64 Shoreditch High Street,
(020) 7739 3702
The ViewLondon Review
A plain Jane exterior and an interior so traditional it’s almost a parody of itself; this Shoreditch boozer offers something most walk-in alehouses don’t. At the White Horse you can expect to spy lithe young women pole dancing for your viewing pleasure. A surreal experience awaits.
Unless you’re a regular visitor to venues of the more exotic variety, Shoreditch’s White Horse pub can leave a pretty bizarre first impression. Sat shamelessly on Shoreditch High Street alongside art stores and hipster nightclubs, a few platform-heeled footsteps from trendy media hangout Shoreditch House and within tickling distance of Sunday shopping spot Old Spitalfields Market, it can seem like nothing more than a standard East End boozer – albeit one with curiously covered windows. Yes, the outside bears the painted legend ‘Gentlemen’s Venue’, but it’s all too easy to overlook.
Step inside, and the deception of the traditional appearance lingers: fading patterned carpets; a notched and pitted wooden bar; touches of dull brass; blinking quiz machines; pool tables; and crumbling edges. You might think you’re about to sip a leisurely pint in any down-at-heel pub. You’d be wrong. Turn your head to the left as you make for the bar and the mask begins to slip: a DJ booth perches beside a small stage, in the centre of which gleams a ceiling-high metal pole. Wrapped around the pole – if your timing is right – is a bronzed young woman completely in the buff. Shoreditch’s White Horse, you see, is a strip pub. Not a fancy, megabucks strip club: a strip pub. What’s more, it’s a walk-in strip pub, and one that accepts anyone – male or female – through its portals without question or complaint. No surly doormen, no entrance fee, no darkened booths, no pretension and certainly no decorative bells and whistles. It’s as if a tornado picked up a side-stage at Stringfellows and let it fall through the roof of the Rovers Return. And more surprising still (for those who don’t tend to frequent such establishments), it can be kind of fun.
If you’re a strip club connoisseur, then this is close to the bottom of the barrel. And if you’re upset by the idea of women stripping for money, it similarly shouldn’t feature on your next Saturday night itinerary. But for those who harbour no strong views on the subject one way or the other, and whose taste in destinations includes the weird as well as the wonderful, the freaky as well as the flash, the White Horse is worth a visit.
The secret to enjoying this place is to visit because it’s a strip pub, but not for the strippers. Go in the hope of arousing something more than curiosity and you’re probably getting off on the wrong foot. The girls may be lookers, the dances may be designed to excite, but it’s impossible for any right-minded individual to let go of the fact that you’re in a pub, stood around with a (90% male) crowd while a cheesy announcer introduces the next glamazon performer via an eighties wedding party PA. You keep expecting Ray Von from Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights to appear in a cloud of dry ice to the strains of Tina Turner’s Steamy Windows: hardly a recipe for lust. However, the lack of class doesn’t matter, because what this pub has in spades is conversation: when hard-bodied babes take off all their clothes and perform insane aerial acrobatics to blaring music (from RnB to Iggy Pop), there’s always going to be a lot to talk about. Even more so when the surroundings are as incongruously unglamorous as these.
The clientele, who are a tremendously mixed bag, provide another talking point. Young Hoxtonites with rock ‘n’ roll hair and pointy boots, aging taxi driver types fiddling nervously with their wedding rings, city boy financiers merrily drowning their credit crunch sorrows, even a smattering of enthusiastic women; all are accepted and, even more strangely, they seem quite content to accept each other. You might think a venue like this would attract ne’er-do-wells enough to render it prone to bad behaviour, but it’s almost as if the female nudity ever on the edge of vision softens masculine edges. The atmosphere as a result is pretty neutral: come as you are, don’t disrespect the dancers and you’ll be left to your own devices.
Drinking at the White Horse offers few surprises. As with the decor, the booze is far from fancy, albeit with very fair prices for this part of town. The beers on offer include Staropramen at £3.20 a pint and Hoegaarden for £3.60, but the selection of spirits is nothing if not obvious. Oenophiles are also due a warning: the wine choice won’t set you panting. But then, good wine isn’t the point. This is souped-up Page 3 silliness in pub form, and a particularly fine Sancerre isn’t about to set anyone’s world alight. Remember though, you’ll need pennies for more than just your tipple: everyone has to put at least £1 into the pint glass that’s passed around before each dancer takes the stage.
The Last Word
The White Horse is nothing special, and it doesn’t seem to care. Bog standard in every way from drinks to decor, as a normal pub it wouldn’t merit much of a mention, and certainly not a positive one. However, the strangeness of the space it occupies – a surreal no-man’s land between dour English drinking den and seedy, so-called Gentlemen’s Club – as well as its complete informality and convenient location, make it somewhere worth stopping by for a truly out-of-the-ordinary experience. You might visit only once, and opinions are sure to differ, but rest assured you’ll have an opinion.
White Horse has been reviewed by 3 users