Beer and Loathing
The Railway, Blackheath
There is a weird patch of south east london stretching from Greenwich to Blackheath that is under the impression that it is west London and acts as such. The people look as though they are well monied and well fed and for the most part are. Any student you see will have bought their clothes in Jack Wills rather than Beyond Retro and will be into rugby and ‘banter’ instead of drugs and ‘having the sickest time’. This does not usually bode well for having a partyriffic good time in a boozer but it does usually mean that any pubs you do go into will have a very polished feel (a Shepherd Neame even had glass automatic doors like a hotel, crazy) and will sell olives and have a healthy range of beers on draught. Not here the dreaded trio of Fosters, John Smiths and Strongbow. For all my cynicism I actually find Blackheath itself very charming. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in a rural town in Kent or Surrey were it not for the red buses and intermittent gunfire coming from down the road in Lewisham.
The Pub’s interior is homely and well presented albeit in a slightly ‘we got an interior designer in’ style for my liking and full of post work drinkers from the city because, as the name suggests, it is next to the railway station. It’s in a nice period building, I’m gonna go crazy here and assume that it dates from the time that the railway line was built. All things which guarantee that it will be popular with post commute banker crowd going back to their Victorian town houses. There were a couple of curveballs in there though, the standard really old man on his own spluttering gibberish and only getting served because the staff know his ‘usual’ off by heart. Also a couple of The Only Way is Kent girls, one of whom had the worst butterfly tattoo ever on the back of her neck, the sort that you pick off the wall which is half butterfly, half tribal tattoo. The staff are fairly young and trendy though. Like trendy enough to intimidate your dad but not trendy enough that you would actually classify them as cool. Y’know, piercings here and there, maybe a Smiths t-shirt. They were friendly enough.
I got there a bit before my mates did and so had a veggie burger which cost about a tenner, but it was nice. Even if it did suffer from the same fate that befalls all lentil based veggie burgers where the entire filling surreptitiously escapes out the back onto the plate and you end up eating a bread sandwich. Then you realise your burger fell out and have to eat chips dipped in mashed up lentil burger. Bad times.
I was eventually met at The Railway with a couple of locals my age who, at one point or another, seem to have worked in every bloody pub in Blackheath and both had an intimate knowledge of The Railway. The word on the street seems to be that back in the day, or when they worked there at least, the pub used to be a hub of party vibes with regular lock ins and general drunken debauchery. Alas I didn’t feel this vibe at all whilst I was there though. I have a horrible feeling that sense and sensibility may have taken over and now normal pub things happen in the pub after close, like cleaning and counting the tills.
They must exist, rich people live round here so I’m sure that their art student younglings come and drink pints here occasionally when not stalking round the cool areas of various cities in the UK. But I didn’t see any. All the late teens and early twenty somethings were too coated in Hollister and Abercrombie to count as kewl kidz.
Blackheath is really lovely and if you are in the area for whatever reason then go to the Railway because it’s very nice. But you are unlikely to be in the area. There’s really nothing there, it’s not a day out unless you are going to watch the start of the marathon or… I don’t fucking know, fly a kite? On top of it being in an odd place it is a bit of a bitch to get to. Or get back from. I live in SE London and managed to fuck up my journey so much that I ended up at London Bridge just catching the last train to New Cross (which isn’t even where I live) by the skin of my teeth. Although in all fairness to Blackheath this was my fault for being drunk and planning my journey home terribly.
Nice beers on draught, Hoegaarden in their huge heavy glasses, Meantime pale ale, Modelo in the fridge alongside all the normal draught beers like Fosters etc etc. Ooh, also an exciting German wheat beer that I hadn’t seen before called Franzkeiner Klassiker or something, probably not that. It was off unfortunately but I would have paid up to five English pounds to try it. Unfortunately I imagine that’s roughly what I would have been paying as it was quite expensive. But this is the sort of thing you accept the moment you see suits drinking Hendricks G&Ts under posh copper lanterns, you know your wallet is about to get rinsed.
So I didn’t get excited and I didn’t think it was for me, but for all that, it was very nice. It was nicely lit, Tom Vek and other ‘cool’ tunes were being played and the presentation was lovely. It was very cosy and each part of the pub had a different sort of feel. Thought had gone into it and I think that deserves our collective respect. It was jolly welcoming too and the staff were nice. I really don’t know why I’m kicking off to be honest. Have 8/10 though because my hunches aren’t usually wrong. Maybe the garden that I didn’t venture into is full of rattlesnakes, used needles and poorly trained Staffordshire bull terriers and that’s what was causing my spidey sense to tingle.
The Central Bar, Shepherds Bush
Uh oh. West London, a scary and disorientating place for an SE kid. The ethnicity ratio is all skewed, the streets are too wide and there’s a legitimate shopping centre here with Gucci and Chanel in it. And what’s this? A motorway? Jesus. What is going on here? Truly, this is a strange and unforgiving land. Directly opposite the tube station is a dilapidated shopping centre that is clearly suffering from Westfield’s rise to consumer glory. Straddling the top floor, with a large viewing window running it’s entire length, is a Wetherspoons. It’s called the Central Bar, which conjures up mental images of a polished wine bar on some bankeriffic street corner in Farringdon or Monument or something. Obviously, it being in a run down shopping complex in Shepherds Bush means this isn’t the case. At all.
