Every time I walk into Whitelock’s I’m reminded of the Great siege of Malta (1565) when Jean de Valette decapitated Turkish prisoners and fired their heads back into the Ottoman camp. Sadly, as often the case, this was a conflict based very much on religion.
When I first heard that Whitelock’s were opening a new bar, The Turk’s Head, I was a little concerned. I mean, people from out of town coming in and spoiling what is without doubt a gem of a traditional boozer. If you follow my little blog site you will have read about my worries. Shortly after publishing my concerns, Whitelock’s sent me a communication;
… Whitelock’s will not change a dot, still championing British real ale brewers. We love it and always will! The Turk’s Head will also support the British independant brewer, simply offering a wider variety…of interesting brews, spirits, wines and cocktails too…surely a greater choice is a good thing? Whilst hoping we add to the great variety of amazing independant bars in this wonderful city. We really want to stick to the principles that make Whitelock’s great…
I was somewhat reassured when I saw this, they had after all, taken the time to reply, addressing all my concerns in five lines. But, I wasn’t going to put pen to paper again before I went down to find out for myself, thinking I’d give them a week or so to get settled in.
On reflection, this tale really does have shades of the ancient siege I regaled you with. Only this time it’s a case of the old and modern, the religion of tradition and real ale versus the modern, not necessarily real ale, if you adhere to the (CAMRA) bible. You’re probably thinking, he fell right into that trap didn’t he. Maybe not, although I consider my self a person of faith, I don’t follow any particular religion and I respect all faiths and those of no faith, but not necessarily religions. Although I think I am fairly progressive, at heart I’m a traditionalist as well and we are all entitled to make our own minds up.
My main concern was that Whitelock’s would be overshadowed and eroded away before finally falling off the edge of the cliff like some flimsy holiday home on the East coast. Having visited The Turk’s Head, I no longer have any concerns and I think this venture is one of real progress and an asset to the ‘String of beads’ beer scene.
If there are still some disbelievers out there, before any detailed description, there’s a few important points that need to be made very clear. The Turk’s Head is in the very top of the yard and has not taken over any space that was occupied by Whitelock’s. Neither can you walk from pub into bar or vice versa, they are both very specific entities and well separated. An old Loiner did tell me the space used to be the toilets a long time ago, when you had to go outside to them?
Five pm Saturday and The Turk’s Head is pretty well full. It’s not a massive place but you couldn’t get a seat at any of the stylish tables and chairs, with an odd banquette thrown in. Quite a mixed crowd really, all ages, all types, neither beer tickers nor hipsters. There’s a bit of an apothecary theme going on with lots of old chemists bottles and canisters, plus a neat collection of cut glass, decanters and stuff, above the bar. Overall the mood is quite calm, due mainly to the sage green cum blue, glazed tiles around the walls. I couldn’t be specific on the exact colour of the tiles because of the subdued lighting. Overall the decor is a sort of modern old fashioned style and I’ll give top marks to Lord Whitney – Conoisseurs of make believe, who designed it, they’ve cleverly pulled it off. In terms of the Whitelocks/Turks Head trade off then they seem to have created an almost symbiotic relationship. While we are on with the decor I’ll mention the toilet facilities which are of a very high standard, if not commodious. Looking at the overall layout and the size, I don’t think the idea is to pack the place out, it’s more an intimate, homely sort of a space.
Okay, so what about the beer? Two hand pulled cask ales and twelve keg lines. The intention is for the beers to constantly change, whilst retaining roughly the same variety of styles so you shouldn’t be turning up to find everything is a strong IPA or a dark beer. There are some really cool breweries represented, as you can see from the menu which you have to examine as there’s nothing on the bar to tell you what’s on or how much it is. Notably there’s only one lager on which is Four Pure pilsner, the intention being to keep it this way. I asked if The Turk’s Head would end up being a Five Points flagship tap house, personally I don’t think that would be a bad thing, but they told me it’s not going to happen. Out of the fourteen draught ales only two were Five Points and it is going to stay that way. If you’re interested in cocktails and spirits then there’s plenty to go at, as well as some ‘different’ bar snacks. Prices vary from not cheap to quite expensive, but probably not out of the way when compared to similar establishments.
I asked manager David Herbert how things were turning out? He said it was going well and despite a few naysayers the venture had been really well received by local punters. I politely explained I had been sceptical yet reassured by the communication the company had sent me. A smiling David explained he was the author of said communication. We shook hands and he asked me what I thought now? Before I could say, I thought it had a really good feeling, Mrs C cut in and said she thought it was better than Whitelock’s! Different maybe, but different isn’t wrong and we’re back to that antagonistic religion thing; real ale v craft beer, modern v traditional. I think many people realise we need to scrap all that and just get on with drinking good beer in good suroundings. There’s no doubt that within the hidden enclave of Turks Head Yard, LS 1, there is something to suit every type of drinker whether you want the heritage of Whitelock’s or the cutting edge of The Turk’s Head. Having listened to David, it’s quite clear that Ed Mason and his enthusiastic team are committed to quality and delivering preservation through elevation.