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Swimmer at The Grafton Arms, Holloway

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user reviews of the Swimmer at The Grafton Arms, Holloway

please note - reviews on this site are purely the opinion of site visitors, so don't take them too seriously.

A very posh boozer which is surprising for the area.Full of city types on a Saturday evening scoffing posh food and drinking trendy lager.
It's absolutely amazing how this pub and the Enkel 200 yards away attract such different crowds.
A much safer place to visit if your in the area.
wurzel - 25 Mar 2019 19:47
Gastro-central full of your typical pretentious Guardian reading Islingtoner. I will say that the food here looks top quality and they actually have an interesting beer selection(the excellent rothaus tannenzäpfle is on tap for example).

I remember the Grafton from the 80s when it was a fantastic, traditional boozer full of characters from all walks of life. These days anyone who doesnt look like they could be elected as a Green Party M.P will be treated with, at best, passive aggressive suspicion.


QueensParker - 6 Oct 2013 03:20
I really did like this pub until the Landlord refused to serve an old friend of mine. We presume this was based on mistaken identity as this friend had not been there for a year and the alleged offence(???) apparently took place six months ago. The landlord would not listen to me or another friend, and we were obliged to leave two fresh drinks (ten quids worth!!). If this rude landlord apologises or, better still, buggers off, I would once again recommend the place.
Kropotkin - 6 May 2013 13:53
The Swimmer is a pub that you may discover by chance or have visited through word of mouth.You will NOT be disappointed. It is located just off Seven Sisters road and isn't your typical Holloway battle cruiser. It serves an eclectic mix of drinks. I recommend taking a closer look at the variety of bottles kept in the fridges if you enjoy strong beers from Belgium.

The bar staff are always welcoming and helpful. The food is great. The juke box has some classic albums, as well as a funk and soul, 50's rock N roll, and some lesser known artists to wind down to after a busy day or in James Brown's case get on up to. Worth a try.
Bittersweet79 - 26 Apr 2013 11:27
Top Top boozer.

Exaggeration from previous commentator who said beer went up twice as much as it in fact did. This irritates me when people can't get the facts right.

As I have finally got my break in the craft beer industry, I am now so proud of businesses such as these that keep historic buildings like this open and the hand pumps still a-pumpin'! Energy costs, transport costs mean that my small business struggles hold down prices or discount as much as we'd like to our best customers, and I'd give my eye teeth to sell our brews here. I'd struggle to get the RRP below what is here anyway!

I'm just glad this place is here with a fun mixed crowd, great staff and not sold off for flats or a costa coffee. Ten pence on my pint is something I wish didn't happen, but I can well see why it ends up there unfortunately.

Save our quality boozers, don't give em gripe for keeping the doors to the beautiful buildings open!
WilliamWard1976 - 17 Apr 2013 19:36
"A planned 3p rise in beer duty has been scrapped and replaced by a 1p cut in the price of a pint.

The chancellor said the alcohol duty escalator - which adds inflation plus 2% to the price - would be abolished for beer completely." (Source: BBC)

Unfortunately, the response from the owners of The Swimmer was to increase the price of a pint here by about 20p. The draft ale (London Pride, plus guest Butcombe at a premium) is not great, and with some of the (albeit good) lagers now pushing £5.00 a pint, this pub has now become the preserve of only the wealthy.
Disley - 13 Apr 2013 21:42
The food looks great but unfortunately I havent got to taste it! I am allergic to cheese which was made very clear to the staff so was disappointed to find cheese in my food. Our waitress could not have made it any clearer that she was in a bad mood. When I complained I was greeted by the very large and not so friendly chef who asked if I can eat pastry, I replied yes but Im allergic to cheese as stated on ordering. There was some huffing and then my food was taken away. Food arrives back to me, I look inside the pie and there is cheese. He had roughly scraped the cheese off the pastry and put the lid back on but there was still cheese all over the inside. Im obviously pretty miffed by this point as its my health on the line should I have eaten the food containing cheese. I went back into the bar and was greeted by "whats the problem now" from the fat horrible chef. Why they let him talk to customers I will never know but then other than one bar maid who is very sweet the service here is appalling. Out pure frustration I made the mistake of using a swear word after trying to talk on a level to the staff about how its not acceptable to keep sending out food that is going to make me sick and that was it, the chef got aggressive jumping on the fact I had said a swear word (not used in a name calling sense) and was very intimidating. The barmaid shoved a tenner in my direction to give my money back for the food. And I left the pub in tears. Now, I understand on a Sunday when there are problems with power ect its stressful, I have done bar work/waitressing before but there was no offer of something else I could eat, the fact he sent it back out a second time containing and ingredient I made very clear makes me sick baffles me. Why not just say sorry, we cant help due to some problems with the power, here is your money back and a drink on the house for your bother, or offer 10% off your next visit just SOMETHING! You do not half scrape off the cheese, send it out again then shout and be rude to the customer once you have been discovered to not have dealt with the food properly. I have never been pushed to tears and intimidated by a massive man after a valid complaint about a meal, shocking really. To make matters worse this is not the first time I have been in this pub and left with an empty stomach due to staff incompetence. I will NEVER set foot in that pub again, I suggest The Landseer up the road, super friendly, great food, great selection of drinks and a really great atmosphere!
Madams - 8 Apr 2013 11:17
The Swimmer is a great pub - and I really wonder how anyone could think the staff were anything but lovely (overflowing ashtrays notwithsanding). I've never had anything but a great time here. The food is stonking fare - tasty, filling and reasonably-priced. The ales are better-kept than most Real Ale pubs and the jukebox is brilliant. Plus the quiz on Tuesdays is a cracker too. What's not to love?
Caractacus - 10 Jan 2013 23:42
It is hard to believe that there could be as nice a pub as this, in such a pleasant street, so close to the blight on the landscape that is Seven Sister's Road!

