I went to Brockley at the weekend to sample something pretty rare… the opening of a new pub. Well, it wasn’t really new – The Talbot, just off where Lewisham Way meets Loampit Vale, was left crumbling and derelict before new owners stepped in, did it up, and flung open the doors on Friday night so the discerning drinkers of SE4 and around could see their new local for themselves. They’ve done a lovely job of revamping somewhere that looked just a few months ago to be a dead cert for the wreckers’ ball. I popped along to say hello to Brockley Central’s Nick, but the place was so jam-packed I couldn’t spy him at all – presumably he was being mobbed by grateful BC readers. So I took in the atmosphere and the slight whiff of fresh paint, downed my Heineken, and decided it was a sign to return home, and attempt the Talbot another day.
Half-an-hour later I was back in Greenwich, back in my own local, where a mate’s band was playing. All was good in the world. Strolling back later, I saw scaffolding up outside one of the area’s oldest pubs. The Old Friends was never a favourite of most people – grim inside, and its later owners had a charmless slogan chalked into a blackboard outside for one St George’s Day: “ENGLAND – LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT.” Next to it was some more information – “WE SELL FOSTERS.” Few people mourned when it closed a couple of years back. Squatted for a few weeks a year ago, it’s been dark ever since.
Now, though, according to the signs on the boards, the demolition gangs are in. Whatever’s happening to it is a mystery – there’s no record of an application to do anything with the site on Greenwich Council’s planning database, apart from the erection of a new sign in 2000. But while the old pub was a blot on the landscape, it’d be a tragedy if it came down with nobody having the chance to start afresh, to allow the pub to be reborn in the same way that Brockley’s Talbot has been.
Of course, it may all be in vain – it’s not a promising location, especially with nothing happening at the former hospital site opposite, and it’s a tiny site. But it’s a shame to see another bit of Greenwich’s heritage destroyed, with east Greenwich alone having lost the Lord Napier (noodle bar), The Victoria and The British Sailor (both flattened and redeveloped) in the past decade or so. Times change, of course – cheap supermarket booze, increased taxation, the smoking ban, and the astonishingly incompetent greed of the pub industry have combined to turn the pub trade into survival of the fittest.
But it’d be wonderful to see someone – anyone – open a new pub in Greenwich. Especially in the centre. It’s always been a strange place to go drinking – Greenwich town centre has been bereft of decent boozers for many years now, with many locals objecting to the domination of the area by the Inc Group, which owns four out of the five bars in the market block, one being the former Cricketers, a much-loved traditional pub turned into an unsuccessful gay venue, then a suburban bar, then, most surreally, into the “Tiki Lounge” before becoming, sadly, empty. Instead, Greenwich’s best-loved pubs lie either side of the park, with the Royal Hill trio of the Greenwich Union, the Richard I and the Prince Albert on one side; and the Plume of Feathers, Hardys Freehouse and Star & Garter on the other, the latter two being nowhere near as fearsome as they may look from the outside.
Indeed, from the real ales in the Ashburnham Arms to the bands at the Pelton Arms, the real innovation’s taking place far from Greenwich town centre, whose pubs desperately need a bit of character. The best of an odd bunch is probably the Gypsy Moth, but it’s so over-decorated inside it’s fallen foul of that typical south-east London syndrome of trying too hard. (I should make an exception for the Lord Hood, 200 yards up Creek Road, a locals’ haven which proves what can be done with a bit of love. And jazz nights, which aren’t my bag, but bring in the punters.)
On the whole, though, if you’re looking for decent drinks, maybe some decent food, and somewhere quiet to chat… you’re best off heading east or west of the town centre. I’d love for someone to come in and restore the Cricketers to its former glory, put some warmth into the King’s Arms, or a bit of life into the Spanish Galleon Tavern. It gives me a reason to keep on buying Euromillions tickets, at least. It’d be a sure-fire winner for anyone with some money to invest. But will they ever get the chance? Greenwich town centre needs a new, vibrant, independent pub… but with all but one of its pubs part of chains it’s hard to see anyone getting a chance soon.
Am I being harsh on Greenwich town centre’s pubs? Should I give them a second look? Or does it really need something new? I’d love to know what you think. (Partly because I’ve been moaning about Greenwich’s pubs for as long as I’ve been legally able to drink…)