Owners of new Brick Lane pub the Buxton: 'I’d hate for anyone to look at this and think it’s not for them'
"Opening a pub is amazing — but never in the way you think it’s going to be at first,” says Gareth Roberts, co-founder of the Culpeper in Aldgate, staring contentedly up at his latest project, the Buxton. “It’s been three laborious years,” says his business partner Nico Treguer, standing beside him. “Like having a very slow, painful baby.”
They have painstakingly (if not quite singlehandedly) dismantled the Archers, a popular watering hole in Brick Lane, only to put it back together three storeys taller using some of the original brickwork. “It’s a little like a hair transplant when you take follicles from elsewhere and put them on top,” says Roberts. The result is a beautiful boozer that fits well within the surrounding area.
The Fifties-style interior looks effortlessly inviting: a Rosso Levanto marble slab bar abuts a wood-panelled cosy drinking den that can open out onto the street in the summer. The details are delicate: Portland stone, bricks cut on site and brass beer towers purpose-built in Chicago.
Upstairs it is a hotel it’s yet to open — the pub started pulling pints this month — and the bedrooms are fun: neat, potentially naughty whitewashed snugs with breakfast thrown in at a flat rate of £100 a night. A winding staircase bends up to a closed roof garden (for hotel guests only). In the mornings, guests will wander down to the smell of pastries and coffee, with the East End to explore. Ex-Culpeper sous chef Jamie Evans heads the kitchen. Lamb and pork will come from Swaledale in North Yorkshire where farmers are re-introducing native breeds. Meat will be butchered in house; fish will be from the south coast.
“We enjoy taking a project on as a whole building,” says Treguer. “Things have to happen on different levels for it to feel interesting.” Roberts adds: “The idea of a public house is also something we love — it’s there for everyone, it’s part of the community. I’d hate for anyone to look at this and think it’s not for them.” They have named the new pub after Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton (1786-1845), abolitionist, philanthropist and founding member of the RSPCA, and a partner in Truman’s Black Eagle Brewery further up Brick Lane.
“It feels like this new project is restoring the building to its original prominence,” says Roberts. “When it was built it was the largest building on the street, two storeys tall. Then over the past 100 years we’ve had eight-storey and six-storey blocks popping up, so what would have been the cornerstone building has become the dwarf. We’re correcting that.”
The Buxton is opening in a time of flux. Since 2000 a quarter of pubs have closed in the UK — but London is bucking the trend, with pubs that do more than just serve pints. Film director Guy Ritchie has just opened The Lore of the Land in Fitzrovia, selling genuinely laudable game, ales and stouts from his country estate (Ritchie’s pal, David Beckham, is involved and has been known to pull pints).
This month Gold opens in Notting Hill. It was formerly the Portobello Gold and hopes to stand out under the stewardship of onetime Mahiki owner Nick House and his cohort. Stripping back the pub’s old exterior walls, Portuguese street artist Vhils has freckled the front of the building with a mural of a face that’s divided locals (it’s been called “spooky”).
In Bellingham, south-east London, excitement is building over the £4 mil-lion makeover of the Fellowship Inn, now the Fellowship and Star, where Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac used to gig. The new pub will also feature a theatre and music rehearsal room.
For Roberts and Treguer at the Buxton, however, the “little moments” are what makes being a publican special — “the experience the guests have, someone coming in for a pint, or just dropping in to read the newspaper at the counter, knowing you’ve accounted for a shaft of sunlight hitting that spot at that time of day”. It’s not what you’ve got, but what you do with it that counts.