Landlord of the Month - February
James, The Dartmouth Arms
Just over a year ago, the Dartmouth Arms was threatened with closure. Unsurprisingly, the local council were getting all ‘local council’ and demanding the pub’s footprint be used for new flats instead of offering a rip-roaring service and an efficient fire for the locals. There was uproar; even ‘Panda Eyes’ Miliband got involved. Fast forward and the pub is thriving, more than ever at the heart of the community. I’d once again wager my considerably sized derrière that much of the pub’s success could be attributed to its general manager, James.
When you meet him, it’s clear that James works harder than Jonny Wilkinson ever did at that pained expression he wore to prepare for a kick. Indeed, you might easily accuse James of being a workaholic. He’s on holiday this week but we’ve met in the Dartmouth because he’s come in to do a bit of cleaning (yeah, nuts, I know…). He works 60-70 hour weeks, his diary is more chocker than Joey Barton’s press secretary and he’s got more lists than Harry Redknapp’s got written down on the back of blank tax return documents. He asks behind the bar for a new coffee as we sit down – he’s so bloody busy that he hasn’t had time to drink the last one.
What’s he been doing? Well, he’s probably been messing around with all the social media used to promote the pub – he’s got his Twitter and Facebook all linked up to his Blackberry and it wouldn’t surprise me if the Dartmouth had a Bebo account – just in case. He’s so dedicated to his locals that when one of them couldn’t make it in for an afternoon game in the African Cup of Nations, James tweeted him live updates on Senegal’s performance to make sure he was kept in the loop. It’s working though – when Qatar played Sweden in a friendly recently, marking the opening of a new stadium, a speculative tweet in the morning led to a pub rammed with all-comers for the afternoon game. James kept his eye on the game enough to add ‘I mean, that world cup in Qatar’s gonna be a disaster’ – speaking for everyone but Mr Blatter there James.
We return to James taking over at the Dartmouth with the pub facing closure. ‘When I came in,’ (I should add at this stage that James is as candid and open as a goal that only Fernando Torres could miss) ‘the pub didn’t really have an identity. It didn’t know whether it was a sports pub, a bistro restaurant or just a quality ale-fuelled boozer. In fact, it was none of those things – rather it was all of them – just, all of them were pretty crap.’ In this age when pubs are getting rid of sport for fear of it negatively affecting a brand new swanky restaurant business they choose to call a pub, James’ reaction is refreshing: ‘After a while, we realized we could do all the things that we wanted to do… but they all had to be bloody good! So we got a new head chef…’ (at this point, James tempts me with any one of Lamb Shank/Pork Belly/Rib Eye for lunch but I’m really quite full of Taramasalata and Quavers) ‘…bought a projector for film nights and the big footie games and starting stocking better and more diverse beer’. Now, the last two bits of that sound pretty MatchPint territory.
With Adnams coming to put 3 new taps in at the back of the bar, punters at the Dartmouth are spoilt for choice when it comes to pints: wheat beers, dark ales or even fizzy stuff if you must, it’s all there. Equally diverse is the sport. James sticks on anything and everything. As well as the above-mentioned humdinger in Qatar, I’ve visited the Dartmouth to be greeted with Handball, Darts and International Table Football in the past. He’d like to diversify even more though and encourages anyone who’s free during the Tour de France in the summer to bed in for a day in Tufnell Park (oh, and by the way, congratulations to Andy Schlek for his superb performance in the TdF earlier today – worthy winner etc…).
This broad variety of ‘matches’ and ‘pints’ (stop it…), is reflected in the assortment of characters who visit the pub. James regularly hosts members of political parties (when you go in, please ask him about a conversation he had with the leader of the Green Party concerning straw wastage…), film-lovers, ale enthusiasts and sports fans. Match days are full of banter with two sides of supporters often hurling witticisms across the pub, usually sparked up by James egging the whole thing on. ‘But it’s all incredibly civilized and jovial’ James adds. ‘We’re the sort of pub where you can sit down with your mates to have a few pints just as easily as you can bring your kids in to support their new favourite player’. Nice.
Above all, it seems that James’ openness, both to change and to his community, is the real key to the Dartmouth’s success. In terms of technology, he’s not only leading the way with social media; he’s currently pioneering a program called Secret DJ in the Dartmouth. As a punter, you download the app to access the Dartmouth’s music library whilst in the pub, choosing from a list what you want on the speakers. That’s not the best of it as James adds: ‘The pub down the road has got it but I can access their system from here: I can’t remember how many times punters in there have heard ‘It’s Raining Men’ recently.’
His tomfoolery shouldn’t fool you though – he’s as trustworthy to his locals as the RFU has been to operation ‘Balls-Up’ in recent years. ‘I don’t know what would have happened if this place had shut down – I take parcels, letters and all sorts for half of this street when they’re out – I’ve even got a couple of pairs of car keys behind the bar I’m looking after, and it’s a rare occurrence when I don’t have at least one person on the street’s phone in my pocket’. The locals clearly think he’s pretty great.
I think I probably would trust James with my phone, definitely with my parcels and, once I’ve learnt to ride a bike, I might soon be in a position to lend him some car keys. But for now, I’ll happily trust him with my stabilisers and let Tufnell Park trust him with their favourite local pub.
And the best news: James is so open that he's agreed a special MatchPint offer to mark being Landlord of the Month. If you haven't been to the Dartmouth before and you take your phone up to the bar with this blog on the screen, you get a free pint or a glass of house wine. If I were you, I'd cash in now!
What's on this Month? February 2012.
MatchPint's weekly guide to the games you need to see, 11-12th February.