Triumphant return of the Heathcote Arms Leytonstone as the Heathcote and Star

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

fantastic food, great local beer … and neon – the Heathcote is back!

I used to love the old Heathcote Arms like a trusted, loyal friend. It was who I could turn to when things were bad and celebrate with in the good times. But mostly it was a place I could slump in a corner with a pint, packet of crisps and a pile of books. Often I was so relaxed I’d be nearly horizontal with a belly elaborately embroidered with a mosaic of crisp fragments. It was where I did most of the research for my book, This Other London, in the corner room which was empty most nights by 10.30 when I’d arrive. You could spread out books and maps across two tables and let the creative juices be lubricated by cheap ale.

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

Selection of canned & bottled Beer at the Heathcote and Star

But then it closed 3 years ago, bought by property developers to be turned into flats and its fate looked sealed. A valiant and spirited campaign followed, it was listed as an Asset of Community Value, and now finally it is fully back in business (I’m skipping over the bit when the developers put in a manager for a limited time).

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

This isn’t merely a re-boot but a full-scale resurrection with Electric Star Pubs taking out a 20 year lease on the Heathcote and pumping buckets of cash into a total refurb. Last week’s packed and thumping launch party wasn’t the time to make a proper judgement, my first reaction being that it was a bit Nathan Barley, and thinking I’d title this post ‘The New Heathcote – it’s ‘Totally Mexico’. And it is ‘Totally Mexico’ but not in the sense of a Hoxditch boozer selling Dutch wine.

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

The Electric Star team are pulling out all the stops to make this a pub for everyone, no easy feat, a true community hub – a place where I could slouch in a corner planning suburban explorations and muttering to myself beside a table full of toddlers chucking mash potato around, while wannabe Instagrammers struggle to get the perfect food-porn shot. Or if you’re really square, a nice place to meet friends and neighbours for a drink.

Heathcote and Star We Serve Humans burgers

Mini sample burgers

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone food

Buffalo Chicken with strong kick of English Mustard

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone food

Heathcote and Star We Serve Humans burgers

The function room where we were presented with samples of the well-measured menu will be free of charge to community groups – which is a fantastic resource. There’s a games room out the back with pool and table-tennis. Live footy on the telly with big screen events planned. There’s a huge garden. The ale selection is spot on with beers from Leyton breweries Signature Brew and East London Brewery with Camden Hells Pale on keg. And bloody hell the food is great. The burgers by Paul Human are incredible, the Buttermilk Chicken is crispy and well seasoned, in fact the tucker is so tasty that the vegan option of Cowboy Beans even had me scraping the plate clean. And the staff are really friendly and helpful too, they look happy to be there.

Heathcote and Star Leytonstone food

Cowboy Beans (vegan)

Signature Brew at Heathcote and Star Leytonstone

I even found myself back in there Saturday night with the place packed again, punters arriving in taxis, bumping into neighbours at the bar, burgers flying out of the kitchen, post-mortem of the Arsenal match on the TV. It might even inspire me to crack on and finish my next book.

The Heathcote Arms Leytonstone to re-open in October

Heathcote Arms Leytonstone

Great news at last regarding our beloved Heathcote Arms in Leytonstone. The Electric Star Group have taken out a 20-year lease on the pub and are investing £500,000 to get the pub open by the end of October.

It’s been grim walking past this sacred watering hole every day seeing it empty and neglected for the last 6 months but you knew that somebody would see the potential to restore this legendary boozer to, well I can’t honestly say its former glory but at least a pub once again.

Electric Star have a great roster of pubs in East London including the Leyton Star (shame they changed the name though from the King Harold removing a visible reminder of the last Anglo-Saxon king’s strong links to the area). Their other pubs include The Star of Bethnal Green, The Star by Hackney Downs, and The Last Days of Shoreditch. I believe the Heathcote will become the Heathcote-Star.

