The Old Cavalier was the best pub in London.
Without any doubt.
And it was my local.
I think that it was run by a bloke called Charlie, who looked like Charlie
Magri, but with a proper nose (which is how I remember), and the girl
behind the bar was the spitting image of Patsy Palmer.
Charlie had a cartoon of himself by the bar, there were engraved tankards
above it and a red phone box in the corner, plus a whole lot of really
lovely junk, and a great jukebox. And there was a really dodgy early
electronic betting machine that used to eat your money and no-one ever
It was tiny, and you had to squeeze past the pool table to move anywhere.
And there were lots of dogs - I think that Charlie's was a big lab that
used to come and sit with you while you were drinking.
It had neon signs and wooden blinds (which would be rattled closed with a
great fanfare after the bell had rung for last orders, after which we were
all told to be quiet, and carried on drinking).
The effect was beautiful - like an Aladdin's cave.
Through a little passage was a quiet room in the back with double doors
that opened out on to the park, and a boat made into a bookcase. There was
a little hatch bar too, where it was impossible to get served.
The best bit, though, was through a little door and up a set of fire
escape stairs to a tiny garden up on the single storey roof on the back of
the building, crammed full of hanging baskets and coloured lightbulbs so
that there was hardly anywhere to sit. It used to pack out on long summer
evenings so that people would actually queue on the fire escape for a
This was at the time when Bethnal Green was just starting to get trendy
(1994-1998, say) and it attracted a weird mix of born-and-bred locals from
twenties to eighties, and artsy-fartsy new kids in town - who all got on
together famously (which was a rarity in Bethnal Green).
It was a really happy pub. And London is an emptier place for its loss.