Advantages Superb location, simple food menu, good range of drinks
Disadvantages No outside areas
|Value for Money|
|Standard of Menu|
|Standard of Service|
It’s not just where you live that is affected that by old rule ‘location, location, location.’ Going for a drink works on exactly the same premise and I’m sure we all have those watering holes that aren’t exactly fantastic but just always seem to be in the right place. London’s a fairly large city, and there are thousands of places to drink, but I seem to find myself in a just a small handful more often than not.One of those places is The Albany. I’m almost certainly going to recommend it to you, but as I explore and describe it in more detail, I’m probably also going to be quite critical. It’s really going to prove that in some cases, where something is is going to be able to outweigh what it is and how it does it.
So what is it about the location that’s so good? It’s not exactly picturesque. It sits on the corner of Great Portland Street, where it joins the Euston Road – one of the busiest traffic points in the entire city. It has no facilities for drinking or eating outside, nor does it have a terrace or garden of any description. But the fact remains that wherever you work, rest or play in the city, The Albany makes a superb focal point from pretty much any direction.The Albany is probably 2 minutes’ walk from Great Portland Street tube station – and one of those minutes will be spent waiting for the lights to change on the pedestrian crossing. Trains from three different Tube lines all stop at Great Portland Street station, namely the Circle line (covering the larger part of Central London), the Metropolitan line (from the city out to Hertfordshire and Watford) and the Hammersmith and City line (from the west out to the east). That’s a significant area to cover. But there’s more. Six minutes along the Euston Road, you will find Warren Street station which is served by the Northern and Victoria lines, which effectively cover the missing swathe north to south of the city. Add to that the fact that three minutes in the other direction is Regent’s Park station, which sits on the Bakerloo line. In fact, if you look at the Underground map, you will see that EVERY major national rail mainline station is on a Tube line that takes you to one of those stations. That’s quite impressive.
It doesn’t end there of course. Great Portland Street intersects the Euston Road, which is one of the busiest road routes running through Central London. If you do a search on buses that stop at this part of the Euston Road or on Great Portland Street, you will find that night or day, you can pretty much get a bus anywhere in Central London. The congestion charge starts south of the Euston Road too, so if you can drive in to that point and find somewhere to park, you’ll save that fee too.It’s a fantastic focal point. I can meet friends and colleagues who work in the City, or work in one of the North London hospitals or even work in a shop in Oxford Street in one place, knowing that everyone can get there easily and get home without hassle. It’s also incredibly easy to find (come out of Great Portland Street station, turn left, walk round the corner and it’s in front of you.
The pub is situated on one floor at street level. Regulars will sometimes refer to the bar downstairs, but that’s actually a function room and there’s also a separate nightclub, not reviewed here. There are two entrances, one smack on the corner, generally considered the main entrance, and then a second door, which comes through a lobby, directly off Great Portland Street. Unlike other pubs (which irritate the hell out of me) neither entrance opens straight into the bar, meaning that you don’t tend to find that you have to fight your way into the pub. Both entrances are very visible from pretty much anywhere in the pub, so if you’re looking for friends to come in, you can spot them straight away. Although there are no steps, this doesn’t strike me as a good place for wheelchair users because there simply isn’t the floor space to navigate.Inside, the décor is very purple. Actually, it’s very purple on the outside now too. The Victorian Gothic exterior is quite a striking feature, particularly as most of the other buildings nearby have very faceless modern fronts. Inside, the pub is cavernous, with a high (purple) ceiling, resplendent with glittering chandeliers and original (purple painted) detail. The wooden floor is rustic and worn but the place doesn’t feel particularly shabby. Soon after the smoking ban was implemented, the pub was redecorated and now has a more inviting, dramatic colour scheme and interior. The tables and chairs vary enormously in style and size, with large, rectangular tables and dining chairs that could comfortably sit a group of eight, down to small round tables and stools for quick drinks or romantic liaisons. There are also a couple of comfy areas, complete with sofas and a low coffee table and a small bar that faces out into the street, where you can grab a drink and watch the world go by. A couple of large houseplants lurk in the quieter corners and despite its size, there’s a relatively cosy, sociable feel to this place, especially when it’s busy.
