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The Florist Arms landlady Emma Tarbard: choosing the pub life

‘It’s in my blood’: Third generation publican Emma Tarbard left university to continue the family trade of East End pub landlord.

If you’re looking for a proper East End publican, look no further than 35-year old Emma Tarbard, manager of Globe Town’s Florist Arms. 

Pick her brains about any of our neighbourhood boozers, and if Tarbard hasn’t worked there herself, it’s likely she’s friends with the manager or has at least sampled their vodka lemonade with blackcurrant (her favourite drink). 

Tarbard was brought up in The Ferry House, which holds the title of oldest pub in the Isle of Dogs. She now lives on Sewardstone Road in Bethnal Green, right next door to Gatehouse School where she went to primary school. 

A family of publicans through and through, Tarbard’s parents met in the very pub that her dad was running at the time in Islington. Meanwhile, Tarbad explains: ‘My Nan and Grandad were also running the George on the Isle of Dogs, so I suppose pub life has always been in me,’ she grins. 

It might come as no surprise then that, when she turned 18, Tarbard got her first job as a bartender at The Approach Tavern in Bethnal Green, a role she loved so much that she deferred her university place to stay there for one more year. 

Tarbard did end up going to University of East London in Stratford to study psychology but after two years she realised that she craved the hustle and bustle of the bar, and decided to leave university. Despite being publicans themselves, she says that her parents took some time to come around to her new career choice. 

‘I was working alone in the Approach one day and it was really busy but I was bouncing off people and really enjoying it,’ Tarbard explains: ‘Mum and dad were sitting at the end of the bar and I think that was the moment of realisation that if I was really happy then they couldn’t argue with that, and they came to terms with the fact that it was in my blood and I was carrying on the family tradition,’ she smiles. 

Tarbard went onto work at numerous pubs in the neighbourhood. Stories from each establishment spill out of her mouth with infectious enthusiasm. 

Climbing to assistant manager at the Approach, to organising weddings at the Royal Inn on the Park and 5am finishes at the Corner Shop Bar in Shoreditch, she learnt how to navigate the gruelling and hectic world of hospitality. 

‘I’ve always said running a pub is a bit like being a supply teacher … As soon as the class realises they can take the piss out of that teacher then they’ve lost their respect and there’s no coming back from it. I see the same in the pub. It’s adults getting drunk and behaving like children and they do have to be put in their place sometimes,’ Tarbard says. 

First and foremost, she is driven by a duty of care towards her staff and customers. ‘If I can’t trust how you are behaving when you get drunk then I’m sorry but I will have to refuse service … it’s about having the respect of being under my roof, you have to play as the rules go.’ 

‘I’ve had threats like having my neck rung because I barred someone, but I’ve always been of the belief that if you’re going to do something to someone you’re not going to tell them about it first,’ Tarbard laughs. 

A lifetime overhearing drunken bravado, Tarbard takes much of this talk with a pinch of salt. But she acknowledges it can be harder as a woman: ‘Some men don’t like it that they’ve been barred by a female landlady. They would probably take it on the chin if it was a man, but it can rub them up the wrong way if they are told by a woman.’   

Manager at The Florist for five years now, Tarbard’s job involves much more than pulling pints and dealing with disorderly drinkers. ‘I’m basically doing a business degree without going to university!’ she exclaims. 

During her work across East London, Tarbard has seen every facet of the sector. ‘I’m really just learning how to run a pub from the back-end,’ she says. And judging by the endless stream of patrons flocking to the Florist, she must know a thing or two about it. 

Many of us will remember the infamous music nights where the two Fathers – Brian from St Barnabus Church and Alan Green from St Johns Bethnal Green – span the decks and entertainers played on the old joanna. However after they lost their licence the piano and decks have been replaced by more tables.

Thanks to East London’s vibrant nighttime scene, there’s no shortage of alcohol suppliers in our neighbourhood. Tarbard stocks her beer from East London Brewing Company and Hackney’s finest Five Points Brewery. With gin and vodka sourced from the East London Liquor Company, you can count on keeping it local at the Florist. 

But rest assured you won’t be drinking on an empty stomach. The Florist Arms is well known in the area for its affordable and fresh stonebaked pizzas, the smell of which wafts through the pub, adding to the cosy atmosphere. 

The Florist Arms is an independent freehold leased directly from the landlord. Manager of the pub for five years, and drinking there for 14, Tarbard says she loves being at the Florist but one day she would like to open a pub of her own.

Filled with fond childhood memories of The Ferry House, she reminisces that ‘the pub was literally my living room … our family kitchen was the pub kitchen and I remember coming down on New Year’s Day at 6am to get my cereal and people would still be going in the pub,’ she grins. 

It’s this sense of community that Tarbard channels into the Florist, an important aspect of which is about making women feel at ease in this traditionally male environment. 

According to Tarbard: ‘If you can walk into a pub as a woman alone and sit at the bar and feel comfortable, I think that’s a sign that the pub is doing well.’

‘My dad wouldn’t employ men, he only had females, and if a fight kicked off he’d send my mum out because in those days the respect the men had for a woman would usually dissipate the fight,’ she explains.  

While she can certainly turn on a tough exterior, Tarbard’s affection for her patrons is what strikes home when you speak to her. Keeping an eye on the faces filtering through her doors, she notes: ‘If a regular hasn’t shown up for a few days I really try to look out for them, especially if I know that they don’t have much family in the area.’

‘That’s why the lockdown worried me because for certain locals the pub is probably the only place where they come to talk to people,’ Tarbard says: ‘feeling like you have somewhere you can come to sit and chat is so important.’

‘That’s what I love about the Florist because anyone can walk in and meet a stranger at the bar, and the next thing you know they’ve gone onto the Dundee Arms and then they’ve gone back to the person’s house for dinner!’ 

If not the Florist, you might also find Tarbard drinking at The Dundee Arms, her go-to pub after work on a Friday or Saturday. She also has close ties with The Camel and The Angel & Crown, two other East End boozers with female managers at their fore. 

A people person to her core, Tarbard says she likes hearing the conversations that go on in the pub, as long as they don’t get too political. ‘Liveable Streets and all of the flower pots in Globe Town were a big bone of contention and caused a lot of talk in the pub for a long time,’ she says. 

‘The locals were trying to point the finger at the new people who recently moved to the area, but it actually became a common ground between both parties agreeing that it was ridiculous!’ she exclaims: ‘It brought everyone together a bit more because they were all moaning about the same thing,’ Tarbard laughs. 

For Tarbard, these connections are what it’s all about. As she describes, ‘It’s about making memories, good memories, and that’s what it always was for me growing up in The Ferry House – having a good jolly bob, keeping an eye out for everybody and creating that kind of community.’

If you enjoyed reading this article you might like our piece about the Angel & Crown pub.

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