By Brian Spencer
Like Han Solo emerging from perfect hibernation in carbonite, Camden Town feels like a Korn concert circa 1999 that was captured, frozen, and dethawed more than a decade later in London. Lip rings, eyebrow rings, (unfortunate) tattoos, baggy jeans, chain wallets, dreadlocks, silver skull jewelry, short girly t’s to reveal belly buttons and g-string straps–the curious “counter-culture” landscape might be edgy if it weren’t so firmly stuck in the mid- to late-’90s.
It’s a silly scene in modern context, though it’s one I grew up in. Once upon a time I wore low-hanging jeans that billowed in the breeze like hot-air balloons. The chain on my wallet swung down around my knees. I always carried a hacky sack with me. My eyebrow was pierced before my ears were. I bleached my hair, and by the time I graduated from college my dreadlocks were ropey and usually tied up with a blue handkerchief that I never washed. I have tattoos, though most have come in my highly sophisticated twenties and early-thirties.
None of this makes me hardcore, not then and certainly not now, but it was who I was, and I like that I grew up when I did, and that I ran in those circles. Yes, if today was 1998, Camden might, in a way, be to me what Haight-Ashbury was to the restless youth of the mid-’60s, but it’s not 1998. I can smile with nostalgia when I see Camden’s tattoos and piercings and belly buttons flashed like they’re some kind of bold statement, but I can’t take the hardcore facade seriously.
I do, however, take the hardcore beers on tap at the BrewDog Camden pub very seriously.
One of 12 satellite bars pouring craft beers from Scotland-based BrewDog Brewery–another bar lands in Sheffield later this year–BrewDog Camden offers 10 of the big dog”s beers on draft, a rotating tap list from like-minded microbreweries like Rogue, Left Hand, and Ska, and a long list of bottles that includes rarer BrewDog beers like Black Tokyo Horizon and Watt/Dickie. If you’re on the hunt for strong, high-quality craft beers in London, here’s your jam.
Located a short walk from the Camden tube station on Bayham Street, the pub describes its two-floor layout as “stripped back with an unforgiving edginess that’s befitting of the world’s most hardcore beers.” With its stone countertop and bricked base, weathered wooden flooring, chalkboard menu, wood stools with metal legs, and stacks of vintage board games, I might say the pub’s design is more “Brooklyn minimalism” than “hardcore,” but hey, it’s Camden.
Back home in Singapore, the only BrewDogs commonly available on tap are the Punk IPA and 5am Saint, so guzzling beers like Fake Lager (light hops, golden color, easy drinking), Libertine Black Ale (roasty, pitch-black, orgasmic), and #Mashtag (made from a crowd-sourced recipe of New Zealand hops, hazelnuts, and oak chips–a favorite) was a treat; ditto for the affordable prices, which tapped out at GBP4.50. The food menu, created by 2011 MasterChef winner Tim Anderson, is heavy on burgers and pizzas — the fluffy, doughy, slightly burnt crust on the latter is a revelation. Try the one topped with avocado.
The music is mostly quite good: To date it’s the only bar where I’ve ever heard Rival Schools, and they hosted a pre-party for Clutch’s sold-out show at The Forum while I was in town. I almost spit up my #Mashtag, however, when I heard Basement Jaxx’s “Rendez-Vu,” which as you recall rose to the top of the UK singles chart in 1999, but hasn’t exactly aged well.
Then again, all things considered, Basement Jaxx at BrewDog Camden is kind of perfect.
BrewDog Camden is located at 113 Bayham St. in Camden, London. +44/ 02 07284 4626. Open M – Th 12pm – 11:30pm, Fri – Sat 12pm – 12am, and Sun 12pm – 10:30pm.