As loathe as I am to use the phrase; Clapham is ‘up and coming’. Stepping off the tube at any of its three stations and you will almost immediately be surrounded by sharply dressed young professionals strolling confidently on a high street packed with hairdressers, bistros and I kid you not a genuine ‘boulangerie’ (that’s French for Greggs). It is no surprise then that the pubs in the area have raised their game from being humble ale purveyors and are now a much sleeker breed of boozer catering to a crowd with a fatter wallet.
This evolution of pubs in the area fuelled a healthy debate/argument over a couple of very enjoyable pints in The Calf. The question at the heart of the matter was ‘Is this a pub?’. It’s a discussion I’ve had before with drinking buddies and an issue I often ponder myself (in my head, not out loud).
The Calf makes a solid pitch at being a pub as far as I can tell. It has a solid array of proper beers on tap including Doom Bar and Junction both of which I’d recommend. The staff who served us were knowledgeable on the beers too which is always a good sign. Despite it being highly modernised it still looks pretty much like a pub too. Carved wooden features, exposed beams and some stunning cast iron pillars are amongst the more striking aspects of the decor.
However the list of things which start to take this out of the pub bracket is quite significantly longer. The layout is much more like a restaurant than anything else and there are no nooks or crannies in which to seclude yourself for a more intimate pint. Equally restaurant like is the fact that the tables are waited upon by well informed and attentive staff who kept our drinks topped up, checked we were OK and even managed to persuade me to eat a pudding (didn’t take much). The presence of one of those massive complicated steam blowing coffee machines accompanied by jars of tiny marshmallows and biscotti (that’s Italian for Hob Nobs) is reminiscent of the sort of place you’d order an espresso after eating rather than chug the rest of your pint and stumble to the bar in search of another.
So is this a pub? I think the conclusion is probably a no. But this no needs to come with a disclaimer. This is a new evolution of the pub and it’s not one that entirely I dislike; much like its similarly bovine monikered cousin The Old Red Cow. I doubt that the city working Ralf Lauren wearing Ruperts, Cuthberts, Felicitys and Charlies would be comfortable in something as earthy as The Griffin or The Angel so this new breed has emerged not only to cater for them but in order to survive and this is surely only a good thing. Maybe it doesn’t present us with some of the cosy comforts of a dimly lit bar but it is safeguarding the future of places to go and enjoy a proper pint and has done so without plastering the walls with half a dozen plasma screens or hiring a mechanical bull.