Look in at the local… but where?

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…)


  1. If you’ve been moaning for that long, perhaps you will never be satisfied 😉 although I totally agree with what you are saying. I don’t like Inc’s pubs because their ales are usually off and their tables are always sticky, before we even get onto the Cricketers. I always regard the Spanish Galleon as a huge missed opportunity – a great location and run by a local brewery. The problem is that the only good Shepherd Neame pubs I have been in have been the ones that are very local to their brewery – the villages of the Medway have some excellent examples. The Prince Albert has just changed hands, so we might see some changes there (I’m hoping for better kept ales and good food) but as it stands, the Lord Hood is probably the only Greenwich pub I would drink in (avoiding the jazz nights, natch). The Dog & Bell and the Royal Albert in Deptford make travelling to Greenwich unnecessary for us on the other side of the Creek!

  2. I appears that the owners of the Old Friends do not need planning consent to demolish – although, of course, they will need it to build something else on the sitel,

  3. Apart from the Moth which I have a soft spot for (although I take your point about them maybe trying a little too hard) most of the other pubs are very missable.

  4. Agreed on the Spanish Galleon, it’s just… well, forgettable, despite having the best location of any of them. Shepherd Neame pubs seem to vary wildly in quality (good – Ashburnham Arms; bad – Crown, Blackheath). The King’s Arms strikes me as the biggest missed opportunity – just feels like somewhere that’s run to please bean-counters in a distant office, yet it could be so much more than that.

    Didn’t know the Albert had changed hands – I hope it doesn’t change too much.

    The Dog & Bell redefines “quiet drink” for me… nice pub run by nice people, though. And a great pub quiz on Sundays.

  5. No, you’re not being harsh at all. The pubs in the centre of Greenwich are wretched. The one exception is the Coach and Horses in the market which is half-decent, at least on a weekday evening.

    Greenwich town centre is not just blighted by terrible pubs but, with a few notable exceptions, awful shops and restaurants too (at one point I counted 4 Mexican restaurants in the high street which is 3-4 more than you really need). I’ve never been able to work out why this should be the case — unless it’s just the appeal of a transient tourist market who aren’t likely to be return customers.

    I’m lucky enough to live within stumbling distance of the Union and Richard I so I rarely make it beyond those, although I do want to get down to the Pelton which I haven’t been to for a few years.

  6. I went to Greenwich for a drink last night. We ended up leaving the Admiral Hardy due to a complete lack of the atmosphere it used to, on accasion, have. Bright lights, and a whole Maroon 5 album on the stereo made us go looking for somewhere better. Ended up in the Coach & Horses which is, as David says above ‘half-decent’. have you ever tried the Morden Arms (1 Brand St), also hidden away in back streets. It’s very costy when they’ve got their fireplace going, and their free bread and cheese selection (from the cheese shop on Royal Hill) on Sundays. I completely agree about the pubs in the centre of Greenwich though; not one outstanding inn that I feel I’d want to return to. I think it’s worth a walk to the Cutty Sark on a Summer’s day, but otherwise the pubs on Royal Hill are by far the best. It’s also a shame the Greenwich Inn has closed down (more a Deptford pub though really).

  7. The Gipsy Moth? Seriously? That place is horrific. I’m a big fan of the trio of pubs on Royal Hill though, and the Plume of course.

  8. I remember the Old Friends and its chalk board signs well, awful place. Close by up the top of Vanbrugh Hill is the Vanbrugh Tavern which changed hands and was renovated in 2004/2005 I think and used to be a pretty nice pub with a healthy quiz night to boot. I no longer live in the area but is the Vanbrugh Tavern any good?

    The pubs around the market square have grown complacent which is a great shame but not unusual in a tourist hotspot

  9. A tiny update – the Kings Arms has changed hands, from the life-sapping clutches of the Punch group (who love charging idiotic prices like £3.02 for a pint) to Greene King. Hopefully it’ll improve.

    Haven’t been in the Vanburgh for years, only went a couple of times after its refurb, although they’d done a good job. Have never tried the Morden – I think it’s one of the three Greenwich pubs I’ve never set foot in (the others being the Royal George and The Graduate).

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