Words & Photos - Matthew Curtis
I've often mentioned Highgate's The Duke's Head in the context of the events that I've hosted there. What I haven't mentioned enough, is what a fantastic pub it really is and why I'm so often drawn back to its cosy surroundings. It may not be the closest decent pub to me but it is the best, which makes the twenty minute walk there (and the half an hour walk back) more than worth the while.
I fell for the pub on my first visit, after a brisk spring walk with friends through the nearby Queen's Wood. Ten gleaming handpulls, two of which are dedicated to cider, are lined up neatly on the bar like soldiers standing to attention. You'll always see something good on the pumps, be it from local breweries such as Siren and Weird Beard or from those further afield such as Bristol's Moor or Yorkshire's Magic Rock. The pubs manager, Tom runs the cellar like a finely oiled machine so you can always count on your pint being cool and in top condition. It's no wonder that The Duke's Head is currently CAMRA's North London pub of the season.
Mounted on the wall behind the bar are ten taps, pouring keg beers such as the pub's house lager, Hammerton Islington Steam and you can always count on a pint of Beavertown Gamma Ray being available. You'll occasionally find more adventurous beers pouring from the wall. Recent guests have included Wild Goose Chase, a gooseberry saison from The Wild Beer Company and the absolutely stunning India Pale Ale Nelson Sauvin from Bermondsey's The Kernel. It's striking the balance between solid, reliable, great quality keg and cask ales and slightly more adventurous beers that get enthusiasts excited, that makes this pubs beer offering one of the best in town.
It's not just great beer that makes The Duke's Head tick though. Your gaze won't escape the glowing neon above the Sacred gin bar which serves cocktails using spirits from the Highgate based micro-distillery. Nor will it escape the well chosen range of whiskies, tequilas and wines lined up on the shelves and the cans from Beavertown and Fourpure packed into the fridges. You won't go hungry either, as the rotating, monthly kitchen residency from top street food vendors means that there's always something new and exciting on the menu. Recent occupants have included The Bell & Brisket, Rotli Crew and The Beefsteaks.
Good food and drink isn't enough in itself to make a pub great though, neither is great music, friendly, efficient staff and a host of unique special events, all of which this pub has in spades. There's one thing that can't be stocked or hired or trained that makes the best pubs truly stand out, vibe. The walls of The Duke's Head are practically dripping with the stuff, creating the perfect atmosphere whatever situation you find yourself in when you're there. It could be a quiet Sunday lunchtime pint, it could be a watching a football match on the television with your mates, it could be a lively Friday night with a DJ spinning great tunes. Whatever the situation, The Duke's Head captures it perfectly. It welcomes you in, invites you to stay a little longer than you intended and before you know it you're sat around a table doing shots at 2am and hoping that you never have to leave.
Few pubs have the magic but The Duke's Head has it in spades, that's why it's my local.
This post is my contribution to Jamie Oliver's Drinks Tube's fantastic 'Show Us Your Local' initiative. You can read and watch lots of other great tributes to other great locals by following the hashtag #ShowUsYourLocal.
I'm running two event's at The Duke's Head in March. On the 4th of March it's our monthly bottle club with special guests Fourpure, email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved. Then, on the 20th of March we're welcoming Beavertown brewery for a special cask vs. keg event which will feature lots of great food and drink as well as a tutored tasting with a difference from myself and a chance to meet the guys from the brewery. Tickets are £40 and can be purchased from Ticketsource here: https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/date/152598