What makes a pub a good pub? I would say: decent drink and food at reasonable prices, a nice atmosphere and friendly staff for starters.
But what makes a good pub a great pub? The answer seems to be Rob Star who has transformed four, soon to be five, derelict or underperforming public houses in North and East London into an eclectic and first class group of pubs – The Electric Star Group.
We met Rob on a tour of the four existing pubs and he told us the story of how he came to the pub business somewhat by accident. He knew early on in his life what he wanted to do: organise parties on a big scale, and this is what he did before, during and after university, first on a smaller scale but soon he was hosting club nights at one of the UK biggest night clubs, Home in Leicester Square as well as Ibiza. After a while he found he did not just want to host parties in somebody else’s club, but he wanted to own one himself. So he got himself a real job, saved up the money, found a business partner and made a bid on a venue. This deal fell through and when his partner decided to go travelling around the world with his share of the money, Rob found himself to have just enough to buy a pub rather than club – the derelict pub which is now The Star of Bethnal Green.
After a lot of hard graft and a tough start, the pub started to make money and Rob decided to buy another one. This time in King’s Cross, which was a shrewd business decision, as that part of London was then a bit of a wasteland but is now buzzing with new businesses and Central St. Martin’s School of Art moved in a few minutes away in Granary Square. The Star by Hackney Downs and The Jackdaw and Star in Homerton followed and soon there will a fifth star: The Leyton Star.
Rob’s idea is to open family-friendly boozers that become the place to go to for the local community. He is doing this by bringing in exiting street food companies to provide the menus in each of the venues, quality local craft beers and other drinks, friendly, enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff, special discounts and events like comedy nights, music events, book groups, quizzes, karaoke, all tailored to the individual pub. And you never feel like you’re drinking in a chain pub, each one of the venues is different and unique, a local place for local people, but also a place where everybody else feels at home straight away.
Our Magical Mystery Tour started at The Star of Kings, just north of Regents Canal behind King’s Cross station. This pub has a bar and performance space in the basement which is being used for comedy nights where you can sometimes catch big names rehearsing for events like the Edinburgh Comedy & Fringe Festivals, as well as music events with live bands and DJs. The pub also hosts various book groups and a pub quiz, and it has a great function room on the first floor, which is available for private hire as well as outdoor seating. Food is currently supplied by Yeah! Burger of Scotch Egg burger fame (this is now a permanent fixture on the menu), but the kitchen changes every three month.
We then got on the party bus to visit The Jackdaw and Star, proud winner of the Time Out Love London 2015 award for best pub in Homerton. And it is easy to see why – this pub’s emphasis is on food and drink and it prides itself in an ever-changing list of exciting craft beers as well as a carefully curated wine list and one of the best cocktails menus around to be had from the beautiful copper bar. And then there is the food, a star in its own right. Andi Oliver and Kelly Miles from the SugarShack are pioneers of what they call ‘Guerilla cooking’, helped by Tallulah, their trusty smoker, and all ingredients are fresh and seasonal and local if at all possible. They use produce grown in Hackney allotments, which growers can choose to be paid for in cash or in dinners. I know what I would pick! Their Meat Stacks are legendary! And all the other food is glorious too, mingling textures and flavours to create little works of art. I can’t wait to go back for more! The pub also has a lovely parlour with nice armchairs and a beer garden. Come along for their regular quiz or disco nights.
Third stop was The Star by Hackney Downs with its mix of Victorian circus and modern interior where locals are invited to leave their curiosities in a box, some of which will be chosen to adorn the walls. Apart from the main bar there are two function rooms upstairs, as well as a karaoke room housed in a gypsy caravan. It also has not one, but two outdoor seating areas. Monthly ‘We are the Sunset’ gatherings bring Balearic beats & vibes to Hackney. There are quiz nights, acoustic music nights and even life drawing nights. The current food residency is by Burger & Beyond, serving burgers, hot dogs, chilli fries and more. We had some of their hot wings while having a gin & tonic tasting with the Gin Journey® and gin brands Silent Pool and Cremorne 1859, aka Colonel Fox London Dry Gin, and they were good – and hot!
We ended the night at The Star of Bethnal Green, where it all began.The place was packed out to the rafters on a Thursday night and living up to its tag ‘the grown up raver’s boozer of choice’. We ended up drinking prosecco and belting out ABBA songs in their karaoke booth – don’t ask me why, as there are more than 10,000 songs to choose from. Entertainment in the pub include The Super Star Quiz with the queen of quizzes, Nadean Downey, which has been selected as on of the 5 best pub quizzes in London by the Evening Standard and themed DJ music nights, with rock’n’roll, funk, techno, 70s & 80s and so on. Food comes, at the moment, from The Joint, serving fast food with a twist. And we were told to try one The Star’s famous Bloody Marys’ next time we visit. Apologies for the lack of pictures from this pub!
Mouth watering Sunday roast are served in Bethnal Green and Hackney by Bacchus Sundays and in Homerton by SugarShack and all pubs have an excellent deal on Thursdays, when you get 2 cocktails for a tenner. There are various other happy hour deals on drinks and food – just check the individual web pages of the pubs for details. On Worker’s Wednesdays you get 20% discount on selected food and drink if you sign up for a locals card. This summer you’ll also be able to watch all the football action of Euro 2016 on large screens in the pubs (again, check individual websites).
We had the most excellent time visiting all four Stars and I just wish there was one round the corner from where I live. In the meantime we’ll be re-visiting the four Stars and are looking forward to the fifth – The Leyton Star.
A big ‘thank you’ to Rob and his team (I have to single out Nadean here, as she really knows how to entertain a busload of boozers and who bravely grabbed the microphone to sing the first song in the karaoke booth), the staff in the pubs and Antoni from Cutlass Communications, who all organised a fantastic evening for us.