Beer and Loathing
The Fox and Firkin, Lewisham
The Fox and Firkin is a black clad pub on the road between Lewisham and Catford not far at all from The Ravensbourne Arms that you heard about a couple of weeks ago. However, it couldn’t be further away in spirit. The phrase “Lewisham’s Alt Scene” is not something that is on the tip of anybody’s tongue at the best of times, but I think the existence of this pub can render it redundant because the Fox and Firkin IS “Lewisham’s Alt Scene”. So adjust your expectations of the review to follow accordingly.
I have no problems with grungers. I used to be one. Fuck, I imagine a lot of you used to be ones too. Hugely baggy jeans, crap beanies, skate shoes of some description and “hilarious” t shirts (I used to have one that said ‘dolphins are gay sharks’. It was out of hand). But there comes a time when you have to make a career change. You stay on that path much past the age of 15 and rapidly find yourself in a park, surrounded by people a fraction of your age stroking your ego because you are old enough to buy them booze. I’ve seen it happen man. It’s bleak.
I am going on about all this nonsense because a selection of this pub’s regulars are shining examples of what happens if you stay on the path of park-based cider drinking with wacky Dragonforce fans not just past the acceptable age of 15 but way into your 40s. Upon reaching adulthood these grungers shed their skin of oversized hoodies and rainbow coloured fingerless gloves and instead don beaten up McKenzie hoodies and the only tell tale signs of what they used to be are creepy cybergoth tattoos peeking out of the end of sleeves and the same threadbare pair of Etnies on their feet that they wore that first day to the park. Oh, and because they are in the Fox.
Now let me just state that these are not the only patrons of the Fox and Firkin. The pub runs a night every Tuesday called WWtW (Why Wait ’til Wednesday) where selected drinks are £1.50 each and they have a DJ dropping a selection of half decent tunes. This draws in basically every student-type more inclined towards the metal end of the musical spectrum. From full on metal kids in leather jackets and Slayer t-shirts to effete east types who own an Iced Earth t-shirt but have never heard a song by the band. Oh yeah, and the penniless 40 year old tracksuit sporting ex-grungers you heard all about earlier. This creates the strange atmosphere where you can look to one corner of the pub and exclaim (as one of my pubmates did), “this is the uncoolest pub in the world” and yet look into another and see a selection of people from up and coming south east bands having a good time and looking rad whilst doing so.
The actual pub itself I have a bit of a semi for. I think the inside has been very tastefully done whilst still retaining the vibe of ‘matt black gig venue regularly dripping with sweat’. It’s very visually busy inside, there are lots of different nooks and crannies for groups to fill and each area has its own feel different to that of a table six feet away. It makes it look like it’s loved by the staff and you can tell from all the little bits and bobs put up here and there that it is. There’s an odd little gallery thing in the corridor on the way to the toilets that is always selling interesting prints of photographs from local artists and you can even buy a Fox and Firkin t-shirt or tote bag. I also think the garden deserves a little love letter, obviously it’s winter now and the sky constantly produces shafts of water 200 degrees below freezing so anywhere outdoors is a grim place to be but this beer garden would be the raddest place to be in the summer. It’s got some tiki desert island vibe going on with lots of palm trees and silly fake signs and junk. I know it’s a gimmick but it’s a sick gimmick and I want to give it a hug. The pub’s prices are good too, even on a day when pints aren’t £1.50 you can get a double sailor jerrys and coke for £2.70 and 5 bottles of different world beers for a tenner. It’s all very reasonable and well presented and nice and I like it. Yay.
There is a pool table that operates via the odd system of winner stays on. I haven’t actually tried playing yet but I think any new contender pays for the next game and if they lose the winner gets to play another free game until he is defeated. This system was sabotaged slightly when we went in once as the burly grunger-chav hybrid playing turned to my mate after he had paid and said “it’s just me and my missus playing tonight bruv” and started playing a game with his haggard sea witch of a missus on my friend’s lost pound.
Basically this pub is jokes, excellent for people watching, excellent for getting pissed up in on a Tuesday for no good reason and excellent for those of you whose favourite drink is a £2 ‘Glitterbomb’. But just watch who you make direct eye contact with or you could find yourself getting shanked by a 45 year old man in a Sepultura t-shirt behind some wheelie bins.
