If the arguments over the DesignMyNight office speakers are anything to go by, music is a bit of a contentious issue. For every Ariana Grande stan who thinks screaming yaaas to ‘Into You’ will fix racism, there’s another person in the corner of all parties telling literally anybody who will listen that you can only appreciate Bob Dylan on vinyl because ‘it’s the only way to really hear the sounds, man’. And nowhere are people more insufferable about their music choices than London, so can a 1950s rock ‘n’ roll bar like Be-Bop-A-Lula thrive in this musical battleground? Well, maybe with the help of a few pints...
Venue and Atmosphere
Be-Bop-A-Lula is a bit of a strange one. Like it’s namesake, the venue is old school rock and roll through-and-through. The walls and bar are covered with framed photos and magazine clippings of the superstars of the time, alongside some movie posters for authenticity. There are guitars hanging above the bar; there’s an attractive Wurlitzer jukebox and a playable slot machine. But despite this, it’s not really an American bar: it’s a British retro rock pub with a love of those things, as if it's owned by an eccentric old landlord. That’s what makes it such a cool hangout.
It might not seem like I – a 24-year-old millennial who forces people on a weekly basis to listen to their slow-dance remix of Britney Spear's 'Toxic' – am the target demographic for this pub, but the place was filled with 25 to 35-year-olds, alongside a few older regulars. Being based in Stoke Newington probably helped, but the music is a big draw here, as most retro music venues’ playlist will end strictly at the 60s, so you are actually getting something different. The moody lighting only makes it all better.
They’re also a bit of sports pub, and will play any game on their TV. Though I might suggest that they split the room between football commentary/retro tunes, because if I only wanted to hear football commentary I'd just ring my older brother - and it breaks the immersion too. Really, it’s the bartenders that make this place what it is. I can, without a doubt, say this is the friendliest pub this side of London.
Food and Drink
Sure, the concept works, but a pub without good beer is a pub without a heart. Luckily, Be-Bop-A-Lula has a good selection on tap. They’re mainly American flavoured with a few familiar brands, but it was the local brews from Islington’s Hammerton Brewery that caught my eye. I opted for a drinkable, wonderfully hoppy IPA and set myself down.
We started off with the Chicano Rock Cut Nachos (£8), coming with cheddar, salsa, guacamole, sour cream and jalapenos. This is adorably put in the ‘Little Bites’ section, but is a massive plate piled high with huge dollops of all the components. Instead of proper nachos, they’re baked tortillas. Being in the midst of silly season, my belly is stretched to the point where I could devour a small Devonshire hamlet, but I’d suggest only having a small lunch if you're planning on heading down. Regardless, this hearty portion was what I wanted and needed, and genuinely delicious to boot; it's definitely the perfect 'snack' to line your stomach before you smash one or ten pints.
Managing to shift some room for mains, my friend ordered the Whole lot of Chicken’ going on (£12.50, (yes, that's its name, I’m just reading off the menu here folks). The portions were typically big – you aren’t going to complain about value for money – but unfortunately, the chicken was under-seasoned and overcooked, making it a bit too dry. It was a shame considering the tasty start.
However, that just sucks for my friend, as my order made up for it: the BBKing Ribs (£13.50), which was spicy ribs with chunky chips, slaw and salad. The BBQ sauce was great, but the ribs themselves were tender and awesome; and don’t worry, it’s the type of place where you can pick the bones up and feast like Henry VIII. The chunky chips were bigger than my head, but were cooked properly (an achievement in itself), leaving me both three stone heavier and 7 times happier.
I think I’m a little bit in love with this pub. I remember moaning at my Dad throughout my entire childhood as he played the same songs from the 70s to 80s all weekend long, and then he having the cheek to moan about the same thing for my Grandad about his 'crap' 50s music. Well, I’m happy to admit my Dad is wrong (and a little less happy to say I am): a 1950s pub in London doesn’t just work, it’s a real joy to visit. It’s rough around the edges, but it oozes charm, the beer is great, and it truly feels like a local with a delightful twist. Give me an imperfect pub with heart than a thousand soulless venues any day.