In the last five years Ye Olde Rose and Crown Theatre Pub has become a vibrant community centre. It’s a theatre, a comedy club, a music venue, a meeting place and an eatery with diversity. It’s also an award-winning mecca for real ale enthusiasts. Yet in 2008 it was sunk in a slough of despond – poorly patronised, shabby and seemingly certain for closure. Since then, a five-person partnership using flair, originality, dedication and determination has transformed its appeal with astonishing success.
Close to Walthamstow centre, the pub is an imposing two-sided late Victorian edifice. Its ground level is painted red and cream and is marked by artistic relief mouldings. The second level is in brick with an array of impressive barrel-vaulted windows. The most eye-catching features are two crow-stepped gables and a corner cupola. Internally the spacious main bar displays an equally Victorian aspect. There’s an abundance of brown wood and etched glass snob screens that create a pleasing number of comfortable snugs. These are furnished with matching brown tables and leather-upholstered banquettes. Carpeting throughout and coloured tiling reinforce the Victorian feel as does the solidly-built, large scale and teak-hued bar.
Ye Olde Rose and Crown buzzes with atmosphere and activity. Three of its five operators have arts backgrounds so they’re attuned to attracting audiences. This is most particularly seen in the development of an exceptional studio theatre created out of a former upstairs function room. Performances are now so numerous that there’s a 60 per cent occupancy rate and the studio space has been enlarged in order to accommodate more theatre goers. Acting as a receiving house for different companies, the programme offers an eclectic mix ranging from farce to tragedy, with musical theatre strongly featured. Among such shows are ones directed by one of the pub partners, musician Aaron Clingham. His All Star Productions, noted for promoting the contemporary and sell-out Sondheim shows, has won critical acclaim in the national media. On Sunday nights the Walthamstow Folk Club has a weekly well-supported presentation with major names appearing. The studio also houses the Guffaw Comedy Club - stand-up superstars such as Jeremy Hardy, Micky Flanegan and Phil Jupitus have all performed recently.
The main bar is also fully equipped for music and there are free gigs on many nights of the week to suit all tastes – jazz, blues and rock. A monthly open mic night attracts the amateur and DJ sessions every fortnight feature pre-60s' classics. Adjacent to the main bar is the separate Red Room. This is ideal for meetings and is chosen regularly by such groups as Greenpeace, Amnesty and the East London and City Branch of CAMRA. A monthly film club provides screenings plus discussion. Evenings witness most activity but daytime usage includes life drawing classes and yoga sessions. All five partners, headed by full-time manager Bun Constantinou, work in the bar and this commitment emphasises their wish to be engaged in pub activity - activity which appeals across age ranges, including frequent street parties and charity events
Once basic, the food offering at the Ye Olde Rose and Crown is now tempting. A speciality provider brings a mobile pizzeria to the pub forecourt supplying superior stonebaked fare. The pizzas can be taken away but customers are invariably inclined to come into the pub during baking time so as to sample some drinks alongside. A Sunday roast has grown in popularity, with two chef-prepared courses for a bargain £9.50, and a vegetarian option is always available. Unusual, however, is the E17 Popup Restaurant Project that takes place every Monday fortnight. This is a local initiative by expert foodies who are passionate about distinctive world cuisines. Eritrean, Colombian, Tibetan, Cambodian, Burmese, US street food – and a Burns Night Scottish menu – have all featured at the pub. Invariably tables on these nights are sold out and punters often turn up on Mondays in the hope of a no-show.
Real ale is at the heart of Ye Olde Rose and Crown - it’s annually listed in the Good Beer Guide and has Cask Marque accreditation. It was even selected above over 200 other pubs as the 2011 East London Pub of the Year by CAMRA members. Six handpumps offer beers from such as Crouch Vale, Red Squirrel and Dark Star. In the last year, as east London has fostered excellent new breweries, there has been a LocalAle policy of supporting them. Waltham Forest’s own East London Brewery is often featured as is Hackney Brewery and Tottenham’s Redemption. The latter’s prize-winning porter is a justifiable great favourite and other dark beers could be Titanic Chocolate Vanilla Stout or Banks and Taylor’s Black Dragon Mild. Thatcher’s Heritage is the draught cider and aficionados of the artisan apple can sample Millwhite Scrumpy or Weston Old Rosie in bottle. Keg lagers include San Miguel, Kronenbourg, Foster’s and Carling.
The wine list is shortish but has a Chilean Carmanere and Argentine Malbec among the reds and a Navarre Viura among the whites. Spirits and liqueurs are generally the expected range with a good gin choice including Hendrick’s, Tanqueray and Hammersmith’s Sipsmith. Bun Constantiou is a malt whisky lover, so this range is excellent. All styles are represented among the eight stocked – honeyed Speyside by Macallan, spicy Highland by Oban, peaty Islay by Laphroaig and floral Orkney by Highland Park.
The Last Word
The Localism Act of 2011 gave local authorities powers to help preserve assets of community value, including pubs. Legislators could look at Ye Olde Rose and Crown to see why pubs can unquestionably merit preservation for their community value alone. It’s now the pub at the hub of Walthamstow life with theatre, music, comedy, meetings and movies.