Feb 2 16

Salmon and Ball, Bethnal Green Road, Bethnal Green, E2

Jack Cutforth

Visited: Tuesday 19 January by JC


Let’s start with a story, of a previous visit to this establishment, which is located on the corner right outside Bethnal Green station. It involves two men, a full bladder, and the angriest barmaid in London.

Now, we know the etiquette of using toilets in pubs. Customers only. But sometimes, when you’ve been drinking tins on the underground, your bladder just can’t wait any longer, and you have to go to the toilet before you go to the bar. And sometimes, a pub is so inexplicably angry about the prospect of non-customers using their facilities, they’ll chase you away before you even have the chance to buy a pint.

We entered on that fateful day and my friend – whose small bladder capacity and inability to hold in a piss actually constitutes a medical condition – raced ahead of me, straight into the toilets. It seemed as if the barmaid had been waiting all day for someone to do this. She looked at us with the rage of a thousand of Lucifer’s demon armies. Before she could say anything to him, he’d already gone into the loos. Her eyes burning like sapphires, she turned to me, standing helplessly in No Man’s Land. I hadn’t yet reached the bar so she thought we were both just there to piss and run.


She roared the command, like a vengeful Orc. Now, I will admit that I was scared. Not least because I didn’t fully understand the instruction. My friend was literally mid-stream. Did she mean for me to drag him out of there by the scruff of the neck while he sprayed piss all over the bar like an errant garden hose? Was she joking? Was this some sort of test?

“He’s already started” I protested. But to no avail. She just repeated her command, this time somehow an even more guttural roar. Sometimes your memory can play tricks on you but I’d be prepared to swear that she was literally breathing fire at this point.

I have no idea why she had such an aggressively protective relationship with the toilet. She didn’t own the bar. Why did she care so much? Maybe she’s romantically involved with the toilets and gets jealous. Maybe it was her who typed and printed the angry sign outside the pub that declares: TOILETS FOR CUSTOMERS ONLY, and so feels some sort of responsibility over the issue. Maybe she just hates piss.

I’m afraid we may never know, because by this point she had summoned the equally apoplectic landlord who chased us out of there like a pitchfork wielding villager chasing away Frankenstein’s Monster.

So it was with some trepidation that I returned to the scene of the ‘crime’. I didn’t learn why they’re so protective of their toilets. But I did learn that I hadn’t missed out on anything by never buying a drink the last time.

Some old school boozers can be a great place for a cheap pint in a lively atmosphere. This is not one such boozer. Enjoy a pint, by all means, but you will constantly be on edge. Some old school boozers have a great atmosphere because you can tell that most of the people in there know each other, and the pub, really well. The crowd feels much less transient and temporary than in so many other London pubs. And this is true of the Salmon, but in this case familiarity breeds contempt: it also feels like they all want to kill each other as well.

It seems like the landlord is no stranger to altercations with customers. During the 20 minutes in which I hurriedly despatched my (well poured) Guinness he prowled up and down the length of the bar like an agitated panther, daring someone to catch his eye or raise a grievance. He didn’t have to wait long: he was soon in a blazing row with two other men who seemed to be asking for a ban to be lifted. I don’t know what they did, but it was probably piss related.

The only highlight of this pub was the two adorable black cats who were sleeping together in the corner. They must be the calmest cats in London to live in this pub. And I wonder if they’re allowed to have a litter tray inside or whether they have to buy a pint before using it.

Regular readers will know that Boozehound loves an old school pub. See The Royal Oak in Vauxhall, or Dublin Castle in Camden, or even the Misty Moon which is just down the road. But when the staff and ownership feel so aggrieved and against the world that they won’t even let you walk to the bar before they start chasing you out of the pub for not ordering a drink, the appeal of a cheap pint suddenly loses its lucre. If you’re at Bethnal Green station and want a quiet, cheap pint then keep on walking past this place and try the Misty Moon instead. Actually, do us a favour: nip into the Salmon just to use the toilets, then head elsewhere. They won’t mind, honest.

Beer: 2
Value: 5
Service: 2
Atmosphere: 2

Do they do food? Some lovely looking cakes in the urinals.
Are they in the 21st Century? Closer to the 17th.
Are there dogs? The two cats probably wouldn’t be pleased.
I’m hungover, do they do a Bloody Mary? I dare you to ask. I dare you.
I want to smoke: Stand on the street. While you’re there, walk to a different pub.
Any televisions? Yes and live sports.

salmon cats