This post was first published in February 2012
There’s been a lot of excited Tweeting lately about the opening of a new pub, The Hunter S., in De Beauvoir Town, so as I was heading down that way to check out the new Honey Drizzle cooking school in Hoxton, it seemed natural to pay a visit. Given the concept, I was expecting to love it: Hunter Thompson was one of the first literary voices I connected with, his work helping to instil in me the idea that journalism was about more than just reporting three-car pile-ups. While I’ve long since given up my futile attempts at gonzo writing, I’m nevertheless instinctively pre-disposed to like a pub in his honour. What a surprise, then, that I’m writing my first negative review. It’s not just that I can’t really see what the fuss is about – I actually actively dislike the place.
So what exactly is The Hunter S playing at? It’s got a few decent bottles, an OK menu and a reasonable, if not overly accessible, location. So why are they obtaining the dubious distinction of being this blog’s first shoe throwing moment? Because apparently they’ve also got a deeply-held conviction that the customer is a mug to be exploited at all times. I appreciate that as a new opening they undoubtedly have a lot on their mind. Maybe there are still teething problems to sort out and they have yet to their stride. But the problems I noticed and the issues I have with this particular establishment seem unlikely be put right through the usual process of trial and error.
It boils down to the pub’s basic philosophy and, frankly, this one’s ideology seems about as attractive as Nietzsche on a bad day. It was pretty evident that a punter popping in for a half and a bottle wasn’t their biggest concern and while the service wasn’t rude, it certainly wasn’t charm personified. The venue itself was barely tolerable. The bar was reasonably attractive looking in a polished, deliberately overstocked kind of way, but the lighting was ridiculously low given that it was barely 6pm. Unless the breast and leg on offer isn’t poultry-related, it was completely inappropriate. Decorations were, for lack of more interesting wording, totally tacky – the cheap looking taxidermy was presumably meant to allude to Thompson’s penchant for firearms but in fact proved that only MEATliquor to date has succeeded in Gonzo Revivalism.
Again, maybe I’m meowing at the wrong milkman here – The Hunter S. is obviously not pitched at the CAMRA crowd. But nor are the aforementioned pubs that manage to serve an interesting selection of beers, pull in a diverse crowd, and decorate in line with 21st century standards. Despite the best efforts of many a London gastropub to disprove the following statement, modernity and quality are not incompatible. Even the New Cross House, with which I have issues that go deeper than overpricing and beer selection, manages to pull off the balancing act: a couple of unique ales (though Sharps also appears with alarming regularity), good food, and a beer garden which puts many leisure centres to shame.
Yet judging by the frenzied response to The Hunter S., it would seem that De Beauvoir Town wasn’t just crying out for a good pub but had recently emerged from a prolonged period of prohibition. People are waxing lyrical about everything from the Sunday roasts to the toilet facilities. For me, it’s not the saviour of De Beauvoir Town’s thirsty masses but an average boozer at best. Calling it a ‘local’ would be a travesty, as everything about The Hunter S. embodies the opposite of community: it’s pricing is obviously designed to promote the kind of exclusivity and elitism that has no place in this part of town. Hunter Thompson may have helped to inspire this place, but I’m fairly certain he wouldn’t approve – a drinker of his capacity would be skint in under an hour. Invoking one of anarchy’s greatest sons is always going to be a risky business, so if you must insist on having a go, you better have some idea what you’re doing. At present, it seems like The Hunter S. don’t have the faintest.