The Screen on the Green in Angel is a very special cinema, but it has one major drawback: despite boasting a bar in the auditorium (yes, actually in it), the best beer available is a pint of Guinness. It therefore fails to meet the the benchmark of an independent cinema that sells quality beer but it’s such a great movie house and makes for such a great viewing experience that this can be forgiven.
Taken over by Everyman in 2008, with its red neon sign it’s an iconic feature on Islington’s Upper Street. Inside is just as special with sofa-seating, side tables upon which to place your drink, table service and even footrests. It’s certainly at the premium end of the cinematic experience and tickets don’t come cheap; however, after my last experience at the nearby Vue multiplex when a woman actually answered her phone during a showing of Arthur Christmas (and in so doing temporarily robbed me of my festive spirit), I’m happy to pay the price. It’s also an amazing place for a date, and is guaranteed to impress more than those brightly lit, sticky carpeted, nacho festooned big chain cinemas. Just make sure you grab a kerry-oot from the Craft Beer Co. N1 beforehand.
I once heard tell that the Phoenix Cinema is Mark Kermode’s favourite movie house, and being somewhat a fan of the bequiffed film critic I was further endeared to what is the second oldest continuously-running cinema in the UK. Actually, to say I’m somewhat a fan of Kermode is an understatement. On meeting him in 2011 at the Hackney Picturehouse for a book signing, I became slightly flustered when asking to have my photo taken. Regardless of my ambiguous feelings towards this titan of film criticism, when you see the Phoenix in all its art deco glory, and consider that in 1975 local residents banded together to save it from demolition giving it a story worthy of a film in itself, you can see that it’s a very special place indeed.
I first visited the Phoenix many years ago, and while I remember it having a welcoming café-bar I don’t recall the beer selection being particularly inspiring. So when I recently booked tickets to see Two Days, One Night (Dirs. Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne) it’s reasonable to say I was more excited about sussing out the beer selection than I was seeing the film. The film, in retrospect however, was the more rewarding; it is an effecting, character-driven drama about the impact of austerity in suburban Belgium. Not ideal viewing for a Sunday afternoon perhaps, so you can see why I was so keen to peruse the beer selection before heading into the auditorium.
The beer at the Phoenix is decent without being amazing – I was happy/relieved to see bottles of Brooklyn Lager, Budvar, a nod to locality with Portobello’s London Pilsner and the best in show, Negra Modelo. The fact that I was slightly underwhelmed says more about my status as a Craft Wanker than it does the Phoenix – it’s an independent cinema not a northern outpost of Durty Nelly’s after all. With summer having made a reappearance I had a hankering for cold, crisp, refreshing lager so I went for the London Pilsner. Straw in hue with malt, lemon and grass in aroma and flavour, it quenched my thirst but I did find myself wishing I’d gone for the Negra Modelo as I’ve not had this beer in a while and regretted not re-acquainting myself with it. As a coping mechanism I simply muttered “you live and learn Peter, you live and learn” repeatedly on the long walk home by way of penance, and strangely enough felt better for it.
To sum up, the Phoenix is a beautiful cinema with a great back story run by a not-for-profit trust of film enthusiasts showing fantastic, thought-provoking films. And there’s just about enough in the fridge in the café-bar to sate the wants of the dedicated beer drinker and cinephile.
* The absence of a pseudo arty/actual wanky photo of my beer at a jaunty angle is due to the fact the bottle was swiftly withdrawn once my beer had been decanted into the plastic tumbler and I hadn’t the brass neck to ask for it back.
The Hackney Picturehouse opened its doors on 28th October 2011 and quickly came to epitomise the regeneration (or hipsterisation, depending on your viewpoint) of London’s most dynamic borough. In the interests of transparency, I must declare an interest – I’ve been a member from the beginning, and despite some qualms I remain excited about the venue’s contribution to culture, and indeed beer, in Hackney.
When the Picturehouse opened I was living in nearby Stoke Newington, which by this time had entered Shoreditch’s sphere of influence (see the aforementioned hipsterisation). As a regular at the Rio in Dalston I had reservations about getting into bed with the Picturehouse, but the arrival of a shiny new four-screen cinema with a well-stocked bar convinced me to suppress them. So it was on my first visit that I immediately bypassed the box office and made straight for the bar and ordered a bottle of London Fields Brewery’s Hackney Hopster.
