With its regal title and traditional, if teeny, facade, The Imperial Arms promises the drinks and atmosphere of a British inn. However, whether it's some bizarre change of ownership or lazy refurbishment, this pub seems to be trying to be a tavern and a Thai restaurant all in one, and succeeding at neither.
Almost directly opposite West Brompton station and outside the Earls Court arena, the location of this bar is ideal for exhibition-goers, football revellers and Fulham's weekend crowd. On first impressions, interiors feel like a European bistro with benches and exposed brickwork. Above the bar, chalkboards advertise the price lists, and, while it's little, it's airy and almost welcoming. However, faux-brick wallpaper patches over gaps in the décor and a stack of boxes towers, ominous and unhidden, by the bar. A small terrace balcony, although brightened up with fairy lights, is sad and dingy, overlooking a rather lovely beer garden that belongs to the pub next door.
A major issue here is that this venue is unsure if it's a Thai restaurant or casual bar, and so it attracts the clientele for neither. There are much better examples of both within a five-minute walk, and while a few drinkers may rock up for cocktail happy hours or a cheap glass of vino, a lack of target market leaves seats unnervingly empty, even at the weekend. Pleasant and smiley in service, the bartenders greet guests with glee and bring glasses down to the tables, European-style. Meanwhile, a TV shows music channels, but the sound system plays 90s disco tunes, apparently controlled by the bar staff and a laptop. Finally, once the night is quietening down, be prepared for the lights to come up and floor-mopping to begin, and for the team to lock up around you, even if it is only 10pm.
Making its case as a restaurant, The Imperial Arms offers a relatively comprehensive range of Asian dishes, with curries featuring vegetables for £5.50, chicken for £6.50, and beef or prawns at £7.50 – with rice included. This is unquestionably good value for the area, with a decent meal and a bottle of beer ringing in at £10 on the dot.
When it comes to wine, there's a house option for each colour, and that's your lot. Again, it's a bargain for Fulham: £3.80 for a large glass. But, it’s tangy, acidic and leaning towards the fizzy side – and not in the good way. There's a fairly standard array of lagers, including one bottled Asian beer, and, while a bottle of Magners cider or London Pride real ale weighs in at £4, pints are available for less, and bottles start at a mere £3.50.
The Last Word
On first impressions this pub is reminiscent of European holiday spots, with its outdated yet perhaps charming music choices, table service and running tabs. However, that's about where the appeal ends. If drinkers can come to terms with the storage room decor, false brick wallpaper and sticky table tops, then yes, there is a decent pint or two here for a reasonable price. However, the whole atmosphere is unwelcoming, mismatched and generally dirty, and a cheap beer is about where the good times end.