33 Kentish Town Road NW1
‘Give me your finest bourbon, I’ve ended it with my woman again.’ In The Dev, they haven’t got a tab as much as a scorecard for how many times I’ve entered the pub uttering that phrase.
So yes, in the (waning) interest of professionalism, some of the staff know me. Some are ashamed to know me. Some have even blown me. This review isn’t stained by those tenuous ties, however. In fact, for the longest time I loathed The Dev. The Tuesday night industrial/cyber goth/low-self-esteem, high-need-for-attention antics were unbearable. The live sound and equipment for the odd gigs were terrible, to play through and to listen to. Beer from the taps tasted like it arrived into your glass via piss-soaked pipes. I vividly recall the very long time when there was no fridges. Did I mention the cyber goth night?
For an age, The Dev was repressed by the reign of one of the old managers who clung onto that glorified shitheap as long as he could. The tyrannical old cunt put nothing into the place but cheap furniture and even cheaper standards. When The Dev looked like it was going to be bought up by developers in 2012 to cater to yuppie cunts (yeah, build behind the arse-end of a Sainsbury’s, great location for a wine bar, fuckface) I had no feelings beyond ‘No love lost, put it/us out of misery.’
How did this catastrophe of an establishment, sandwiched at the end of Kentish Town Road between the Tube station, chicken shops, off licenses and the canal, become London’s finest rock/metal/punk pub?
Unbeknownst to the many denizens of The Dev, the building at 33 Kentish Town Road was long ago London’s finest rock pub. It’s actually the first rock ‘n’ roll pub in Camden, and the first pub in London to hold regular weekly music sessions since 1948 when six Irish with flutes and fiddles gathered weekly, according to Ann Scanlon’s Those Tourists Are Money: The Rock ‘N’ Roll Guide To Camden. Before Camden became the tourist haven of cheap tat that we know it as today, it was also home to cheap Irish, of course.
By the late ‘70s, into the late ‘80s, The Dev was a quiet old men’s pub which ‘swelled’ with rock ‘n’ roll on weekends. The place was frequented by the Damned and Motörhead, Shane MacGowan and The Pogues (becoming for a time the band’s official HQ), Madness and the Specials, and even Dee Dee fucking Ramone for awhile. The rebel mentality was shared between patrons and the Irish running The Dev – when TV-am moved into the building across the road (which now houses MTV Europe) in 1982, management at the pub refused to renew the champagne stock which the media cunts were plundering en masse. To this day, no one from the MTV building steps foot in The Dev either.
It’s unclear when the lecherous tyranny of the old manager took hold of the reins, but sometime after the proposed selling and developing of The Dev in 2012, management finally changed. Rising from the neglectful, spiteful rule of the previous manager was a gorgeous surfer man and an Amazonian brute. New flooring was put down. Seats and stools of consistent sizes and shapes were brought in. More gigs were put on. There were fridges. And it was good. That may be oversimplifying the changes that had to be implemented, but Jesus, this is a review, not a history lesson.
Around this time I began to drink in The Dev a lot more. It would take a lot of good times, and bad, for my opinion of the place to change, let alone for me to begin to understand the appeal that The Dev’s dedicated barflies found in the pub. I would soon lose count of the times I surreptitiously emptied my skull into the toilet so I could get it together enough to be served another drink. I would end up skipping university induction getting-to-know-you bullshit events to instead spend the afternoon and following evening in The Dev, dancing on top of the bar to KISS in front of no one but four other people. Women would even turn up occasionally. Slowly but surely, I would come to physically live above The Dev, a logical conclusion to the growing feelings I had that I was living in it at times.
This all sort of explains how The Dev became my home from home and, at times, my actual home. But there’s something (someone) that sums it up easier – Doug Stanhope. While the following isn’t the main idea behind this particular routine of his, it’s still a gorgeous nugget all on its own.
It goes like this:
‘Beautiful things always make me feel kinda empty, like beautiful sunsets and beautiful mountaintops, because there’s none of that you can take with you. You can take all the pictures in the world it never does it justice. You use every word in your vocabulary to describe it, it never comes out the same. You had to be there. You’re watching that beautiful mountaintop, there’s always a guy next to you going, “Doesn’t it make you feel insignificant?” Yeah, it really does. And I don’t need to feel any more insignificant, I feel very insignificant every day. I go to my hometown bar where all my friends know my name and I feel significant. I don’t need anything less.’
The ancient gothic exterior, the dark wood panelled interior ensuring it’s gloomy even at two in the afternoon, the faded, dated posters… Neither from outside nor inside is The Dev a beautiful thing. And it is all the better for this.
I generally don’t care for community, neighbourly love, the unity of barflies or of anything. But Stanhope has almost never been so right on the money when he talks about the simple significance of having a place to call your own. I put off this review for a long time because, well, what kind of writer hands anything in on time? I was finally spurred into action, though, when I recently enjoyed one of The Dev’s brilliant Monday punk/hardcore DJ nights. These nights are sparsely but faithfully attended, and consist of excellent music, vibes, and even snacks (crisps, homemade vindaloo, cheese, and more). Don’t let ‘DJ Night’ mislead you – it’s just some of The Dev regulars enjoying music, food and alcohol for the enjoyment of it, not some entitled dickstain DJ who thinks he’s the Second Coming of Christ because it’s within his capacity to press a button.
There’s something centring about drunks sharing food, drink and laughs while GG Allin plays above on the PA. Finding significance in that sort of base utopia might sound laughable, and it’s more than likely I’ll wake up tomorrow forgetting about it in the face of fresh reasons to avoid humanity. But, what I’m trying to say is, the people who come here – who really come to The Dev five nights a week – for the most part, you don’t see them in other rock/metal bars in town, unless by accident. Social refuse are they, and they happily collect at The Dev. I am also one of those wasters leaning on the bar. Shit, where else outside the perversity of my own home could I hear a 28-minute Bongripper song uninterrupted?
In The Rock ‘N’ Roll Guide To Camden, The Dev is referred to by old punters as a spiritual local and ‘One of those classic places where, if you stay there long enough, the world comes to you’. Often I go to this pub to make sure the world doesn’t come looking for me, but nevertheless. Even on the coldest of London nights, with the heating inside the pub broke, I get nothing but warmth from The Dev.