It was not so long ago that any London pub which specialised in ales and bitters tended to be frequented by people of a more 'earthy' nature. Criminals, in other words.
However, on the back of a loose association with the organic movement, real ales have made inroads with the type of drinker who more recently would have been necking European lagers or champagne. Often at the same time.
One place trying to help ale make that leap from being socially acceptable in pubs to fashionable in bars is Brew Wharf in Borough Market.
Brew Wharf is the younger, more boisterous, and less sophisticated sibling of the wine shrine that is Vinopolis. Located in an old Victorian storehouse, this is a big drinking venue with an almost barn-like interior. Exposed brickwork, benches for tables, and stainless steel taps meld together to create the sort of place you might find in Northern Europe. This is probably not a coincidence, as according to the website, Brew Wharf takes its food inspiration from Alsatian food prepared with British ingredients sourced from Borough Market. (One assumes they mean the region rather then the breed of dog.)
However I doubt that the punters - mostly male, mid-thirties, suited and booted - come here for the food. Recognising the needs of its drinkers, Brew Wharf boasts its own microbrewery producing two real ales, and stocks a selection of beers from other breweries, most notable of which are from Meantime in Greenwich. But despite its pretensions (or are they aspirations?), Brew Wharf’s atmosphere is more beer festival then wine tasting. The staff on the night we visited seemed friendly, but harassed. They certainly were not in the mood for offering advice as to which beer might best suit our palates. The decision to allocate half of the available bar space to glass clearance and collection didn’t help, and the resulting scrum in the service section was not for the faint hearted.
Brew Wharf does have a spacious, yet sparse courtyard, which works a treat in the warm weather, and helps to de-clutter the inside bar of impatient City commuters. Yet while you can’t help but admire its ambitions, Brew Wharf has a way to go before it can measure up to its wine-imbibing big sister. Perhaps ales and bitters are best left to the pubs.