The Hope, December 2016. Once more open for business.

Last year, while researching my City of London Pubs book, I visited the Hope, a famous old early morning market pub located at the Smithfield end of Cowcross Street. What I encountered was a once grand old boozer that appeared to have rather lost its mojo. It was undeniably still striking in places with some beautiful surviving original tiling and etched glass to be seen, but was clearly not at its best, like a much loved old teddy bear that had had most of its stuffing knocked out of it.

Although I included the pub in the final draft of my book – even though technically it is in the London Borough of Islington and not the Square Mile – I must admit at the time I didn’t hold out much hope for the Hope, and these fears were confirmed earlier this year (see pictures below) when the pub closed for business and darkness descended on a hostelry which had for many years pulsated with the colour and life that only market porters can generate.

So I was delighted the other day to see that it has re-opened for business, and just in time for Christmas too. But first, a history.

The Hope was first established here late in the eighteenth century (the year 1790 is bandied about) but the current pub building dates from 1870 with many of its surviving tiles and etched glass dating from an 1890 upgrade. The pub is reckoned to be the work of Isaacs and Florence, an architectural firm once very busy in this part of London. Lewis Henry Isaacs, one half of the practice, went on to design the rather striking Grade II listed Farmiloe Building, which stands just yards from the Hope in St John Street and is well worth a look.

For many years the Hope, along with the nearby Fox and Anchor in Charterhouse Street, was famed for its early morning licence which allowed it to offer food and drink from 7am onwards, although strictly speaking only to those ‘lawfully engaged on business in the market.’

The newly revived Hope, sadly, will not be continuing with this early morning tradition, but that aside the signs are good and the decision to open at the weekend is to be welcomed. (Since this blog went live the Hope have introduced early morning opening, 7am, from Monday thru to Friday). 

It took several months to remodel the pub and for the most part it looks like a nice blend of makeover and sympathetic renovation. As long as I can remember one of the etched glass windows on one of the pub’s front doors was cracked, but this has now been repaired. Not a huge job in the scheme of things, I’ll grant you, but a sign of intent.

The Hope has a nice, spacious ground floor bar with a more upmarket first floor lounge which proclaims itself a ‘gin parlour.’ The overall feel of the interior is mock Victorian with a hint of Gothic, a design style which is a feature of countless pub reinventions across London at the moment. Apparently these days we all want to drink in boozers that look like they’ve come from the set of Ripper Street. Suddenly the ‘gin parlour’ bit makes perfect sense.

The new Hope also makes a big thing of its meat market connection and, in hindsight, would probably have been foolish to do otherwise. Some of the tables in the main ground floor are butcher’s blocks, although look a little too clean to be the real thing, while on the food front ‘award winning’ pies dominate the menu. They are made by the Pieminister company and come all the way from Bristol apparently! Do they not sell pies at Smithfield?

Some lettering embossed on one front window proclaims ‘pie and mash’ (‘award winning’ pies, naturally) although I suspect this is a very different offering from the pie and mash that some of us grew up with, and indeed still occasionally partake of, in such fine establishments as Manze’s.

On my visit I spoke to a very friendly Dutch lady who was busy lighting candles as the dark of the late December afternoon began to set in. So far, she told me, the reaction to the new Hope has been a very positive one with only the odd customer disappointed that the mammoth full English breakfast of old is no longer available.

So while in many ways the Hope offers few surprises with its all too knowing mash-up of boutique gin, craft beer and (mostly) recreated Victoriana, we should all breathe a sigh of relief that it has remained a pub at all. That it has also retained its original name, most probably a corruption of Hoop and Grapes or Hops and Grape, is a bonus.

And one tip if you do decide to pay the place a visit – and all things considered it’s certainly worth investigation – is to try and sit in the bow-fronted window looking out at Smithfield Market and the busy  junction where Charterhouse Street, Cowcross Street and St John Street converge. All of human life is here, even the odd meat porter.

City of London cover

City of London Pubs is published by Amberley.