Pub/Bar of the Month May 2011: Harp
The Harp, Covent Garden, London, UK
Being named CAMRA national Pub of the Year is quite an honour. It’s also quite a burden, I should think. The bar is set high – in more ways than one – and has to be reached each and every time you open for business.
Judging from a recent visit to this year’s Pub of the Year – The Harp, in London’s Covent Garden – I’m sure there will be no such problems over the next 12 months or so.
The Harp has a lot going for it, starting with its location.
Tucked into the bottom of a tall, narrow building, just up a sidestreet close to Trafalgar Square, Charing Cross station and The Strand, it enjoys plenty of passing trade, be it from local workers, tourists, art gallery browsers or the beer connoisseurs who have known about this little treasure for a number of years.
Brush past the colourful flower boxes that light up the outside, push open the door with its stained-glass panels and you’re confronted with what appears to be more of a beer corridor than a pub, a room possibly only ten-feet wide.
Old portraits line the walls, with large mirrors struggling in vain to create the illusion that the place is bigger than it is.
Pressed close to the bar, or leaning on one of the drinking shelves that line the narrow ground-floor room, you’ll find a happy mix of customers, people of all ages and professions drawn together by that irresistible mix of top-notch beer and excellent service. Those that want to smoke spill over into the alleyway at the rear.
Tables, such as there are, are congregated towards the back of the room, but seating is very much at a premium here and no one really minds too much. If you do need a seat and downstairs is packed out, you can always head up the stairs to the small lounge that has armchairs and the air of a quiet reading room.
Trade Thick and Fast
Back downstairs, trade comes thick and fast. Some people just pop in for a quick pint, knowing they won’t be disappointed with either choice or quality (in an often disappointing part of London); others make a session of it, settling in for a hour or two and working their way along the bar.
If it’s a bit busy on our side of the counter, imagine what it’s like behind the bar, where three or four keen-to-help servers man the eight beer engines to deliver foaming pints of quality ale.
Beers come from selected craft breweries – Dark Star, Crouch Vale, Harveys, Sambrook’s and others – with the variety and range exemplified in the enormous collection of pumpclips that threatens to bring down the bar canopy. Real ciders and perries also feature, while food is limited to speciality sausages.
There are three varieties of banger served daily, and that’s just right for a small pub like this where you just need something to soak up the excellent ale, a bite to keep you going while you seek out something else interesting from the cellar.
The Harp is not typical of CAMRA national Pubs of the Year. It’s slap bang in the middle of the West End for a start and doesn’t have the space enjoyed by previously lauded town or country pubs. But its wide choice of ales, faultless cellar and friendly welcome will, I’m sure, guarantee it lives up to its high accolade.
47 Chandos Place, Covent Garden, London WC2N 4HS
Tel. (020) 7836 0291
Opening Hours: 10.30–11.30pm (10.30–11pm Monday; 12–10.30pm Sunday)