The Adam & Eve has recently been refurbished. We noticed that the old regulars were still there. How is it when your long-time local pub changes hands?
WRITER Samuel Bern
PHOTOGRAPHER Jørn Tomter
Close your eyes and imagine a typical East End London pub. What you’re imagining probably looks like the Adam & Eve. It appears indestructible and timeless made of the same things as caves and that leather jacket your dad wore while you were growing up. Despite its ageless appearance, it has recently been refurbished. We decided to meet the regulars of the pub, find out what it’s like to drink in the same pub for decades, and what they think of it now.
We ask at the bar to find out who’s been coming here for a long time. Kerri, the manager, gestures to Anthony: “Him, you need to talk to him, he’s a regular”. I ask Anthony when he started coming here? “I can’t even remember when I first started coming here. My mum used to bring me here in the pram. Sometimes she’d say the only thing that used to get me to sleep was to walk up in the pram to the pub, all the noise used to send me to sleep.”
What does he think of all the new people who have started coming to the pub? “When it changed over, they said, ‘how does it feel, all these trendies taking over your pub?’. I said, ‘Hang on a minute, don’t call yourself trendy, you’re putting yourself down. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. It ain’t no ones pub to take over, it’s everyone’s’.” But what does he think of the place now? “You couldn’t ask for better people to move and take over the place. It was only us lot who came here before when the new people came in it was like the place opened its eyes.”
Anthony tells me that the Adam & Eve peaked in the Eighties and Nineties, but after the local Hackney Hospital closed down in 1995, it lost the yearly influx of trainee doctors and nurses that regularly filled the pub’s three large rooms. Since then, the regulars dwindled, until former proprietor Leigh sold the establishment last year after a twenty year reign.
Everyone has a good word to say about Leigh. Anthony remembers the annual Christmas Day drink for regulars. Leigh built a community in her pub, and still organises yearly reunions for regulars who have left the area. Two other regulars, Les and Bash, remember her zero tolerance drugs policy. Les recalls her storming into the toilets and kicking out anyone she found on the “funny gear, whether you had your uncle in your hand or not!”.
They’ve both been coming to the Adam & Eve for thirty years. I ask them how they think it’s changed. “For some reason I enjoy it more. It’s nice people. You don’t have to watch your back. You relax more. It’s nice food, if you’ve got the money for it. You win the jackpot or something. If he wins at the horses (gesturing to Les) he buys me a drink, which is once every six month. So it’s ok! I love the people who come here, you don’t get the youngsters, the troublemakers. I don’t know how they’ve done it. They don’t need bouncers, they haven’t pushed people out. They just feel ashamed coming in here.”
We ask Max Moran, one of the people behind the changes, what he puts the pub’s recent success down to? “The people who were already drinking here who kept drinking here.” Did you work hard to make them feel welcome? “We took over the pub and ran it exactly the same as it was before for three months. To get a feel for it we had a few meetings with the regulars. We wanted them to be happy. We don’t want to drive people away.”
Uncle Sam came to the Adam & Eve when his previous pub of choice was refurbished and he no longer felt welcome. He feels that the Adam & Eve has the ‘best of both’. It has welcomed all the newcomers to the area, but still shows sports and has a place for the older regulars. “They’ve listened to the public, they still play bingo here on a Wednesday and a Sunday.” He knows that “Change is inevitable” in the area but misses the sense of community that Homerton previously enjoyed. “There aren’t too many neighbours who talk to each other round here. Back in the day when I was growing up, I could knock on my neighbour’s door and say, ‘I’m going to the shop, can I do an errand for you?’ That’s how we were brought up. You looked after your neighbours in the old days.”
Joe Links (85) agrees with Uncle Sam about how the community has suffered “your next door neighbours, you don’t know who they are.” He recently had to contact the police regarding his new neighbour who’d kept to himself, only to find out that he’d been dead, “lying there for four months. Living by himself, no neighbourly care. Where I live you see a new face every week, you can’t keep up.”
Joe’s friend David talks about how the Adam & Eve plays an important part in keeping the community together. “There’s about ten of us. We’ve all lost our wives. We come here to eat and talk. The only time I come out is when it’s open at 12, Friday, Saturday, Sunday.” Both Joe and David miss the earlier opening hours, but as Max explains, “In order for it to function well as a business, we can’t be open all the time. It’s a massive pub and cleaning it is a real operation. It’s not a matter of one person behind a bar, it’s a team of people, we’re an independent pub, and if we don’t make the right choices the pub just won’t be here. It’s a sad truth but when a pub fails these days, it doesn’t become another pub, it becomes flats or a supermarket.”
I ask how the place has changed in the sixty years since Joe started coming to the pub. “This door here (pointing to the middle door facing the road) used to be a little off-sales bar”. ‘Off-sales’ were separate counters to the main pub where you could fill a jug or bottle with beer to take home. Most of these closed in the Seventies when supermarkets started to sell cheaper canned larger. “The ceiling is all pure copper, years ago when I was in my twenties people used to come from everywhere to look at that ceiling. It’s a work of art.”
What did a pint cost when they first started drinking here? “I can remember when it was 20p, they put it up to 25p and we all walked out, that’s the God’s honest truth.”
Hackney has had a turbulent relationship with its pubs. There are ongoing court battles to save The Chesham Arms from becoming flats, and last year saw protests outside The Bonneville. A pub in London is like a second living room. It’s where we creep out of tiny flats and enjoy being surrounded by the community. When the pub closes or changes, the community that revolves around it is at risk of disappearing too. The Adam & Eve is running that fine line of keeping a piece of what it was before, but at the same time welcoming the newcomers to the area. As Uncle Sam said, it’s “the best of both”.