We called in at 2pm, an hour before the Arsenal game kicked off, and it was busy, but not jammed like many pubs closer to the stadium would have been.

Butcombe Bitter was excellent as expected, and I think we have found a new venue to add to our prematch ritual.
robcheshire - 1 Nov 2012 12:29
Pretty decent, attractive pub and good beer in an area that needs them.

Just wish Nigel Tufnel and his sidekick working behind the bar had been bothered to empty the outdoor ashtrays. Every one of 'em was overflowing. Considering there were only 3 customers, it wasn't that difficult.
tuppence - 4 Jul 2012 13:14
Ghastly locals, Ghastly prices & ghastly staff.
Enjoy!
starquake - 26 Apr 2012 16:43
This place is a bit of Gem. Really nice interior and exterior, with a good juke box and drink selection. Food has also been good in my experience, although they could do with a better fan or something to combat the smoke from the open kitchen.
jjamjj - 4 Jan 2011 18:15
Hadn't been in this place since it was the Grafton Arms, many moons ago. It's a nice comfortable pub now, don't know about the food as I didn't try it, but looked and smelled good. Beer, I tried Butcombe Bitter and Fullers Red Fox, were both really good. Staff were very quick and friendly and there was a nice mixed crowd in for a Friday night with a laid back atmosphere. I'll happily visit again.
Alfnoax - 16 Oct 2010 12:01
Not a bad place,agree with most below lthough the food is a rip off. Bottom of the market Iceland fayre,if you don't believe watch Guisseppe coming into work ;)
super - 8 Apr 2010 10:29
Quite a nice pub on a residential street, with a nice traditional feel (although I thought it was perhaps a little dark on one or two of my recent visits). Some nice local area history things on the wall, and indeed a stuffed otter. Nice real ale and a good jukebox. The food is your (now) fairly typical gastro-type fair, and it looked perhaps a tad on the expensive side, although I haven't actually sampled it. Atmosphere is fairly lively with a mixture of ages, although predominately a younger crowd. It's worth a visit, and I can see myself returning fairly often.
jacobross1 - 14 Feb 2010 20:27
I like this pub very much. It's a short bus ride away and I try to get down there a fair bit. The food is very good and fairly priced for higher-end pub fare, the good variety of beer is well-kept and served by friendly and often knowledgable staff. London Pride and Butcombe is always on the It's great to have a pub in the area that actually gives a sh*t about what they are serving.

Cosy, good atmosphere even when not busy, ok jukebox and great taxidermy otter. I bring out-of-town friends here when they visit, and they have all approved.
shand83 - 1 Feb 2010 11:25
This is the pub middle class people go to who don't want to mix with the scum that live in the area. It's warm and salubrious, with a decent selection of beer but it is overpriced. I also thought that the bar staff were a bit lacking in charisma.
boozemaster - 16 Jan 2010 12:56
My new local. Good pub with good food, although a little pricey.
AngoraLove - 11 Aug 2009 19:12
I enjoyed a nice pint of Fullers Summer Ale sitting on one of the picnic benches out the front which are railed off from the path. Although one hand pump was unused Pride and Butcombe Bitter were also available alongside a selection of premium lagers.

