Here is a picture of me holding a gin inside my favourite pub. I look happy don’t I? That’s because I am full of gin and also ensconced in one of my favourite places. They don’t know my name in my favourite pub – I go there too infrequently these days and also I’ve always felt a bit uneasy about the whole concept of being so well known in a drinking establishment that they hail you by name as soon as you walk in and immediately endeavour to hand you your ‘usual’.
Then again, I once spent a miserable summer working in a pub called The Durham Ox in Beeston, Nottingham where we were encouraged to try to remember customer’s names and usual drinks in a vain attempt to make the place seem more welcoming. This being a pub where one of the other bar maids performed a possibly unsanitory act on a customer in the loos. That’s pretty welcoming actually, now I come to think of it.
Anyway, moving speedily onwards as I don’t have all day and nor, I expect, do you. My favourite pub isn’t the one I worked at or indeed any of the ones that I used to frequent in Nottingham during my student days – The Angel, The Tap and Tumbler, The Trippe to Jerusalem, The Salutation, the weird one in Hockley with the horrible oxblood ceiling, the Rose and Crown on Derby Road and many others, I salute you. Different pubs may come and go over the years, but you never forget the ones that you went to as a student: tables sticky with spilled beer, overflowing ashtrays, the melancholy broken tunes of the fruit machine in the corner.
Here I am again in my favourite pub. I am not reponsible for the shaky camera work, just the shaky subject matter.
I didn’t come to my favourite pub until relatively late in life when I moved to London in my late twenties, somewhat bemused to find myself doing something that I had always said I would never ever do but which transpired to suit me better than anything else that I had ever done. I was lucky really – I already had a boyfriend of sorts, plenty of friends and a social life there so for me it was a bit like gatecrashing a party by walking in backwards while holding a drink, which at that time would have been a Pimms.
We came upon my favourite pub, the Princess Alice in Whitechapel which was then called The City Dart, quite by chance. My sort of boyfriend and I had gone on a Ripper walk with my friend Tish and her then boyfriend Mike, who is now her boyfriend again.
In fact, here is my Live Journal entry for that fateful night, 26th October 2002:
‘Saturday night finally went on Jack the Ripper walk with the delightful Tish and her suitor Mike. Was not very creepy at all but did occaionally get some sense of Victorian, gas light creepiness. Went to cool pub afterwards, which we intend making our local, but can’t remember what it was called sadly (The City Dart?). Anyway, sneaked off and had Bailey’s lattes, which are beyond yummy. Decided to forgo usual beer for rest of the evening and introduced Tish to the delights of Pimms. We are classy us. Giggled a lot and was a bit annoying. Oh well. I wanted to smoke but NAME REMOVED crushed my cigarette packet in front of me and started shouting so I ran into the loos for a bit of a cry with Tish.‘
Now, as you can probably imagine, there is a lot that I am not saying in this Live Journal post. We had had a great time on the Ripper Walk, except for the bits when NAME REMOVED who was holding my hand had taken to deliberately crushing my fingers whenever Tish and I started giggling. The pub was great though, really big and old fashioned and cosy. We all sat at a big round table at the back and had a lovely time until NAME REMOVED suddenly picked up my packet of cigarettes and crushed it before flinging the remnants all over the table.
Which was a bit awkward.
Gin and gin candle. This was ART to me at the time that I took this photograph. ART.
This should have put me off the City Dart, but no. I went back frequently, drawn in by its old school atmosphere, its mix of shiny faced city boys, the occasional Hoxton type and slightly scary gangster types and had some pretty epic nights out there as well including the one where I drank tequila shots with a total stranger because they’d never done them before and ended up crawling around on the floor and the one where I drunkenly bet Tish that I could pull any man I wanted and then did by sheer force of charm and having a low cut top.
That isn’t something I am proud of though. I think the guy in question actually really liked me and I was really horrible to him because, well there is no way to say this nicely so I will put it as baldly as I can, I had just been dumped two weeks before I was due to get married and so wasn’t really in a great place. He was nice to me though and I think of him whenever I am in there. I wonder if he thinks of me too.
Joolz Denby wrote a poem once (I am about to paraphrase horribly because I don’t actually remember how the poem goes) about how she thinks about past lovers and raises a glass of wine to them and concludes that someone out there is also raising a glass to her and wishing her well. I am not like that. That is not my life. If you are an ex lover and occasionally think ‘Oh, I hope she’s doing well, I raise my glass to her’ then do get in touch but in the meantime I’ll get on with observing the tumble weed roll relentlessly across my inbox, while the church bell tolls relentlessly overhead and in the distance a dog barks.
I’ve moved away from London now but I try to visit the City Dart whenever I go back, infinitely preferring it to the more well known Ten Bells just up the road. It’s changed a lot since those dark days of 2002 and has gone back to its original name: The Princess Alice as well as having a bit of a makeover so it is less like a slightly down at heel east end boozer and altogether more salubrious with big leather arm chairs and muted, some might say annoyingly so, lighting.
I still love it though. The last time I went in, I was with my friend Simon and had just taken him on a bit of a tour of the back alleys of Whitechapel after leaving the Blind Beggar. I showed him the spot where poor Martha Tabram was found stabbed in a doorway in 1888 and then we went round the corner and there was the Princess Alice waiting for us, its windows glowing amber in the darkness. I had a couple of gins, as usual and lounged on a sofa chatting about Dorian Grey, gin, TEAM JACK T shirts, ventriloquism and Victorian Prostitute re-enactment. It was a perfect evening.
So, ladies and gentlemen, I present unto you, the Princess Alice on Commercial Street in Whitechapel, my favourite pub in all the world; named after one of the worst disasters to affect Victorian London and a jewel of the east end.
Can’t wait to go back now! You should all come with me! We could all wear corsetry and drink Hendricks then go for a wander through some alleyways. It would be brilliant! Come on!