Go on a pub crawl, said the editor. Find the dark heart of hipster wankerdom in Croydon, where beer is overpriced and the sandwiches chewy and taste odd, he said. Play ping pong, or shuffleboard, came the brief.
As you can imagine, KEN TOWL needed no second invitation
While Shoreditch has been achingly cool for some years, Croydon seems always to be on the cusp of trendiness, always about to be the place to be.
There is a Boxpark in Shoreditch. There is a Boxpark in Croydon. But there the similarity ends. Or does it?
Last Sunday, I took to the mean streets of the town centre to search for beards, overpriced craft ales, irony, gentrification and locally sourced organic vegan snacks.
Dear reader, I found all of these things.
The first stop was Art & Craft Croydon, a branch of a mini-chain that stretches north as far as Streatham, via West Norwood.
It is a micro-pub half way up Surrey Street, itself the spinal column of hipster Croydon.
It has reassuringly distressed surfaces and exposed plumbing highlighting the hipster qualities of industrial re-use and ironic gentrification. If you drink a pint here, you are in part of what was once the print hall of the Croydon Advertiser, back from the time when there was an actual newspaper written, edited and printed in the borough. You can just about make out the wording above the windows.
Alternatively, you could sit outside behind the ironically gentrified “Beer Here” road sign, under the ironically coloured air-conditioning units gathering unironic pigeon shit on the wall of the building behind the pub.
The beer is reassuringly expensive. It is worth checking out the price of a pint before you buy. You are unlikely to find anything for less than a fiver, but some beers are considerably more – and while the beer list offers tasting notes and ABV notes, it does not disclose prices. Some come at £8 a pint. The craft beer is fine, if you like that sort of thing.
Across the street and down Matthew’s Yard is… Matthews Yard, a stripped back ex-industrial venue that is too cool even for an apostrophe.
Here, tattooed men in shorts beetle away on laptops as they drink craft beers (at less than £5/pint!) while others play a self-aware game of table tennis.
An exhibition inside is interesting, a collection of ceramic heads of all the different iterations of David Bowie – a Ziggy here, a Thin White Duke there, a Man Who Fell To Earth round the corner.
They are actually quite arresting and strange, and curiously hard to find, tucked away in an alcove at the back.
The food appeared to be entirely vegan – a common hipster trope – apart from the bacon sandwich and cup of tea £5 deal, and “available every day 11am until 12pm”.
I asked about this apparent carnivorous anomaly and the very helpful barperson, making the bunny ears gesture with two fingers of each hand, explained that the bacon was “bacon”. It was, she claimed, made of carrot but it tasted the same as real bacon. I chose not to test her claim; I leave that to you, intrepid reader.
Outside, I eavesdropped on a couple of bestubbled customers as they chatted over artfully iced coffees in pint glasses:
“So, I wanted to go into product design, so yeah, then I realised that street food is product design – it’s food you design – but with a really low start up cost. So yeah…”
Down Surrey Street next, and into Mr Fox, yet another stripped back post-industrial bar with craft beers and an ironic game, this time shuffleboard. Here, pints of beer are £5, and even a (small) bowl of fries is £4. So yeah…
Prices to use the shuffleboard table are eccentric, another hipster trope. It’s free on Mondays and Tuesdays, £5 per hour on Wednesdays and £10 per hour the rest of the week.
On this Sunday, no one was playing. In part of the cavernous interior, a church group was celebrating something while dressed in Sunday Best around a big white cake. Not very hipsterish at all, or very hipsterish indeed.
Round the corner on Middle Street is a rather unobtrusive doorway. It used to be the entrance to Beano’s, the much-lamented biggest-second-hand-record-shop-in-Europe that took up three floors of the site. In its place is Project B, is a rather cool venue-for-hire which self-describes as “industrial-luxe”.
The people running it seem nice. You could probably make it a hipster joint if you hired it and invited enough guests with beards. See here for details of how to book…
Hipstered out, I crossed Surrey Street for a last pint in the Dog and Bull, a traditional enough Youngs pub with a cosy if unremarkable interior, as well as a huge and somewhat stylised beer garden, all booths in pastel colours, tropical plants and a burger shack, all managing to imbue the space with a sunny, holiday vibe, despite being surrounded by the Croydon grime of such alleys as Fellmongers Yard and Overton’s Yard.
It is typical of most Young’s pubs these days, the upgrade paid for with the proceeds from them selling their brewery at Wandsworth, where the Wandle reaches the Thames.
Here, too, pints were less than £5 per pint – Croydon prices, rather than central London bar prices.
The Dog and Bull’s beer garden is probably the best one in Croydon. If you know better, please please let us know.
So there you have it – Croydon is, if not as hip as Shoreditch, at least hipsterish in a strip along Surrey Street, the site on six days a week, of course, of a decidedly unhip market that has been there since the 12th Century, despite the best efforts of the council to replace its family-friendly pound-a-bowl value with artisan luxe.
If you can get craft beer for £8/pint, bacon made out of carrots and play a game of shuffleboard for a range of prices, then fully-blown hipsterism is probably not too far away.
So yeah, as we hipsters say…
* Updated July 4, 2019: This article was amended to correct the price of a pint of ale at Mr Fox, which was mis-stated due to an editing error. We apologise for the error.
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