The pub is long and thin with an open kitchen at one end and a TV at the other. I saw no sport advertised, but the locals that I overheard talking about the worlds ills didnt seem the type to even know what Sky TV is, not that this is a bad thing.

I felt sorry for the stuffed otter up on the wall, not because he was stuffed and on a wall, but because he is hung next to some rancid smelling toilets that need condemning. I would never eat in a pub that couldnt grasp the basic premise of using some detergent and a scrubbing brush.

This pub is ok, but its not really my sort of place.
Strongers - 15 Jul 2009 15:31
crap pub. good beer. full of scousers
excellent_drinker - 11 Mar 2009 16:32
Nice boozer. Good ales and good atmosphere.
Plastique_Bertrand - 5 Oct 2008 23:21
Nice Beer, nice pub.
But a bit full of middle class nonces and prices to match.
Finsbury.James - 29 Jul 2008 17:50
A great pub to visit on the way back from work. Good food - but a bit on the pricey side.

However, since the smoking ban came in to effect, the outside seating area has had its "retractable conservatory style cover" removed and replaced with umbrellas. That was a massive plus for this pub.
tfidonnie - 5 Jun 2008 14:40
Great pub, if a little on the pricey side. Can't agree about the bar staff, really friendly as is the landlord.Good selection of tunes on the Jukebox too.
conflictuk - 20 Feb 2008 23:51
Good pub.Went to a 50th birthday there.Good pint of Fullers and memorable chips.
Agree about the kitchen( chef even voluteered the secret ingredient for his houmous).Yes its a secret,go and ask him.
spenthops - 24 Oct 2007 05:05
Where are Shane and Damo? Gone downhill,rude and bored looking barstaff have ruined this bar.
anonymous - 3 Sep 2007 14:45
Excellent pub, hidden away a bit but worth the troubl to find. Always several real ales and Belgians on. No football colours allowed on Arsenal match days. A nice pub, not cheap but quality is good. Different to anything else in the area
redmike - 14 Aug 2007 22:47
I hesitate to recommend the Swimmer, purely on selfish grounds, because I like it and don't want anyone else to find out about it.
As previous posters have mentioned, it's a tad on the pricey side, but there's always a friendly welcome, some nice beers (including Honeydew, Leffe and Pride), and a cracking quiz which has supplied us with many a beer voucher.
But don't go, especially if you're clever, and it's Monday evening. :)
nonstick - 4 May 2007 18:12
The best pub near to Sue and Kristof I know!
Very relaxed, non London feel to this place with excellent food.
adriand - 27 Apr 2006 11:41
Had a very enjoyable visit here, soundtracked by good music. Not quite sure about the tarpaulin 'extension' to the front, but inside the pub proper you will find a grandly proportioned long bar and a busy open plan little kitchen where - if you chose to do so - you could watch a mighty plate of chips and cheese being prepared by a singularly pretty chef-ess. Merits another, more sustained visit I think. Not sure where the name originates from (though for all I know there is a large explantory plaque somewhere that I missed). Litovel is alright at premium level - better than what so many pubs serve under the name of Staropramen-on-draft these days. It shouldn't be allowed.
iceinthecider - 24 Apr 2006 13:26
I have been in this pub quite a few times, and whilst there is a good jukebox and a fair selection of ales I find the larger selection pretty grim (unless you want to spend over 3 on a white beer). The reviewer that said Litovel was a good pint must have had a taste bipass - acidic with a acrid aftertaste - I'd guess this is a very cheap Czech import as it is available only here and a couple of other boozers - notably The (excellent and superior)The George in Hackney - I guess part of a group of pubs as they all have the same beer and the same jukebox. They should stock Gambrinus as that is the beer that most Czech's drink. I also think there is a slightly cliquey atmosphere - that if you are someone looking for a pleasant drink over your Sunday paper can detract from your enjoyment. Bit of a shame really.
richardstokes - 5 Dec 2005 15:05
One of the nicest (ie least stabby) pubs near the Holloway road. Bar staff were extremely friendly; a really pleasant pub for a few nice pints and some good food.
northoftheriver - 22 Nov 2005 13:11
Really lovely and friendly pub, with a great quiz night (mondays) and a good selection of beers and wines. The food might be a little on the expensive side, but as a previous user commented, they don't hide the fact and its good quality well cooked food.
Lubaduck - 21 Nov 2005 16:17
nice little boozer, probably the friendliest in holloway. no idea it existed until i moved in round the corner! probably helps to explain its chilled character.
jrdwilkinson - 9 Nov 2005 13:10
Brilliant little boozer, good range of beers and lagers (litovel is very plesant), good music, gorgeous bar staff, and the bar manager is a cracking bloke too.

