Sips of the best: Six Waterloo pubs worth missing your train for

If you spend any time at all using South West Trains, you’re going to be stranded at Waterloo station in desperate need of alcohol. In fact, the trains are so bad and the station so overcrowded, you could be forgiven for having a pint at the beginning of your morning commute. Unhappily, all the pubs within the precincts of the station itself are diabolical. But here are six pubs to wet your whistle at when you’ve just missed the 18.20 to Woking – just be warned, you may end up missing the 22.20 too.

Hole in the Wall

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Mepham Street is a malodorous, one-way thoroughfare linking Waterloo Road to York Road, constipated with 521 buses, their drivers on fag breaks and wrinkle-nosed tourists who’ve been round the Imax underpass fifteen times. Its centrepiece, the Hole in the Wall pub, is bedraggled, discoloured and rattles like a loose, rotten tooth in the arches of one of the busiest railway bridges in London. But it’s also an institution.

Anyone who’s been stuck at Waterloo has come in here – its fly-blown, soot-stained canopy signifies the nearest pub when you emerge from the station. You may think, on your first visit and at first glance, that you’ll just have a quick one – your train is in twenty minutes and, my goodness, you’d have to be very drunk to stick around in this pit. But don’t be put off by its tatty appearance – the Hole in the Wall is an honest-to-God proper London boozer, where you’re as likely to sit next to a hedge fund high-roller as a hedge trimmer, all ages and classes rubbing along quite happily in common contempt for the public transport system.

It carries off the right balance between the passing trade, rapid turnover and compressed conversation of a station pub, and the real drinkers who’ve settled in for the night. At the front is an often understaffed bar with wood and bronze tables and fixed claret-coloured benches up against the wall. It’s hung with crumpled, slightly grimy rugby shirts, presumably commemorative, giving the bar an air of the changing rooms after a particularly vicious Six Nations decider. Tread gingerly on your way through the sticky and unevenly floored corridor to the main bar, a subterranean, windowless wooden barn reeking of fried food and shuddering to the passage of trains above. A giant wagon wheel sits precariously in the rafters above a serious drinking crowd.

Through the back, past some heroically flaking toilets, is the beer garden, a small yard with TV and congregation of smokers. Old Watney signs from 1898 hang from a fence on one side. Above, a corrugated iron roof, torn green canopy and railway bridge unsuccessfully protect smokers from the elements.

To drink: There’s a good selection of beer, all being drunk with relish on a busy Monday evening: guest ales included Truman’s Scorcher, Hogsback TEA, Southwark Bankside Blonde, Doom Bar, Young’s Bitter, Dorset Brewing Company’s Tom Brown’s Best and Cottage Brewing Company’s Gold Rush. Standard cooking lagers are Estrella, Stella, Beck’s, Staropramen, Erdinger and three Guinness taps.

Distance from station: 1 minute

The Hole in the Wall
5 Mepham St, SE1 8SQ


The Kings Arms

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What was once one of many modest rows of 19th-century workers’ cottages, Roupell Street survived the bulldozers and is now a quaint novelty – and one of the most photographed and filmed streets in London. It has a pub to match. Dark green and fringed with flowers, it’s a neatly preserved corner boozer with no music – instead, listen to the creaking wooden floorboards as serious beer drinkers visit and revisit the bar, and the hubbub rising from a mix of elbow-patched academics from nearby King’s College Waterloo, City rowdies and post-work office drones, all glugging along nicely.

Photo 28-12-2015, 18 13 04A small back bar, separated from the main one by an attractive diamond-patterned screen, is more peaceful, although at peak times most customers will end up standing on the pavement trying not to get knocked down by commuters flowing through to Waterloo – don’t they know their train has been cancelled? There’s also a cheapish Thai restaurant in the barn-like back, Kanchanas Kitchen, which saves on shoe leather walking up to The Cut.

To drink: They know what to drink in here, and what not to – I was once tutted at by the barman for ordering a Kronenbourg. There’s no excuse for such careless ordering when there’s such a wide choice here. There are always eight or nine guest ales and they’ll certainly be out of date by the time you read this. On this occasion, glasses were brimming with Sharp’s Ale of Kings, Dorset’s Citrus Maximus, Southwold Bitter, Flack Catcher, Alter Ego from Tree House, AVA and Roosters Ragged Point. Also spotted were Staropramen, Antipodean pale ale, Meantime London Pale Ale, Queen of Diamonds IPA, Amstel, Grolsch, Sharp’s IPA, Blue Moon and Franciscan Well.

Distance from station: 3 minutes

The Kings Arms
25 Roupell Street


The Stage Door

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On your way to this backstreet pub on Webber Street, running parallel with Waterloo Road, you’ll pass two stage doors. One belongs to the Old Vic theatre, the other is a big corner pub that claims to have been there since the Restoration. In the tatty, slightly gloomy interior equipped with dartboard and pool table, you can recline on louche and wrinkly red leather sofas; outside, flip-down wooden benches are suspended from chains hooked to the wall; but it’s the roof garden that it’s worth parking yourself in. It’s a big astroturfed suntrap, protected by two huge sail-like triangles of cloth and a dramatic view over central London (from certain seats).