The pub is popular with a reasonably wide cross-section of drinkers, but certainly a younger crowd. There’s something of a ‘student/indie’ vibe to the place, partly I think due to the style of music that plays later in the club downstairs, but also because of the location. There is a large block of student accommodation over the road plus the area is known for more ‘creative’ professionals, such as models, photographers and stylists, and it’s very close to BBC centre, so it’s not impossible to find some celebrities lurking in a corner. At lunchtime and early evening, it’s also popular with local business people, not so much the city ‘suits’ but definitely a good cross-section of professional people working close by, or meeting centrally.It’s a real place of contrasts when it comes to the number of drinkers and atmosphere in here. My regular times are lunchtimes and/or early evenings and they can range from being deathly quiet (it doesn’t get going until 12:30 so if you want a quiet lunch get in at 12:00) to being very busy. Evenings vary enormously, but it’s a popular ‘later’ pub, so whereas other pubs tail off as the evening goes on, this one seems to get busier. Sunday lunchtimes are steady, Saturday evenings are very changeable. Certainly, if you have a large pre-arranged party on a lunchtime or evening, even if you are just drinking, it would be wise to reserve a table (which most people seem to do).
I probably wouldn’t recommend The Albany for any kind of quiet/intimate meeting. The size of the interior means that the acoustics seem to amplify every laugh and squeal and when there are big groups in, it can be deafening. When I’m in the right mood, I quite like this. It’s a great place to come if you need to be perked up or to have a laugh, not so good, perhaps to talk serious business.
Availability of the ales is pretty good, although at peak times, when one of the pumps goes down, it seems to take forever to get replaced. However, the variety and availability of premium spirits is a little better than average. There are probably five or six different vodkas, including Stolichnaya Red. Not just Gordon’s for the gin and tonic either, as you can have Tanqueray, Bombay Sapphire and Hendricks if you so choose. There’s a reasonably good wine list. There are around ten white wines, ten red wines and maybe five rose wines (that they insist on calling pink) and five sparklers. Most of the wines (except the top priced ones and the sparklers) can be bought by the glass but Monday night is a good night for the wine drinkers, when prices are reduced.Pricewise, the drinks are typical of London, the soft drinks often turning out to be as expensive as the alcoholic ones (which is a bit of a rip-off) so a pint of lemonade and orange juice comes in at around £2.80 alongside that pint of Hoegarden (or thereabouts).
Service at the bar is average at best. For starters, it gets very busy, which you kind of expect, but the bar staff members don’t really up the pace when the volume of trade dictates it. You’re also dependant on the good nature and honesty of other drinkers to make sure that you get served in turn as the bar staff couldn’t care less and take no notice of the order in which they serve people. The main hatch for the food orders (more on that later) sits at one end of the bar and it always seems very disorganised to me. Staff members stand around waiting for food and then seem to get confused with one another over some of the orders. The bar staff isn’t terribly friendly either. I wouldn’t say that this was an unwelcoming place, but it certainly isn’t like they’re holding out open arms to you either and the staff turnover is high (never a good sign).
You place and pay for food orders at the bar, once you’ve worked out where you’re sitting and you’ll then find that cutlery, condiments and then food are systematically brought over to you. The staff members look a bit dishevelled in here, if you ask me, and seldom crack a smile. They tend to just plonk things down with only the most basic of pleasantries. I don’t like the way that the cutlery and condiments are delivered in a wine bucket. The condiments tend to be piled up on top of each other and it all looks a bit grubby. You might occasionally get a check back, but generally once delivered, that’s the end of your interaction.It’s a very sociable menu, with a random selection of snacks, sandwiches and main meals. The simpler things seem to go down a treat here. Most of my friends rave about the fish finger sandwiches. It’s the sort of thing you just don’t get in London pubs elsewhere. I’m a huge fan of the vegetarian burgers here. Normally, I find vegetarian burgers a bit tasteless or just stuffed with onion. Here the spinach, lentil and potato burgers have a good, solid texture (from the potato) but an interesting, fairly mild vegetable taste from the other ingredients. Served up with tasty skin-on chips and a small, dressed salad this is one of my favourite quick lunches around. Some of the other dishes are less enticing. The chicken breast in the chicken burger is often very poor quality and the sirloin steak isn’t as good as the menu would suggest. Otherwise, however, most of the dishes are pretty good. It’s quite a reasonably priced menu too. Burgers for around £7 or £8, main course priced much the same and baguettes and sandwiches for around a fiver.
The toilets have fairly recently been refurbished and are now well kitted, clean and smart. I previously quite liked looking at the graffiti on the wall above the urinals but that has now been tastefully painted over.
The club downstairs is popular (and probably deserving of a review of its own) but it’s a good venue, because you can drink upstairs then move on down when the mood takes you. The music varies enormously, generally isn’t to my taste but seems to have some popular regular nights. There is also a regular comedy night that we keep swearing we must go to and never do. You can find out more on their website (http://www.thealbanyw1w.co.uk/) which is rubbish, by the way.
240 Great Portland Street
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