On first approach up the escalators it looks a bit like the entrance to a gaudy and shit night club with an unhealthy amount of red tinsel and fairy lights adorning the doorway. I know it’s christmas but I got the impression that the fairy lights were always there, if perhaps not the tinsel. The name of the pub was ringed with red neon which made it feel like you were entering some British themed pub on an awful brits abroad boozing strip in Malia. In many ways upon entering this half promise of boozed up sunburnt Brits having a mediocre time was fulfilled, but replacing the sun burns with red cheeks and steaming hair having just come inside from the freezing pissing bloody west London rain. Which is somehow worse than our beautiful life giving soul enhancing south east London rain, which is constructed from a complicated formula of vitamin C, omega oils and magic.
One thing that doesn’t change regardless of where you are in London and very possibly the UK as a whole is the Wetherspoons crowd. Never is it a healthy cross section of the area. Good lord if it were then the streets all over London are apparently 50% alcoholic old men who enjoy sitting on their own and 50% mental dissidents on day release. And, of course, overwhelmingly white. The ‘Wetherspoons effect’, as it shall from now on be known, is an amazing social phenomenon where, regardless of the ethnic make up outside the doors of the pub, the interior shall be at least 95% white. Although in a predominantly Muslim area I suppose it doesn’t make sense that pubs would be full of old asian men drinking real ale. The crowd in The Central Bar were interesting enough though, probably one of the best I’ve seen in a while, here are a few of the characters:
Mental Multi-Coloured Crippled 50+ Punk
I suppose the technical term is ‘crustie’ and he did look a bit crusty but I’ve never really 100% known what the term means so am hesitant to use it. He was being quite loud and shouting things that I couldn’t make out. I think he was 70% drunk and 20% crazy and 10% that self confidence that all punks and political activists have where they think they have the right to be a bit louder than everybody else because somebody has to stand up and speak for these fucking sheep. Unfortunately drunken gibberish will not be bringing down the system any time soon, Sid. Nonetheless you have brought the Central Bar, Shepherds Bush that one step closer to becoming an anarchist commune.
Worried Looking Nuclear Family Eating Dinner next to Scary Punk Mentioned Above
Clearly it was dad’s decision to eat here because of the beer and a burger set up, I don’t think kids have ever clamoured to go to Wetherspoons for dinner where there is no chance of a free toy, the only entertainment is BBC News 24 and you can’t go to the toilets alone even at the age of 13 because ‘daddy knows some of the people in here and they aren’t nice men’. Mum looks pissed off but at the end of the day your entire family meal out has come to £20.40 drinks included and we’re all going to have to make some sacrifices if we’re to make it out of this double dip recession alive.
Woman Collecting Newspapers from Tables and Occasionally Staring at Me
I was only aware of this woman thanks to the wonder of peripheral vision for most of my stay at the Central Bar, Shepherd’s Bush, but my pubpal alerted me to her presence after about the 9th time of her stopping what she was doing (being mental and collecting newspapers from tables where people had left them for apparently no reason) to stare intently and slightly maliciously at the back of my head. ‘I think that woman is a bit special, she keeps looking at you’ ‘all the women on their own here are a bit special’.
My gripes about the place being in west London were fiercely opposed by my Shepherd’s Bush native pubm8 “You’ve got it all wrong, west London is the posh part of London. It’s south east that’s the shit hole”. Incorrect. South east is full of eccentric English characters and they are what makes this country great. It’s what won the war. The Central Bar, Shepherd’s Bush is full of sociopathic deviants wearing strange branded west London clothes and travelling via a bizzarre series of tunnels called ‘The London Underground’ that I have never witnessed in south east. In all seriousness though Shepherd’s Bush is just as much of a shit hole as somewhere like Lewisham. But at least Lewisham embraces it.
I did see some vaguely well dressed girls on a table near us, but that could have just been in comparison to the alcoholics who lived on the edge of sanity that surrounded them. There was also an obese girl wearing a t-shirt with a stencil of Del Boy on it saying ‘you plonker Rodney!’ I am going to assume that is West London’s excuse for a hipster and give the Central Bar, Shepherd’s Bush a point for that too. Once again the west London native I was with bemoaned my cynicism saying that there were cool kids in west, but I didn’t see any except and including Del Girl so I have the mind to disbelieve her.
Casting all unfounded hatred for west London aside, this pub is in a shopping centre right by a four lane road near the exit to a motorway. This means it loses some points. However it is right next to the second biggest Westfields in London. Unfortunately this shopping centre is so full of shops I got confused and bedazzled and failed to buy any Christmas presents for my family. As I am in a mood you shall be blamed for that too, The Central Bar, Shepherd’s Bush.
It’s a ‘spoons, you know the drill. However a beer and burger was £5.10 meaning that it is in the upper price bracket of London ‘spoons. In Forest Hill it is £4.95. Also, none of the ales on tap were particularly exciting, so I had to have a Tuborg. Also, there were no sachets of mayonnaise. Lose some points.
The interior was so offensively red it hurt your eyes and your only other option was to look out the window onto the hustle and bustle of what I can only describe as ‘West London’ below you. So it was lose-lose really. Yet the pub was full and everybody seemed to be having a good time, even crazy starey paper lady, but this might have been because she had an armload of her beloved newspapers. Lucky scamp.
Do you have any god awful pubs in mind for Jack to go to at some point in the future? If you do please harass him on twitter @beerandloathinz