The Stage Door seems to be following the trend for serving steaks on stones, so you can “cook it yourself”,  which sounds like an outsourcing step too far. I don’t want to brew my own beer either, thank you very much. Luckily, Masters Superfish, probably the best chippie in South London and much beloved by cab drivers, is on the end of the road.

To drink: Tribute, Wandle, Mad Goose, Punter, Monteith’s Pils in bottles, Kronenbourg, Foster’s, Guinness.

Distance from station: 5 minutes

The Stage Door
28-30 Webber St

The Fire Station

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Pubs are the fourth emergency service, so it is appropriate that one is housed in the old 1910 London County Council Fire Station, adjacent to Waterloo station. It’s not a place to linger – there’s little seating unless you’re ordering food (burgers and pizza, mostly) but there’s plenty of chequer-tiled floor space to slop your beer over in the post-work melee. There’s an industrial feel to the place, with exposed brickwork, pendant lights and metal-framed stairways.

Photo 25-04-2016, 13 52 09Outside, smokers and crazed souls who enjoy an al fresco carbon monoxide fix with their pint are penned in like football hooligans, whether to protect them from the vagrants and Big Issue sellers who stalk Waterloo Road or the other way round, I’m unsure. Customers can get a bit lairy later in the evening, as can the bouncers (one blind man reported he was shoved by door staff when he tried to bring his guide dog in), but it’s worth a pit-stop if you’re after a quick one before stuffing yourself on to a train.

To drink: You can always snarl up the queue and peeve fellow drinkers by ordering from a list of complicated cocktails. But we’d recommend the beer. Guest ales are constantly changing. On this visit, they were serving Hackney APA, Sambrook’s Junction pale ale, Brakspear’s Oxford Gold, Ringwood Forty-Niner. A long row of regular draught beers includes Beavertown Neck Oil, Meantime Pilsner, Revisionist Dark IPA, Amstel, Birra Moretti, Camden Hells.

Distance from station: 1 min

The Fire Station
150 Waterloo Road


Camel & Artichoke

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Situated on Lower Marsh (formerly Lambeth Marsh), this is a pub you could happily become mired in on a sunny afternoon. Previously known as the Artichoke (a vegetable often used to replace the executed Charles I’s head on 17th-century pub signboards), it became The Elusive Camel 16 years ago before combining the names. A camel can retain nourishment inside its hump, but humans are less lucky. So head inside, to see a long, thin pub with a treacherous step at the bottom, decorated with artichokes and camels and offering a warm welcome. Historical prints of the market from the 1770s (when it was Lambeth Marsh), the thirties and the fifties cram the walls. Now, there’s a lively market outside on Mondays to Saturdays selling globetrotting street food, as well as Lower Marsh’s quirky independent cafes, bookshops and boutiques.

Photo 21-04-2016, 13 21 42Stairs lead to a 60-seater mezzanine, often roped off in the day. The beer is nothing special, but back doors lead to a large L-shaped beer garden, brightly painted, the walls dripping with ivy, buried beneath the girders and brickwork of Station Approach road but a little Eden under a blue, vapour-trailed sky. On the weekday afternoon I was here, three old-timers in caps sunned themselves like lizards and office skivers drank wine in ice buckets, laptops open but untouched. I don’t blame them.

To drink: Timothy Taylor Boltmaker, Greene King IPA and St Edmunds, San Miguel, Staropramen, Doom Bar.

Distance from station: 5 minutes

The Camel and Artichoke
121 Lower Marsh


The Duke of Sussex

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Girding myself to drop in on what had been a pub with a fearsome reputation, I discovered The Duke of Sussex has had a makeover. They’ve kept the attractive original Truman’s exterior and abundant outdoor seating, but the booze-sodden carpets and old-man clientele have gone the way of all flesh.

Photo 25-04-2016, 17 43 09The pub only reopened on April 25th, so it still has the air of a show pub, with gleaming fixtures and fittings and vases of fresh flowers. In the light and spacious main bar, undivided pin-backed bench seating runs along two sides of the room under big windows. There’s a light touch with the quirkiness new pubs feel they must display these days – a biplane model hangs at the bar, there are mismatched lampshades and cushions, and napkins and cutlery are stored in evaporated milk tins, but the look and feel remain understated and tasteful. Go around the bar to find a kitchen promising great things on a charcoal grill (plaice, chops, spitroasted chicken) and a bright, pleasant dining area with a flash of tiled colour with plenty of couples.

The pub sits opposite Millennium Green, abuzz with office lunchers and fragrant with grilling jerk chicken at midday. There are pillar box red benches under the Truman’s facade to soak up the atmosphere. It’s owned by Hippo Inns, who also run The Signal in Forest Hill: committed, they say, to exceptional food, drink and service. It’s far too early to say how they’ll live up to that, but early signs are promising.


To drink: Cask: Bermondsey Best, Black Sheep Best, Wandle, Zephyr. Keg: Purity Longhorn IPA, Truman’s Pale and Lager, Young’s London Stout, Estrella, Heineken, Amstel, Meantime Yakima Red, Aspall’s Suffolk Cider. A wide range of bottles includes Brooklyn, Blue Moon, Dogfish DNA, Backyard Brew Lawn Mower and Bee 17, Point India Pale Ale, Hambleton GF Lager and Adnam’s Mosaic Pale Ale. Long, tempting wine list and cocktails too.

Distance from station: 3 minutes

The Duke of Sussex
23 Baylis Rd




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