Last week Rob and Steve from Electric Star told a community meeting at the pub their plans for the Heathcote which include a function room, big screen sports, pool and arcade games, upstairs hotel accomodation, food, and locals discount scheme. It will also be kid and dog friendly. Other Star pubs have hosted live music so I guess this might be in the plans for their Leytonstone branch. There certainly used to be great live music and comedy nights at the Heathcote so it would be fantastic to see this return.

Heathcote Arms campaign

photo from the Waltham Forest Guardian

The re-opening of the Heathcote is another great example of what can happen when a community comes together. When it initially closed in 2014 after being sold by Stonegate to property developers many people assumed that it would simply be converted into flats like so many other pubs in London. But a wide cross-section of the community came together (some of whom had never even been in the pub) to launch a campaign and get the Heathcote listed as an Asset of Community Value (ACV). Local MP John Cryer gave his unwavering support, CAMRA (particularly James Watson) joined the cause, and Waltham Forest Council adopted a pub protection policy. And now we have our pub back.

Great work to everyone involved in making this happen. See you for a pint in the Heathcote Arms in October.

Leytonstone artist community in the 1980’s

Great description of Leytonstone in the 1980’s from City Racing – the life and times of an artist run gallery written by Matt Hale, John Burgess, Paul Noble, Keith Coventry, and Peter Owen, which I exchanged with Matt one night in The Heathcote for a copy of This Other London. It sets the scene for the infamous M11 Link Road protests that ran from the late 1980’s to 1994.

 

It was the blighted, front and back gardened, Victorian houses that had become home and workplace to another large East End artist community. The DoT leased the properties they owned to various short-life housing organisations, one of which was ACME. ACME’s rents were super cheap. Houses became live/work spaces. Rooms were knocked together to make bigger studios. Leytonstone was like a weird suburb full of Sunday painters, but where every day was Sunday”

 

The ‘Remembering the M11′ event is tonight at The Wanstead Tap

Long live The Heathcote Arms!

Heathcote Arms Leytonstone

It’s at this time of night when everyone in the house is asleep that I usually cross the road to my beloved local pub The Heathcote Arms. But not tonight or any night soon because at 11.30pm on Sunday 7th September the Heathcote served its last pint for the foreseeable future. I only heard 2 weeks ago that the PubCo who own the Heathcote, Stonegate (incorporated in the Cayman Islands), had sold it to a developer. They weren’t saying who, or what would happen to the pub only that it was due to close on 7th September.

I know to some this might seem melodramatic but it feels like losing a friend, a staunch ally, a refuge. A place I can go with a book sit at a table in the corner with a pint of ale and a packet of crisps read and a reflect, relax and have a laugh. I’m still too raw to properly digest my feelings and write the eulogy the pub deserves but felt the need to mark the occasion. I’d be able to write much better sat over there in the Heathcote with a pint of IPA.

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Pubs are closing all over London at an alarming rate – we’ve lost several in Waltham Forest in recent years (The Bakers Arms, Waltham Oak, and The Antelope off the top of my head). But pubs are not mere businesses – they are valuable social and community spaces. There are people I met in the Heathcote who I casually share a few words with at the bar who I may never see again due to the erratic routines of London life. The pub has always represented a constant – we all know the opening hours, can drop in for a quick pint on the way home from work, cheap dinner with the family on a Friday evening, watch the football at the weekend.

I did much of the research for my book This Other London in the Heathcote, sat there with pints and piles of books and maps, hearing stories from Ian Bourn about the pre-M11 link road artist community that flourished in Leytonstone. Last night I got over there at 10 o’clock to find a group of Leytonstone stalwarts round a table. One of them, John Smith has just made a new ident for BBC4 that was on the TV tonight. These unplanned encounters won’t happen anymore.

Now we await to see what happens to the building, geared up for a fight to save it being turned into yet more fucking flats. The local MP is determined to see a pub reopen on the site and was involved in a successful campaign to save the Birkbeck Tavern. So there is hope yet.

The Heathcote will never die!