerton, Tower Hill, Canary Wharf, Paddington and Old Street.) We've been warned in advance that this place is ridiculously huge - 26,000 square feet, capacity of 1775 - so we get there nearly an hour before the scheduled opening time of six pm, worried that there might be 1773 people in the queue in front of us. In fact, it's closer to a couple of dozen when we arrive, and we're happy to be that close to the front of the line as it gradually gets bigger, with a close-up magician entertaining us all as we wait.
At six there's a noisy countdown, and we get to enter the place via a guard of honour of whooping and clapping BrewDog staff handing out free cans of Hazy Jane. We sit at a convenient table and try to get our bearings. Trying to get your bearings in a place this gargantuan while sitting down isn’t a thing, though. So we take it in turns: while one of us holds on to the table in preparation for a later food order, the other one goes on a walkabout.
Strolling clockwise round the ground floor, you get to see how the bar connects to the station – there’s a side passageway which leads through to The Sidings, a collection of shops and hospitality venues taking up the space that used to be Eurostar. Inside this particular hospitality venue, you encounter a set of bowling alleys and a podcast studio before you actually get to the bar (24 taps, for those counting). There’s also a small batch brewkit, a quite large Grind coffee concession, a dedicated area for Beer Schools, a florist, a merch stand and a fridge full of Train Beers.
And that's just downstairs. On the upper level there's more seating, including some fancier booths (including a couple that appear to be soundproofed), some table tennis tables, a rack of newspapers, a fun view of Waterloo station itself, a speakeasy bar that's trying to be a secret but is given away by the big queue at its door, an ice cream van, and - the point where the design team's coke really kicked in - the fricking slide for people who want to get from upstairs to downstairs without stairs. You can tell the disclaimers have been through BrewDog's legal department several times (I quite like the warning that ‘unaccompanied children will be made to collect glasses’), but it's the queasiest element of the whole place, probably needing one of those signs they have on building sites that say '0 days since last fatality’. As The BBG says, we’ll see how long it lasts.
The closest they get to one of those signs is the one by the kitchen that currently says 'we have 0 chickens left'. To be fair, the food service on these shareholder preview nights is always a bit hit and miss, as they're rarely operating at full strength. When the bar's properly open, we'll have a full menu of burgers, pizzas and oak-fired chicken: but today, there are staff wandering through the place with a choice from two pizzas and two burgers, with meat and meatless options in both cases. Considering that they're just banging these out rather than making them to order it's surprising how good tonight's pizzas are, though our table’s so small we have to eat them while hiding behind the raised lids of the pizza boxes, like it's low-class ortolan rather than a margherita and a Spicy Meaty.
As for beers, once we've got our free Hazy out of the way, we move to the taps to grab a Trainspotter and a Russian Doll (the latter mislabelled on the menu as a six per cent pint, rather than the ten per cent third it really is). As we wrap those up, we're handed another free can of Hazy for a toast to the bar led by James Watt, who does his usual standing-on-the-bar-telling-shite-jokes bit a good twenty minutes before he was supposed to, possibly to compensate for how he came on half an hour late at Saturday's AGM. The BBG and I fondly remember the old days when James would have handed out a much fancier beer for the toast, perhaps a Dog K this time round, before we realise the implications of pouring out a free 12% stout for 1775 people.
We move upstairs for one more beer from the other bar, planning to get the two strongest ones after Russian Doll, namely Practice What You Preach and Triple Agent. Unfortunately, the latter is off, so we're panicked into choosing something else quickly. We end up with Laout, a ridiculous idea that recently came out of That Peter Crouch Podcast, in which he challenged BrewDog to make a beer that was a combination of a lager and a stout. It's... well, it's just fizzy stout, nothing too surprising. As the playlist of music starts repeating songs we've already heard this evening, including The Fall's version of Victoria ("wrong station!" says The BBG), we wrap up with a couple of complimentary ice creams from the truck - salted caramel and Jet Black Heart flavours, courtesy of Hackney Gelato.
It's certainly an impressive looking place, particularly when it's full of people - although table service payments do seem to buckle a little under the strain of a full house, particularly with the introduction of the brand new BrewDog Plus discount scheme, which is doubly hobbled by staff unfamiliarity and tech issues. But will BrewDog Waterloo ever be this full again? It's not immediately obvious how you get to it from inside Waterloo station, although once it's properly opened they may get some clearer signage to increase the possibility of passing trade. It's certainly geared up more for a general audience than full-on craft beer wankers like us, with a higher proportion of the headliner beers and fewer of the weirder concoctions (well, that was the case on the preview night, anyway). The BBG points out that all the games and gimmicks will make it the ideal place for office parties, although you can't rely on that for seven days of the week. The thing to do would be for us to pay a return visit once the novelty's worn off to see how it develops, and I feel we really should be doing that here. Except we've got plans for bar #81 coming up very soon...
[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, Brixton, Paddington, Dalston, Aberdeen Union Square, Peterhead, Itaewon, Le Marais, Outpost Manchester, Perth, Edinburgh Airport, Carlisle, St Pauli, Old Street, Cambridge, Ealing, St Andrews, Chancery Lane, DogHouse Manchester, Bath, Reykjavik, Inverurie, DogTap 2.0]