Yes, I have seen an impromptu mosh pit in the garden sparked off by somebody playing dubstep on their phone and yes, I have seen a trio of rotund 17 year old ghetto fabulous pikey girls sullenly drinking WKD Blues whilst waiting for the pool table but I have also seen some huge shotguns stalking their way to the bar for a cheap bottle of whatever. I think the gig here is that it’s a pub that if you grow up in the area you know about, and it’s the place to be as far as Tuesday nights are concerned. Thus, in sixth form/college as everybody starts to hit 18 this is where the students who can go to pubs go and where their 17 year old classmates stand outside after having been kicked out and wave cans they bought from the offie, where they obviously never get ID’d, at the bar staff through the window (this actually happened). With this in mind then, the actual ratio of svelte east types to metal trolls is mad, I would say perhaps one in three humans in this building is a cool kid. So have awarded points accordingly.
Lewisham, not famed for its nightlife or its alternative scene, but perhaps that’s what makes the vibes in here so good and the clientele so varied. There is nowhere else to go, or at least nowhere this cheap and student friendly. However, it is still on a main road, fairly poorly connected and generally in a place the majority of you will never go to unless forced at gun point by a friend promising you a good night out. As an aside, two doors down from the pub is one of the most amazing pet shops I have ever been in. There are kittens in a big perspex play cage having the sickest time a kitten can have, snakes, tarantulas, monitor lizards, more snakes, fish, chinchillas, bunnies, yet more snakes. It’s like going to a really snake biased zoo in a country that doesn’t have cats. Have half a point for being near that, Fox and Firkin.
I am not going to shun anywhere in London that offers £1.50 pints of Strongbow and Carlsberg even if both those liquids do offend me in quite a serious way. However, deviating from the menu doesn’t seem to punish the alcohol adventurer either, everything is fairly reasonable and they’ve got a few fairly interesting real ales on if no interesting lagers or wheats unfortunately. As ever, price is not literally just about the price of the booze, it’s about the whole experience, for after all isn’t this why we’re buying our drinks in a pub instead of just down the bloody Tescos? And I’m afraid it’s service where our friend the Fox loses vital points. On my most recent visit, literally every single time I went to the bar they got my order wrong, and because the bar staff looked surly and a bit stressed I let them get away with it. Yes, I could’ve complained and had it changed but I got awkward and didn’t. And isn’t it a bar tenders job just to get it right first time and avoid awkwardness for me? Yes. Sort of.
One gripe I have with the Tuesday night set up here (you may be starting to think I have never been here on any other night, you are correct) is that there’s a DJ at the side of the pub cranking out tunes very loudly. Too loudly, I would argue, considering I have never seen anybody dance or even really acknowledge the music. But perhaps this is me being a grumpy bastard. Other than that the vibes created by the décor make for instant party pub and I think the odd cross section of SE society that you see within its doors getting on like old friends shows a sort of community spirit not seen this side of Dunkirk (that’s a bit strong actually, I take that back).
The Stormbird, Camberwell
When I first heard that a new specialist beer pub had started up just opposite the Hermit’s Cave in Camberwell with 21 beers on draught I thought “No way. Sick”, and in many ways my articulate and precise inner soliloquy hit the nail right on the head. For the Stormbird in Camberwell is sick and it’s very existence and the lack of fanfare regarding its start up may be enough for you to mutter “no way” to yourself. Or at least think it. Anyway, what follows is a 1300 word love letter to the pub and the beers I drank in it.
The pub is a corner-dwelling glass-fronted affair with no pub sign and nothing other than the Brooklyn Brewery neon light in the window to even give it away as a pub from distant viewing. However, maybe this is a deliberate thing. Either it is one of those ‘look at this underground but bloody excellent business venture we have set up, if we don’t actively tell anybody about it maybe it’ll become this cult thing’ like what happened with Meateasy in New Cross earlier this year. However, it could also just be that the owner loves beer so much they forgot to actually start up a pub and just started up a room with all the beers in it. Because this is certainly a room with all the beers in it, if not a pub. My jaw actually dropped upon entry because I’m a loser and was amazed at seeing draught beers I had only seen in bottles before and bottles I had straight up never seen before. The slamming bar maid must have thought I was a massive goon walking up and down the bar muttering astounded obscenities under my breath. On my own. My fellow pub goers had been enticed by the falafel shop next door but I was too excited for food so had gone on ahead. I realised how much of a weirdo I must’ve looked so asked if I could put some tables together because I had “loads of mates coming, honest.”
I bought a pint of Brooklyn lager because seeing it on draught is a rare treat and it’s crazy delicious. Like, something I don’t even want to swallow because it is so delicious. And yet because it is so delicious I want to drink it all. My brain and taste buds have not been at logger heads like this since I discovered Mars thick shakes. By the way, have you seen they do those in cardboard cartons now as if it is a legitimate type of milk to just have jamming out in your fridge? What the fuck. Imagine putting Mars milk on your cereal. Obscene. Anyway, I digress.
