There was no way a down and dirty boozer could last forever on Upper Street, one of the more gentrified thoroughfares in north London. Say goodbye to The Nag’s Head as you know it, and say hello to pizzas, cocktails and a Salt Beef Bloody Mary with your brunch.
The Nag’s Head used to be all about a pint of commercial lager and sports on TV, muscling in at the bar with regulars out for no frills footie fixtures. This sports pub has transformed – practically overnight – into a chic, boutique venue with more of a bar offering, serving cocktails, wine and a peppering of upmarket ales. It still has the pub aesthetic, granted, but it’s been given the Islington lick of paint that means a pair of stiletto heels would be just as comfortable treading the wooden floorboards as the scuffed trainers more common here in the past. Now, pretty posies rest on varnished tables, pendant lamps adorn the bar and smooth orange leather upholsters bar stools and banquettes. A garish pink neon sign spells out ‘cocktails’ in the window, so there’s no doubting the change in direction here. Oddly enough though, those TV screens still prevail.
So, the sports are still on, despite the revamp. It feels like The Nag’s Head is erring on the side of caution in the midst of its drastic change in direction, hoping not to completely alienate the pub’s former fan base. Luckily for the cocktail crowd, these screens aren’t too distracting tucked away up above, and cool tunes on the stereo from Hot Chip and Four Tet set the agenda, instead. Since the design is so youthful and modern, a young crowd is expected here, but word is yet to get out that the Nag’s Head has had a change. Hopefully that cocktail sign outside will lure them in in next to no time. In the meantime, the crowd has gone full swing and it’s mostly ladies who lunch and young couples settling in for a drink or two.
This was once a pub grub kind of place, but fish and chips have been replaced with stone-baked pizzas. Like the fruity cocktails and elegant makeover, the menu caters to the female market with a calorie-counting skinny goat’s cheese option (£7.50). But those going in for the kill can choose calzone (£12.50) or an NYC hot (£10) option with pepperoni, meatballs and jalapenos. A brunch menu has also been laid on, suiting Islington very nicely indeed. Baked eggs with chorizo (£6.50) comes with sour dough bread and pancakes with maple syrup (£5) complete the gentrified line-up.
In case you hadn’t seen the sign in the window, cocktails are the big hitter at The Nag’s Head now. They are mostly sugary, girly concoctions, but there are surprisingly on-trend twists on the menu. Note the Blood Orange and Sage Julep (£6), for example, bringing herbs into the equation like many a popular cocktail bar in town. Or the Red Beer (£7), which plays on the beer cocktail trend nicely, by combining ale, golden tequila and tomato juice. This may make the ideal hangover cure, as would the Salt Beef Bloody Mary (£7), complete with pickles and a ‘salt beef sail’.
Wine is also a new hot topic here, with bottles stacked neatly up above the bar. A welcome sight is a bottle of Kent’s Chapel Down Bacchus at £27. A few other plonks are simply listed by grape type, though, so wine buffs may have to pester bar staff for further details. Beer was once the focal point of the pub, but now they practically avoid mention of the dark stuff. This seems a shame, since a few good cask ales are on handpull at the bar, including Deuchars IPA and Caledonian Flying Scotsman. And for those hoping to recapture the pub’s no frills days, Kronenbourg, Fosters and Strongbow are still on tap, with the addition of Birra Morreti and Sagres.
The Last Word
It’s a real sign of the times that The Nag’s Head has transformed from a simple sports pub to a hot hostelry with cocktails on the agenda. Angel hardly needed another identikit venue, but in all fairness, The Nag’s Head hits the nail on the head by serving up more of what locals want, and well.