The winking(yes, winking) blonde barmaid is still there, and a lovely young lady she is too. The clientelle seemed pleasant, great atmosphere, no hint of trouble. Only popped in for one, but stayed all night.


BrianCheese - 1 Aug 2005 16:50
Lovely pub, just off Holloway Road. Odd, eclectic range of beers. Used to have an absolutely beautiful blonde barmaid who'd wink at you when she gave you your change..........Yes, the regulars are a little too sure of themselves (crowding the bar so its sometimes difficult to get served) but its the best, most relaxed pub on Holloway Road by a long way.
anonymous - 1 Aug 2005 12:01
I'd have to disagree with the comments about the staff not being friendly; I've always found them to be the complete opposite.
The food isn't expensive either and it's really good.
Nice range of real ales and 'proper' pork scratchings.
Probably the best jukebox I've ever come across in a pub, possibly even better than one in the Social in Little Portland St.
dearl - 1 Jul 2005 11:06
A good pub that's sadly going downhill.
I was in the Swimmer just the other night and it's nothing like the pub it used to be.
The interesting jukebox is still there, but as with earlier comments about the place, the staff are very rude and indifferent to customers indeed.
The staff should not treat customers like they are something they have unfortunately "trod in" on their way to work.
If they don't like working with the general public, they should take up a different job!
anonymous - 15 May 2005 01:51
Fantastic pub, great jokebox, away from the main road and therefore away from the chavs... A+
anonymous - 3 Mar 2005 17:02
I have to agree with the last comment. The Swimmer is a great pub with a fantastics range of beers, and yes I really like the Litovel. Ok maybe the staff aren't the friendliest, but so what.. its London afterall. The food is great (but expensive) and the Juke Box very cool. We should be grateful that its hidden up in Holloway and not Upper Street or Camden Town tourist land... where is would be packed. The Swimmer is a true diamond in the rough... oh and more stuffed animals please.
jstordy - 17 Dec 2004 17:08
This is by far the best pub in Holloway, the range of european beers are fantastic and its set back from the main road so you won't get burberry clad stella brigades. The juke box has one of the best selections I have seen, the food is good and the staff are friendly enough, the people posting negative comments on here obviously prefer theme pubs like o'neills which not surprisingly closed down recently. The stuffed animals are a bit weird!
DKavanagh - 24 Nov 2004 16:11
A quick word in defence of The Swimmer. The food is not expensive because the reasonably unadventurous menu tells you how much it costs and you shouldn't be surprised when you get sausage and mash with onion gravy for 7.95 when that is what you ordered. If you think that the menu looks expensive, don't order food. If you want a gastro pub, go to St Johns on junction road. Also, don't expect the staff to be overly friendly if you are not a regular. If you want to pay for friendliness then go to Soho or America. The bar staff are perfectly friendly and have extremely good taste in music. Last but not least, we all ought to give thanks that someone has seen fit to give us The swimmer when we look at the number of unpleasant pubs there are on holloway road. I challenge you to go back to The Swimmer and then walk home past the Hercules. Many thanks to The Swimmer from someone who lives near the Good Intent.
C Murray - 19 Nov 2004 08:34
I honestly don't understand what people are talking about here - The Swimmer is a really great pub. The staff are totally friendly (except Tom of course) and you could not ask to meet a friendlier and more charming bloke than the guvner, Shane.

Beer is European generally (excluding the bitter & guinness) so you'll have no luck finding a Stella or Fosters or Carling. If Hoegaarden or Erdinger or Litovel or one of dozens of other obscure brands is more your bag, you're in luck. There's also a huge wine selection that is sourced from a vintner as opposed to just being whatever the brewery sends out.

There is always a coterie of locals hanging at the bar, but you wouldn't notice unless you too go there all the time - it's not a 'local' local pub. Not a slaughtered lamb at all. I would actually probably avoid Monday night quiz tho - it's very crowded and completely taken over by Nathan Barleys.

