Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Two of London's shittest pubs.

Long time readers of this blog will know that I have a fondness for shit boozers. How shit? Really shit. As I've remarked before, I fear for the future of the shit British pub. They are dying out at an astonishingly rapid rate. One by one they're all either being turned into restaurants/creches disguised as pubs or (un)'affordable' homes with only an old pub sign to mark what came before.

Yesterday, I resolved to do my bit to save them by going to two of the shittest looking pubs in my neighbourhood. I've lived in Camberwell for three years now and, so shit do these two gaffs look, that I've never quite had the courage to enter. Dismayed that a former favourite of mine, The Prince Albert on Bellenden Road, has lost it's pool table and been poncified, it's clear the time is now to go to every shit boozer in London before they all inevitably go the way of white dog poo.

First up - The Nag's Head on Camberwell Road. Now here is a pub I've passed over 500 times and have never seen a single person enter or leave. Going in, I realised the reason - it looks as if the same eight people have been in The Nag's Head since 1982. The whole place does very much have an air of The Falklands War still being on. There is a large poppy display on the window and a huge St George's flag littered with what looks suspiciously like sectarian insignia, hanging from the ceiling. It is only the sight of a black man that reassures me this isn't an official BNP headquarters. When passing it, the most notable thing about this pub was always that it seemed to be advertising a St George's Day celebration - all year round.

The pub does immediately have one thing going for it - a pool table. I get myself an Amstel (no real ale here, real ale is for queers), sit down and plot assimilating by sticking a pound on the table and showing off my not inconsiderable cue skills. Just then any thoughts of blending in are scuppered by my friend walking in. Top tip! If you're looking to not stand out at such a place don't invite your 65 year old, cravat and shorts wearing, gay actor mate, Steven.

Sitting on one of four black pleather sofas we take in our surroundings. The floors are wooden - excellent for any plans on vomiting. The bar looks as if it may have been made in plywood and coloured in with black felt tip for someone's GCSE Craft, Design and Technology course work. On the television is an ITV gameshow with the sound off. On the jukebox (tick!) is the kind of imitation Doris Day 1950s warbling I thought had died out completely. There's a couple of fruit machines and a couple of those roulette machines you get in these kind of pubs which have a slot for money going in, but worryingly, don't appear to have one for money coming out. Next to the pool table is a large framed picture of a darts team. Confusingly, there is no darts board.

There's a slight menace in the air but the overwhelming tone is one of depression. The fact that it's only 5 o'clock, but dark outside, may have something to do with that. Alternatively, it could just be that everyone in there has just been turned down for a new liver.

Although I'm happy with my Amstel, my friend's Guinness looks a little sad and foamy - giving the impression no one's ordered one here since the mid nineties. We get up to leave and thank the bar maid. Another lady, who's been sat drinking Pernod on a bar stool the whole time, thanks us for our custom. That's what I like to see - the landlady getting pissed on a Tuesday afternoon. It's enough to make me think of making a return sometime soon.

Our next stop is The Red Lion on Walworth Road. This place has always been more noticable thanks to it's larger size and the permanent presence of smokers outside. One of my requirements for a good pub is for it to have at least a couple of old alcoholic men sat at the bar. This place was exclusively populated by them. As soon as we approach the bar, one of them calls the landlady, 'Mary', over. Community spirit - all very encouraging. The first negative comes when I realise my pint of Kronenberg fucking reeks. Seriously, it smells worse than what I imagine I'd discover the green carpet smells like if I was to stay for a few more and face plant myself into the ground.

Credit where credit is due though, Steven's Guinness is in much better shape than what the Nag's Head gave him. Resigned to drinking a pint of sweat, I again take in our surroundings. On the bar, and actually facing the bar staff is a bust of a red lion - as if to remind them where they work. On the television is Sky Sports - At The Races (good sign). With a Ladbrokes and an Iceland opposite you can see that this place forms part of a holy triangle, providing the regulars with everything they need. A chalk board advertises this Saturday's live music - 'Finbarr and Bernie'. With the alphabet against him, how Finbarr managed to wangle top billing, I'm not sure.

Of the two pubs, on first impressions, this place comes in second. It is an Irish pub, which is always a positive, but it's a bit too roomy for my liking. I feel like I'm in the lobby of a hotel in the train station of a minor Northern town. Actually, that sounds quite good. Perhaps it's the lighting that's the problem - it's too bright. Rather than just getting a general, comforting air of shared depression I can see right into the faces of the miserable clientele. Looking at them, I can tell exactly what it was that made Sandra leave them.

And that, I'm afraid is the problem with both these joints - they're too depressing. I still love shit pubs but these two fell below a line I wasn't sure I had. This was meant to be a helpful celebration of dirty boozers but, if anything, you could say I've been unhelpful to their cause. I have not lost hope though - the search continues! Any recommendations of decent London locals I can assess in the future are very welcome.

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