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Venue Review - George Tavern, Whitechapel
Your guide to essential bricks and mortar - the venues that are home to the capital’s greatest live music events

by Tourdates staff writer, first published in LondonTourdates #033 ,17th October 2008

It has been our privilege in recent times to visit and be escorted round some of the oldest, newest, strangest, trendiest and most prestigious live music venues in London, yet nothing quite like The George Tavern, which manages to be all of these things in one.

There are numerous reasons for this, as we shall see, but the foremost of these must surely be the rather special management team behind it. The George Tavern is owned by one Pauline Forster, an eminent British artist (she’s definitely worth looking up on Wikipedia) who relocated to east London from Gloucestershire five years ago. Those of you in tune with the art world may remember a Ford Capri covered in mirrors installed outside of the Tate Modern upon the
gallery’s opening in May 2000. The work, called ‘Dog On’, was one of Forster’s. And now the very same car sits in the beer garden at The George.

“I was looking for a building to work in as an artist,” explains Forster, “I bought this at an auction and it wasn’t being used as a pub. When I saw the interior I felt compelled to open it.

Forster remains a practising artist and lives in the quite extraordinary upstairs levels above the pub, where antiques, paintings, bric-a-brac and a general air of magic exists.

Forster even has a small theatre up there (where, famously, the actor Mark Blanco was performing at the time of his death – he was the one who fell from the balcony at that Pete Doherty party) as well as a music studio. The interior of the upstairs at The George is so unique, that people like Nick Cave and Amy Winehouse have been here for videos and photoshoots.

Running the music side of things is Deborah Coughlin, who keeps up a steady stream of eclectic promoters putting on nights here, as well as in-house events.

“We have a broad selection of different types of music,” says Coughlin, “from London and round the world. There’s a constant influx of new creative people.”

There are, to name but a few, nights devoted to sea shanties (Shore Leave), Jukebox Jam, a Theremin Orchestra, films and other visual arts, as well as a broad cross section of bands ranging from folk to punk to cabaret. There was also a Rolling Stones cover shoot here.

“One thing that’s really special,” Coughlin continues, “is that it can be so many things to so many people. We’re not music snobs and its really easy to put on a night here.”

Even nights where there is nothing on will usually take a musical direction, what with a piano open to the floor and ‘open decks’ where anyone can use their sizable collection of vinyl to DJ… providing they’re not too pissed, of course.
The George Tavern is among the most historical establishments we have been to yet.

“There’s tales of Cromwell visiting and I think that Lenin and Stalin were part of an anarchists’ club here,” says Coughlin. There’s also an old tunnel running underneath the building, which has been a pub since 1654.

The recent campaign to ‘save The George’ from council bureaucrats and developers actually looks like working, thanks to the help of people like Winehouse, Kate Moss, Ian McKellen and countless others. It all adds up to a venue quite unlike any other, despite its rather curious location on the ostensibly pretty dingy Commercial Road.

“If we were on a main drag somewhere we’d just be bombarded with crap people,” says Coughlin, “who just don’t care where they are. It makes it a little bit more special that people have to walk down Commercial Road. People feel that it’s their place and they discovered it.”

Which is, I think we can all agree, a very nice feeling.

Where? 373 Commercial Road E1 0LA 0871 971 3874
How? Whitechapel (District, Hammersmith and City Line)
Buses: 15, 115
Founded? 1654
Atmosphere? Welcoming, creative
Pint? £3.10

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