Hopster was one of the first beers from the resurgent London brewing scene that I fell for. Crisp, dry and with plenty of citrus bitterness, enjoying a Hopster at the Picturehouse became a favourite pastime. However, as the scene exploded, I grew disillusioned that the beer range at the Picturehouse didn’t keep pace, so I
started smuggling my own beers in found my visits became increasingly rare.
Fast forward two years and all of that has changed. Glenn Attard, whose CV includes spells at Diageo and Grand Union, was appointed new Food and Beverage Manager in May of this year, and he is a man who appreciates beer. Glenn told me that in addition to London Fields’ core range of Hopster, Love Not War and Shoreditch Triangle, the Picturehouse bar now boasts Crate Brewery’s Stout, Lager and IPA and Beavertown’s Gamma Ray, 8 Ball and Smog Rocket. Keen to celebrate London breweries south of the river too, Bear Hug Brewing’s Hibernation IPA is also available, with the Spirit Pale Ale to follow. And even more excitingly, Glenn hinted at the prospect of regular beer tastings being held at the Hackney Attic, the Picturehouse’s upstairs event space – exciting times indeed.
Talking to Glenn convinced me to pay another visit to the Picturehouse, and I did (for beer but they do films too). I’m a recent convert to the cause of canned beer but the bottle of Gamma Ray I had was everything I expect – a fruity, bitter whack in the face the moment you get within a 5-metre radius. The Hopster was on form too, and the Crate lager was gorgeously thirst-quenching on what was a blisteringly hot summer’s day.
With so many amazing drinking destinations nearby, if you’re in east or north London and fancy a film while scooping like a real Craft Wanker, get to Hackney.
Opening in March of this year, the ArtHouse in Crouch End rather loftily describes itself as ‘a dynamic new cultural venue that will tear down the perceived fourth wall between genres of art’. Pretentious language aside, the ArtHouse is a welcome addition to Crouch End’s cultural scene, with the added bonus that it’s a five minute walk from my front door.
And it’s not just a cinema. Housed in the former Salvation Army Hall on Tottenham Lane, the ArtHouse also hosts theatre, comedy and children’s events as well as boasting a cafe and bar – more of which later.
Turning the dream into reality wasn’t straightforward for the team behind the ArtHouse. As if opening a new cinema wasn’t daunting enough, partners George Georgiou and Sam Neophytou had to contend with an ‘amicable’ split from partners Curzon Cinemas just weeks before opening day. With hindsight, George views the split positively, and told me ‘The parting [of ways] with Curzon put us completely in the driving seat … we couldn’t rely on a known brand to get bums on seats … flexibility and our slight naivety seem to be what people are attracted to as it feels real.’
While authenticity is certainly attractive, for a self-confessed beer geek partial to enjoying a drink at the cinema it was the Meantime beers available at the bar that piqued my interest on a recent visit. London Lager, Pale Ale and Yakima Red were all present, and it was the latter I went for to accompany a showing of Ken Loach’s Jimmy’s Hall. The film was disappointing but ironically the hops from Washington State made me less bitter, and what George had to say on the future of the drinks menu at the ArtHouse further improved my mood. ‘We plan to expand our range of beers using smaller breweries and promoting independents,’ he explained. Imagine the beery irony of enjoying a Gamma Ray while watching the latest installment in the Spiderman franchise. An unlikely prospect at this champion of independent cinema but I can always dream …
This virtuous stance of supporting small, independent producers is in-keeping with an ethical approach to business which is reflected in employee relations at the ArtHouse. George assured me that all full-time staff are paid the Living Wage, and there is zero tolerance of zero hour contracts – an example more established cinemas could learn from.
So all in all there’s much to like about the ArtHouse. And despite the prospect of a rival cinema opening nearby, it seems to have got too much right not to succeed. It won’t be easy, and it will rely on the support of the local community. But that flexibility George talked about isn’t an option for the chains, and if the beer list continues to grow the ArtHouse is assured of my regular custom – Spiderman or not.
Disclaimer: I’m not really that into Spiderman