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The Changing Face of Drinking in Ladbroke Grove

Ian Mole writes about the changes that have been taking place in the Ladbroke Grove and adjacent areas. 

There used to be a pub at the end of my street called the Cowshed but in the summer of 2008 all of its punters disappeared for some reason and not long after that the place closed for good. I'd never been in the Cowshed much but I'm always sad to see a pub close because a vital focal point of the community and all its attendant memories is eradicated. I don't know what the future holds for the Cowshed but the building's still very much intact and until recently was being inhabited by a group of artistically-minded squatters. They have now gone and the building has been sold. We wait to see whatever else happens there.  

The Cobden Club has recently closed too with plans to adapt the site for apartments. I've lived in W10-W11 for around thirty years and the changes in many of the local pubs reflect those in the neighbourhood as a whole i.e. a considerable amount of gentrification, which has gone hand in hand with higher prices and a change in clientele. About the only pub that hasn't changed much, to my knowledge, is the Eagle on Ladbroke Grove and it appears to be doing well.

Of course things have to change but I'm a great advocate of “If it ain't broken, don't try to fix it.”. Also with a much more middle class population these days the local tastes have changed but that doesn't mean that the tastes and wishes of more long-term residents should be pushed to one side. Having said so and despite my original reservations, The Elgin on Ladbroke Grove did manage to re-invent itself and although it had a slow start, it has become a popular pub with regular music events. 

Some of the most noticeable transformations have occurred on Portobello Road. Back in the mid-Eighties the Colville on the corner of Talbot Road was a lively, knockabout kind of boozer, popular with the locals. It was definitely on the seedy side but I like a bit of seedy myself and I never came to any harm there. Nowadays it's unrecognisable as the very chic Ground Floor Bar and though I understand that gastro pubs are where the money is, I personally would never go in there as it looks more like a posey coffee bar to me than a pub. In my view the Castle, formerly the Warwick Castle, on the corner of Westbourne Park Road has managed a much more agreeable blending of the old and new styles as it's still popular with many locals and retains a lot of its old street-cred atmosphere while providing a good range of food too. As a former haunt of Joe Strummer it's fitting that live music should continue to be a regular feature there. Finch's a.k.a. the Duke of Wellington on the corner with Elgin Avenue once received the accolade of 'The Wickedest Pub in Britain'  by the News of the World, though the same claim has been made for the Elgin in Ladbroke Grove too. These days it's reached the latest stage in its metamorphosis from former Jimi Hendrix hangout to bland but pleasant tourist pub. The recently refurbished Shannon's, on the corner of Tavistock Road and formerly the Golden Cross was the likely inspiration for sections of Martin Amis's 'London Fields'. I thought it was decidedly grim in the mid-Eighties when I went in several times and it was probably in need of an upgrade, which it duly received in its dripping-candle guise of the Market Bar before its more recent makeover into a Victorian style pub. I haven't been in yet so I can't comment. 

I was never in the Earl of Lonsdale when it was known as Henneky's but I used to frequent it in the Eighties and sometimes stood cheek by jowl with Lemmy, with his omnipresent fag and whiskey and Coke, as he relentlessly piled money into the bandit. Although the interior design has changed since then I don't think the ambience has been particularly affected. The Portobello Gold is my favourite bar on the road, notwithstanding some of the barstaff who seem to think they're doing you a favour by chatting to their colleagues while looking anywhere but in the direction of thirsty patrons. Anyway, a lot of people from way-back-when still get in there as well as many passing tourists though the place itself has changed out of all recognition internally since Dave the manager took over twenty-odd years ago. It's also managed to combine the old with the new, largely by doubling in size to add the eating area in the rear. The Portobello Star was getting done up last time I walked past so I don't know what it's like now but it had managed to survive as an oasis of old time Portobello with lots of locals and no pretensions.

In my time a few new bars have appeared too. I went in the trendy joint next to the Electric once and waited so long to get served that, together with the fact that I felt like a fish out of water, I've never been back again. I did like the Ion, next to Ladbroke Grove Station, as it provided a variety of musical entertainment but I see the place is about to reopen not as a bar but as a supermarket. The Inn on the Green was for me the best of the new places and apart from being a place where many old Portobello faces reconvened after seemingly disappearing for years, it did put on all manner of activities and is very much in touch with the locals. Sady, it is now closed too. 

A little east of Portobello at 202 Westbourne Grove is what used to be the Duke of Norfolk, my favourite pub in the area in the late Eighties. The scene had basically transferred from the Moscow Arms in Moscow Road and the place was alive with an exciting, young, music-mad crowd. When I go past it on the bus these days I don't know what it is. It looks like a boutique where you can sit and have a coffee. Perhaps someone could enlighten me as to its present function? Whatever it is, it seems to epitomize the change in character of the area from a vibrant, rather wild melting pot towards a laid-back, cappuccino-sipping fashionista zone. The threatened  transformation of Portobello Road into a string of chi-chi boutiques and all that goes with it would rip out the heart of the area. I've no interest in boutiques personally though I've nothing against those who choose to shop in them but aren't there already  enough in the Kings Road, Kensington High Street and many other places not far away? I'd much rather have the market and all the unique flavour it brings. Would a street full of designer shops and coffee-bars really attract as many tourists and shoppers as the market does now? At the moment the locals who shop there, me included, and the tourists are happy.

In a poem by John Cooper Clarke called 'Beasley Boulevard' which describes the gentrification of the former Beasley Street there's a line about the local pub which says, “All the locals have been barred” and that's the way it seems to be going in our own area. Money always talks but if enough of we locals oppose changes that threaten the character of our area, we can show that grass-root support talks louder.    

Ian Mole
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