People eventually turned up and we filled a big table but we were, at 8pm, pretty much the only people in there, and the lack of mood lighting, music or any décor other than beer related metal signs made for an odd vibe. Fortunately, every beer that has ever existed was up for grabs and I was with a load of beer experts or wannabe beer experts so we were going to have a time regardless.
The problem with the Stormbird is, though, that they don’t have a beer menu, which is obviously a necessity when you have 250 million beers on offer and this meant that whenever we wanted to get something bottley we had to ask the barmaid for a look at the bottle and her opinion, which was sort of good because the bar maid was lovely and knew her shit but also bad because if there was a queue you felt like a massive pain in the arse for everybody behind the bar with your non stop umming and ahhing. Their excuse for this was that they are new and that they’re still deciding what to stock, but I don’t see why they couldn’t have just thrown some printouts here and there. This also means that I had no idea what anything cost until I was paying for it. This led to me spending about £40 on six beers (maybe more, I got pretty drunk). But they were bloody awesome beers. In fact, let me tell you about each of the beers I had. I don’t care if you don’t care, if you don’t like beer then skip this bit. Stop complaining.
Brooklyn lager: I have already explained my love for Brooklyn lager. It makes me want to pursue a career in alcoholism.
Sierra Nevada Hefeweizen: Pretty unimpressive Bavarian style wheat beer, no particular crazy tasting notes to speak of. Inoffensive yeah, but bordering on boring. Just a wheat beer. Pretty gutted I bought it actually.
Odell Cutthroat Porter: Really roasty, not that chocolatey, solid porter. I stupidly got a pint and it was a bit much, even if I do like porter loads. Good idea to get a third of a pint on a tasting flight. Getting a whole pint made me a bit tired and bleary.
Yeti Imperial Stout: This 9.5% imperial stout was recommended by the bar maid and was a huge shout being delicious and so viscous it looked like I was pouring out oil into my glass. It absolutely did not taste 9.5% and as such I effectively saw it off because it was delicious. Therefore, I got pretty pissed from this point on and don’t even remember what other beers I had after this guy, let alone remember any tasting notes.
By the way they also have Fosters and Kronenbourg on draught here if you’re a philistine who hates their taste buds and enjoys having a bad time.
Oh, come on. It’s opposite the Hermit’s Cave. It’s obviously going to have trendy bastard Camberwell and LCC kids in it, and they all turned up eventually towards the end. The end being like 1am…? Man, I don’t even know when I left, the more I think about it the more I think I must’ve been pretty hammered. The bar maid I keep going on about (I may or may not be a bit in love) was certainly a Camberwell Arts uni kid and I expect the other tables with well dressed youngsters probably have similar backstories. I am looking forward to the upcoming annual everybody-get-pissed-in-the-road-by-the-Hermit’s-Cave post Camberwell private view thing because instead of getting the obligatory 4 cans of red stripe from the nearest offie to chug I will be buying bottles of craft beer from across the road this year and generally looking like a dickhead.
Camberwell is pretty good, right? And easy to get to due to the fact that every bus in London has to pass through it. I even managed to get a load of people who don’t usually stray far from Greenwich to get down there. Also, I remember drunkenly calling it my new local even though I don’t actually live near Camberwell. That was how stress-free the journey was. My only possible gripe is that there isn’t anywhere open late to go afterwards, some people in our group tried going to the Peckham Hotel afterwards but failed to realise that it was fucking 2am on a Monday evening and thus everything was closed. Hard.
My argument with these sorts of beery places being so expensive is that it’s legit because you’re buying Baron von Crazy’s beers of unattainable rareness and deliciousness so £67 a bottle is the least you should be paying you ungrateful so and so. But at the same time I am technically a poor person and should probably start acting as such. With this in mind it would be nice if this pub wasn’t so expensive. If all your beers were really cheap I’d be so happy. Make that be the case please, Stormbird.
Here’s where the pub falls down really. Vibes are pretty poor, even once the pub had packed out. Kudos for being open at 1am on a Monday night though, that’s an excellent idea and will no doubt make you much loved amongst the ranks of students and people with jobs that give them days off on stupid mid-week days like myself. I reckon the atmosphere might be pretty good on a weekend too. Although, getting served will be a bitch because you’ll have to stand behind some wanker in an Elton John t-shirt going through all the beers bottle by bottle and trying to flirt badly with the bar maid that he may or may not be in love with.
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