Sips of the best: Six fascinating pubs and bars near Bermondsey tube station
April 6, 2016
Welcome to the booziest, beeriest borough in South London – Beermondsey. I mean, Bermondsey. The Maltby Street market pumps out Little Bird gin and hot toddies to the Borough Market overspill and beer hounds drink the breweries and bottle shops of the Bermondsey Beer Mile dry. Here are six pubs worth checking out away from the hop-spots of Bermondsey Street and Borough High Street…
A handsome Victorian pub with wooden benches, pews, panels and floors all glowing dully and welcomingly under tasselled wall-lights and glass pendants. It’s just showing off really. There are book-lined sills, period maps and a gleaming copper bar. Here, you can drink oyster stout and pilsener, graze on fine Scotch eggs and sausage rolls, and glower back at the bust of Queen Victoria bemoaning the loss of the empire. You can watch the French (sorry, Victoria) chef and his team deliver respected high-end pub grub in a tiny kitchen through a hatch. When you go to spend a penny, which you are bound to after having several of their pints of delicious Rye Pale Ale, slap yourself round the face and check out the basement floor, which is carpeted with sparkly old pennies. Then go back and have some more ale.
123 Snowsfields, SE1 3ST
The Blue Anchor
“No-one likes us, we don’t care.” Like the Wimpy next door, you’re surprised that pubs like this have survived. A distastefully refurbished Millwall pub serving £1.50 sandwiches and Fosters, equipped with big tellies and naugahyde reclining armchairs like the ones you see in discount furniture shop windows. Still, if Victorian pubs resembled people’s front rooms, why shouldn’t modern pubs do the same? Like the posh coffee machine you got for Christmas and never used, they’ve unplugged the DeLonghi from the horseshoe bar and plonked it on a table near the lavs. The urinal is decorated with this graffito (pictured) and momentarily scared me while taking a leak more than if a band of Bushwackers had walked in on me with a couple of pool cues.
The Blue Anchor
251 Southwark Park Road SE16 3TS
The Ancient Foresters
This is the old Bermondsey, where you feel like you’ve just walked into someone’s living room and squatted over their coffee table. If you’re a stranger, you’re a copper, if you’re Frank Sinatra, you’re a god. Ol’ Blue Eyes is everywhere – pictures of him getting kissed by Sammy Lee Davis Jr, a road sign reading ‘Frank Sinatra Drive’, his crooning coming through the speakers. It’s dimly lit, with blood-red seating and a stage flanked by guitars and banjeleles hanging from the walls. Send gullible American tourists here and tell them to ask for directions to the ancient forest.
The Ancient Foresters
282 Southwark Park Road SE16 2HB
Bermondsey Arts Club
Refrain from scrawling on the tiled walls or forensically inspecting your genitals: even though this bar is situated in an old Victorian urinal, beneath wicked-looking iron spike railings, it’s rather swish down here, actually. The very helpful and informative bar staff will guide you through the cocktail menu at your table and seem surprisingly upbeat, considering their troglodyte existence in a badly lit pissoir watching people get drunk. I mean, at least toilet attendants get to douse themselves in David Beckham Homme and eat all those Chupa-Chups.
As it was British Beer Week, the waiter recommended a Hopscotch, comprising whisky stirred down with orange, whisky barrel bitters and an ale reduction. It was decent, but I didn’t want to linger. In this place, you do your business and you get out. Hopefully not upsetting the person who’s going to sit in your seat after you vacate it. It’s rare to stagger up from a urinal fuller than when you went in, but there are plenty of lamp posts on Tower Bridge Road. The proprietors of this place also own the snug craft beer specialist Other Room Beer Bar, a stone’s throw away at 6 Brighton Buildings, 60 Tower Bridge Road SE12 4TR. Also well worth a visit, if only to use the lav.
Bermondsey Arts Club
102 Tower Bridge Road SE1 4TP
Hidden under Antico restaurant on Bermondsey Street, this rowdy speakeasy-style cocktail bar specialises in gin, even more than that woman dropping her baby in the famous Hogarth print. With eighty gins on offer, you’ll barely scratch the surface in this brick-lined cellar bar, but you can make a valiant attempt with it by sampling the gin and tonic tasting flights, where you’re served up three gins and a home-made tonic, less sweet than Schh… you know who.
214 Bermondsey Street SE1 3TQ
Despite glorious views of the Thames and the City, this lonesome and eerie pub, perched precariously on the edge of the river, manages to put off tourists who couldn’t find the Mayflower with surly locals and so-so pints of Sam Smiths (India Ale £4.45 a pint). Reputedly, diarist Samuel Pepys quenched his thirst while observing the Great Fire of London from this pub in 1666 – you can still get your fill of fiery sunsets from the top room, where the sash windows rattle to the squalls coming off the river and seagulls squawk and whirl around incredible vistas of the City.
I enjoyed the less dramatic sights here too – Bill and Ben the flowerpot men act as doormen to the toilets and a note from a South Norwood Irish builder left in the structure after an alteration in 1955 adorns the walls amongst nautical charts, maps and photos from Bermondsey’s docking heyday. Downstairs, wooden panels cut the firelit bar area into segments. Tiny Alice in Wonderland-style doors no more than five feet high segregate the most fearsome of the locals in the central portion from rowdy students on the back terrace and middle-aged readers in a riverside snug cum library. Outside are spooky statues, a monument to the Salters, early 20th-century campaigners for slum improvement in the area. If they keep warding off the tourists, this will remain the finest riverside pub in London.
101 Bermondsey Wall East SE16 4NB