When I started writing for The Brew Club back in 2008, I remember proposing to Scott that I would be able to review British and European Ales, and make suggestions for readers that might be planning on visiting England.
Well I’m comfortable that I’ve covered the first two criteria, with some bonus ales from somewhat further afield. It occurred to me recently that I have been somewhat remiss in making suggestions for anybody that seeks to visit this sceptered isle.
So, to rectify this, I thought I’d recommend a few interesting drinking places in London, specifically in the area known as ‘Borough’ in Southwark immediately south of London bridge. This area has traditionally been an area of entertainment, outside the influences of the Guilds of the City of London.
So… here are a few suggestions – and given the option I’d attempt this on a sunny Thursday or Friday lunchtime!
‘The George Inn’
To get to ‘The George’ we either cross London Bridge, or leave ‘London Bridge’ underground (subway) station. Personally I’d take the underground to ‘Monument’ and cross London Bridge on the eastern pavement (sidewalk) as that offers a great view of Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. Once south of the river continue down Borough High Street for a couple of hundred yards and you’ll find The George set back a bit from the road on the left.
It stands with its own courtyard and distinctive galleries. The current building dates back to 1676 (Southwark suffered its own ‘great fire’ ten years after the Great Fire of London in 1666) but an inn was recorded on the site as far back as 1534. The George and a nearby inn ‘The Tabard’ (sadly no more) were the start points for many of the pilgrims that left London to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas a Beckett in Canterbury – check out Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’.
Having said that it’s a ‘recent’ construction… 1676 still predates the US Declaration of Independence by a hundred years! However, while the history and architecture of The George is interesting, both inside and outside, I suggest the beer is slightly less so, Greene King brew a special brew ‘Old George’ for the pub, and while it’s a pleasant enough (if unremarkable) session
beer, I would suggest that maybe just order a half and we’ll move on to some more interesting brews.
From The George we’ll head towards Borough Market; cross the road and head right for about ten yards, when you reach the fork in the road cross to the other side of Southwark Street and head left a few yards to Stoney Street.
Back in the eighties Borough Market was a bustling fruit and vegetable market early each morning but, as is common with such markets, by lunchtime they were deserted.
Several movies including ‘Bridget Jones Diary‘ and ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels‘ were filmed in the area, then about ten years ago it was decided to revive Borough Market and now, each weekend, it becomes London’s foodie heaven. There are a few food-stalls each Wednesday, more on Thursdays, then on Friday and Saturday it becomes a ‘full on’ tourist hot spot.
About a hundred yards into Stoney Street you’ll reach ‘The Market Porter’ on the left. As its name suggests, it serves drinks each breakfast time for the market porters as they finish their ‘days’ work. We’ll be going in there in a minute, but hold off for a moment and head into the market on your right.
As you enter under the Victorian market canopy you’ll spot, on your right, ‘Utobeer’- one of the best beer mongers in London with an impressive range of beers from around the world. They’re open each Wednesday through Saturday and as you’re reading a beer blog, I would be most surprised if you manage to walk away empty handed.
‘The Market Porter’
So… with clanking backpack we head back to the Market Porter, trust me it’ll be worth the wait, there are usually between six and ten interesting ales on draught in this rambling tavern with its traditional wooden floors.
This hasn’t been ‘tarted up’ for the tourists, it still opens each morning between 7:00 and 8:30 to serve the market workers and its decor reflects its status as an authentic workers pub.
If you can tear yourself away from the Market Porter we’ll continue down Stoney Street, past some rather interesting looking restaurants – including an Oyster and Porter house (oh all right, if you insist) – and then left into Brew Wharf yard.
Brew Wharf houses a microbrewery; there are usually two of their own brews on tap, together with half a dozen draught beers (including Pilsner Urquell) and literally dozens of exotic bottled beers. The food, while not cheap, is excellent.
Again, it might be a struggle to tear yourself away, but trust me, it’ll be worth it, on leaving Brew Wharf Yard, turn left and continue down Stoney Street and then first right into Winchester Walk.
Just along here on the right is ‘The Rake’ one of London’s smaller bars, but with an enviable reputation; it’s owned by the same guys that own the UTOBeer stall in the market and there are always interesting brews on tap. And they serve thirds, so there’s little excuse to not try a few. There’s a covered decking area outside if the weather’s mild, but don’t be surprised if the bar gets crowded.
While in The Rake it’s worth looking at the range of signatures written on the wall of the bar; close examination reveals that they’re, for the most part, well respected brewers.
‘The Old Thameside Inn’
Back west to Stoney Street and turn right, heading down towards the river. At the end you’ll reach ‘Clink Street’ – named after ‘The Clink’, an old debtors prison that from 1151 through until 1780. To this day ‘the clink’ is a nickname for a jail, and being ‘in the clink’ is another phrase for being jailed. .
About fifty yards down you’ll spot a sailing ship called ‘The Golden Hinde‘ – but this is NOT Sir Francis Drake’s ship, it’s a much more modern replica (built in 1973) but it has circumnavigated the globe and done over 140,000 miles. Alongside the Golden Hinde is ‘The Old Thameside Inn’ which is part of the Nicholson’s chain. They tend to keep their beers well, and there’s always a chance of something nice like Fullers’ London Pride or Timothy Taylor’s ‘Landlord‘.
I’ve had mixed experiences in here, the service and food can be variable but the views across the river are pretty impressive.
Leaving the Old Thameside Inn we head back to Clink Street and head further west, along here we pass the site of ‘The Bear Garden’ which was a fairly disreputable theatre by all accounts. The next pub we encounter is ‘The Anchor’.
Again there has been a pub on this site for many, many years, Samuel Pepys watched the Great Fire of London from here although, like The George, the old inn on this site was destroyed by the ‘Great Fire of Southwark’ ten years later.
Again, I have had mixed experiences in here, and consider it best enjoyed during the week, not at weekends… far too many tourists, pickpockets, handbag thieves and so on.
So, there you have it, plenty of great London drinking places within about a half a mile, some excellent beers, and a bit of history. Once again, given the choice, I would recommend this for a Thursday or Friday afternoon.
Bob the Brit