Aldgate is a shit hole.
Wedged between the berk infested jungle of the city, the tourist hive of Tower Hill and the infinitely more interesting Whitechapel; it is without a doubt one of the most dismal areas of London. The problem with Aldgate is that it isn’t really ‘anywhere’; it’s not a destination for anyone to do anything at all. If you get off the tube at either of its ill-deserved stations I almost guarantee you’re doing it to change trains or to immediately walk somewhere else (or you’re lost). Unless you’re fond of dilapidated office buildings, four lane inner city roads or the sort of newsagents which stock a bewildering array of crisps there is utterly no reason to come here; because Aldgate is a shit hole.
However; if the fates do conspire to bring you here or you feel the need to see what the arse end of Zone One looks like there is at least one place you can have a decent pint.
The Hoop and Grapes is a tiny glimmer of hope in an otherwise desolate little nether zone. In fact it possibly benefits from being here rather than any further West where it might fall victim of the trend towards pubs being a demi-Costa for the benefit of the tourist hordes.
From the exterior onward this pub is full of pleasant little surprises. Anyone who isn’t blind or suffering from an inner ear problem will immediately notice that the front window has been put in at an eccentric angle and that it, and the surround, is made from timber. Although it’s quiet about its history this is one of the oldest timber framed buildings in the city, having survived the big fire and those bits in the last century where the Germans were lobbing bombs our way. The walls inside provide a few more glimmers of a more interesting past, either via delicately painted quotations or through the tell-tale signs of sealed over fire places & long vanished partitions.
A trip to the bog leads you down into the belly of the building and past a number of doors which no doubt hide Tudor cellars which have changed very little across the years. In modern times perhaps they could do a side-line renting these out as bomb shelters just in case that pixie fingered, bewigged, talking traffic cone gets his knickers in a twist and goes all Dr. Strangelove on someone.
Far from just being a historic curio it’s not doing too badly at ‘just being a pub’ either; a solid selection of IPAs, local beers and supermarket lagers would keep any array of drinkers well catered for. Even the food is a bit of a cut above; anywhere with a dedicated sausage menu is always going to go down well. Who doesn’t love a good thick sausage?
In terms of the humans you’re likely to encounter here they’re few in number on a Saturday afternoon so seats are likely and universally comfortable. It’s more of a prime spot for post work drinks from nearby offices; provided people have any imagination and don’t just stumble into the nearest generic hell-hole. Staff were genuinely delightful and even managed a bit of ‘banter’ without being annoying or socially inept.
Sadly The Hoop & Grapes struggles to hit higher when the scores are aggregated almost entirely due to where it’s plonked. Whereas once this was a busy gateway to the city it’s now a long forgotten little armpit in a metropolis which has left it behind, along with any real purpose the pub may once have had. But you could do far worse than heading here to idle away an hour or two; just try and ignore everything in a 200m radius of the front door on your way in; because Aldgate is a shit hole.