I don't normally eat when I'm drinking so can't really comment on the food, but no-one I know has ever complained about it. I also know the (Belgian) chef and know the standards he sets himself, so even if it isn't to your taste, you can be sure that the food is made from fresh, high quality, ingredients on the premises and that unlike some of London's kitchens hygiene is something that is taken seriously.
pan - 12 Nov 2004 16:42
Worst pub in the area with Loads of Great pubs nearby. Worst food you could imagine and yes I agree, extremely rude staff. Certainly not worth the effort or the prices. Not a gastro pub. If you want a good gastro pub with good food, reasonable prices and friendly staff then check out the Landseer.
Rex - 13 Oct 2004 12:26
The best pub in the area, but it hasn't got much cometition! Good selection of bottled beers but the draft lager is terrible. The bar staff are very rude and you'll be lucky to get even a hint of a smile! Food is good, although expensive and quiz night on monday is worth a check.
paul, london - 11 Oct 2004 14:23
Crap service, crap food,overpriced, dark and drab. Could hardly be described as a gastro pub.Should be on everyone's list of pubs to avoid.
Joanne - 10 Oct 2004 11:54
worst pub in the area. Don't go there unless every other one is full, it's snowing, you're homeless and need to get warm. Bar staff would freeze you with a glance though. Food is overpriced and overdone. Not worth a second visit
John - 6 Oct 2004 12:24
Superb pub hidden in the back streets (although not too far away to get lost). This is where you go if you want *good* food or lager: it'll cost you, but the cost is very proportional to the quality of the food. Beer is great as well: the lager has been mentioned by others, but they also serve Fullers London Pride and ESB, as well as the Fullers seasonal ale and a guest beer (at the time of writing, it's Adnams). Price is the only quibble: if you buy two pints, you'll be lucky to get a fiver's change from a tenner.
A.B.R. - 15 Jul 2004 15:38
One of the hidden pleasures of Holloway, and about the only one you can openly write about. Superb selection of obscure Continental lagers, cracking atmosphere, punters can be a bit north london media mafia sometimes but everyone's having fun. Only downside is that it's a bit small - get there early for seatage. However, its location helps prevent it from becoming too darn famous (if this was down in Camden they'd have to use pitchforks at closing time), yet it's worth the trip.


rupertg - 30 Mar 2004 19:02
Nice pub off the main road, the foods good, reasonably priced, but the main pull is the cracking pint of Staropramen and the good laugh on Quiz nights. (Monday)
Brendan - 15 Feb 2004 15:31
Really nice little pub.

Very cosy and when it was 'done up' it wasn't in the cliche style of all other gastro pubs.

Fab.
anonymous - 17 Oct 2003 15:20
Be warned, there is a strange selection of lagers on tap - none of your Stellas and Carlsbergs here. The most popular is Litovel, which comes in two strengths and has a very distinctive taste, a bit like vinegar. The bar staff are all extremely friendly, and a couple are very fit.
Joe - 2 Oct 2003 15:38
Nice pub. Can get a cramped. Even when it's not, bar wating times can go on a bit.

Good pub quiz on Monday nights. Worth going just to hear the question announcer mispronounce simple words. Have never won it.
steve - 19 Sep 2003 10:50
It is the only decent pub in Holloway. Good drink, very good food but above all a very welcoming place with lively fresh feel to it.
Tim - 22 Aug 2003 11:45
The Ridley's IPA was off yesterday, but the guy changed it for me and my friend. Shame the poor guy was on his own and you had to wait up to 15 minutes to be served. The Czech lager was good though.
lad_newton - 16 Jul 2003 09:40
I actually really like this little pub. It's got a nice atmosphere, is usually playing quiet jazz in the background and the beer's nice. A real cosy feel in winter too because of the big thick curtains around the doors and windows. Dead handy for the Holloway Rd Odeon. It's two minutes up the side road nearly directly opposite. Great place to go after enjoying a Sunday evening movie.
G - 16 Jun 2003 15:56
I have visited the pub twice now, and had a good pint of Ridleys Ipa (note they have the whole range plus Fuller London Pride) on both visits. The food is excellent and cooked in an open kitchen to the right of the bar area. Staff quite friendly. I went there last week on the way back from Finsbury Park on the evening Arsenal were playing Manchester United and, although I am an Arsenal supporter, it was nice to have a football free pub in the area!! Do visit & give it a try!
lad_newton - 25 Apr 2003 18:55
We've won a few times at the quiz, but we had to go through countless weeks of booby prize shame before we got the right team together.
matt - 14 Apr 2003 15:07
Fantastic pub, food is out of this world and good value, always a newspaper to really friendly bar staff.
Claire - 8 Apr 2003 13:50
Great jukebox, good food, fresh flowers....
Rouge - 22 Feb 2003 20:09

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