Garbage, most football pubs. Soulless holes that profit from proximity to a ground and exist solely to pump each punter with a yard and a half of cheap lager every other Saturday and some week nights in between. The one under the M6 was a particular favourite of mine. A dank pit, with ITV on a fourteen inch TV, warm Budweiser from a multipack, and a foot of stagnant water on the wrong side of the latrine. Still, it makes for a good story at parties, doesn't it?
There are exceptions - rare gems that people actually enjoy visiting - The Crown & Sceptre, The Strawberry Pub, The Coach & Horses, and The Lass O'Gowrie (RIP), to name a few. For them, there is no smoke in the toilet, no deliberate rough surfaces in the cubicles, no fat b*st**ds at the door eyeing up your colours and looking for a fight. Strangely, what stars these pubs in Google Maps is the same thing that attracts people to the pub on a non-match day: good beer, friendly bar staff, decent food, and the fact that you can walk in and out with an iPhone still in your hand.
From Arsenal you expect the best of course. Every pub within half-a-mile caters to the Land Rover driving, ski trip taking, wax jacket wearing, white wine drinking, former Chelsea fans who've grown bored of Abramovich and, along with Arsene Wenger, have taken an expensive punt on Mesut Özil.
I joke of course...some of their fans drive Toyota Prius.
The Highbury Barn I've visited only on match days. A slightly dark, sweaty pub, reminiscent of a Wetherspoons, where I felt comfortable practicing my best football voice - Fackin' 'ell ref! - has been renovated: flooded with light, given a separate restaurant area, and had the most futuristic of tables installed. Honestly, these things dispense beer at mouth level, they'll save a fortune on the washing up. The food has possibly been renovated too. Last time I went with the brilliant outdoor BBQ'd burger. Five quid, and it came with chips - better value than my ticket. Now they offer up meat from Godfreys Co. on the opposite side of the road, a place I've heard nothing but acclaim for and a choice that will surely get the wax-jacket brigade firmly seated for the lunchtime game.
The sausage and mash served was tasty and came with peas. I can't stress that enough. Too often I end up with meat, mash, gravy, and no vegetables. 'Has tha nowt green?'. There isn't much else to say about sausage and mash. No lumps in the latter and plenty of flavour in the former. Perfect. The fact that I'd managed an almost identical meal earlier in the day from Piebury Corner probably speaks volumes for the quality alone.
Bar eleven overpaid useless ***** in West London pulling their fingers out or a 3rd Round FA Cup draw, you're more likely to see Van Persie at the Emirates than me next season. That said, if I'm passing through The Highbury Barn will definitely be a reason to stop.
Disclaimer: The Highbury Barn invited me for a couple of beers. The food I paid for. And I do count many Arsenal fans as my friends. Some of them don't even own a wax jacket.