‘I thought you said you were just going for one at The Railway?’ said Roxy’s incredulous boyf, Jan.
‘I did,’ slurred Roxy, as she wobbled into her flat. ‘I did just have one at The Railway.’
‘If you can’t be honest with me, Rox…’
Poor Jan. Roxy wasn’t lying, exactly. We’d had one at The Railway, alright. One in The Railway in Tulse Hill. One in The Railway in Streatham. One in Clapham. And so on, until we’d had enough of trains.
You’re never far from The Railway. Perfect for that swifty on the way home, on the way out, or when there’s still eight minutes till your train.
They used to be desperate, sticky-carpeted, last resort pubs, but that’s no longer the case. The Railways of Blackheath, Bromley North, Clapham, Forest Hill, Putney, Thornton Heath, Tulse Hill and Streatham Common are all worth more than a pint of your time.
Starting at Peckham Rye, we were in Tulse Hill in eight minutes for our first ‘one’. It was a great place to begin: A big, hip boozer, open at 11, like all pubs should, with a large conservatory and two outside spaces. Crucially it had the cricket on, a good beer selection and lovely staff, though David Gower did have to battle with Lauryn Hill to be heard – not a clash I ever expected to witness.
I had a delicious Hophead and settled down for the Test when Roxy downed hers and exclaimed:
‘Let’s go have one at The Railway,’ to the confusion of the barmaid.
In six minutes we were at The Railway, Streatham Common, with an even more impressive beer list and a sign declaring: ‘Proudly Serving London Brewed Ales’. The Portobello was probably the farthest travelled beer there. People were already having lunch in what was probably their only Railway pub of the day, the simple creatures. We popped into the large back room to find it almost full with chocolate brownie-eating mums and their babies.
We had unwittingly stumbled into the Tea Room, serving coffee, cake and brunch, making use of the pub’s space to broaden its appeal to parents needing adult company and baked vices.
‘Shouldn’t be allowed in pubs,’ groaned Roxy.
‘Bit harsh, Rox. Wait till you have kids of your own.’
‘Not babies. Cakes shouldn’t be allowed in pubs. Not until we can get pissed in a patisserie.’
Though we were right by the station, we took a detour to the rather lovely common, an open space and nature reserve with views made for the afternoon toker. There’s an old well in the Rookery garden reminding you that Streatham spa water was once a thing, known for its healing properties.
‘So was this,’ said Roxy, passing me her hip-flask of Irish whiskey, in exchange for a J.
I enquired if she’d thought of inviting Jan along.
‘He’s on a sodding health kick,’ she replied, shaking her head. ‘Cut down on booze, gave up the gear. Lost three kilos doing Hot Bikram Yoga. Mostly from his mind.’
That didn’t sound right, Roxy with an exercise mat-botherer.
‘It’s not right! If you must exercise, the least you can do is shut up about it. He asked me to come along, to sweat out my toxins. Like they’re a bad thing.’
By the time we’d strolled back, the munchies were upon Roxy. As we passed the pub, she exclaimed:
‘Shouldn’t be allowed in pubs,’ I told her, as she plundered the stickies. ‘Flip-flopper.’
One stop to Balham and the Northern Line to Clapham North took us close enough to The Railway at Clapham High Street. It’s bright and open at the front, but mercifully dark at the back. I found it mostly notable for its pig’s cheeks. You can have pig’s cheeks on your burger, in flatbread or on a jacket potato. It’s a lovely tender, meaty flourish, but there’s no getting away from it, you’re eating animal face.
We were supposed to nip to Clapham Junction to get to Putney for The Railway there, a Wetherspoons in a former Victorian hotel. But, as much as they have to offer, who’s going to get two trains to go to a ’Spoons?
So we changed at Denmark Hill and went to The Railway at Blackheath, whose best feature is a roof terrace where you can get away with a doobie doo to accompany a pint of Summer Lightning. Non-smokers have their own garden downstairs, where they breathe the virtuous air and are closer to the bar, but I prefer the elevation, even if the stairs felt like exercise.
‘Don’t talk to me about exercise,’ said Roxy.
It sounded like Jan was on the way out.
‘Shit in bed. Shit on the causes of bed.’
They were no longer getting drunk together, as he eschewed the very glue that made them sticky. Roxy reckoned she hadn’t had sober sex since she was 14, her first time – the very night she discovered the micro-second.
I suggested she talk to him.
‘Oh, do fuck off,’ she said, as if I’d just suggested healing crystals and an enema.
She had been considering heading home, but I’d inadvertently made her determined to go to more Railways, for one.
Three trains and 35 minutes later and we were at The Railway Tavern in Bromley, a gorgeous Victorian tiled boozer, recently taken over by Antic. Good food, good ale, nice shabby chic surroundings in what would be a perfect location, if Bromley North station could take you anywhere. Trains go to Sundridge Park and Grove Park. That’s it. Sort it out, isn’t it? It’s cruel to have such a handsome Railway pub mocked by one of the least useful stations in the country.
And so despite being beside a station, we had to get a bus to Penge to go to The Railway Telegraph in Forest Hill. Madness, on a day punctuated with sound logic.
The Telegraph is another good looking boozer, right on the South Circular, but, oddly it’s eight minutes walk from the station (though it took us 25). It has a good rep for food, but we were past that point and dined on nuts and Whitstable Bay.
‘The thing is, being befuggered around people who are sober is fine. They’re the ones that get bored. I couldn’t give a stuff,’ said Roxy. ‘It’s being high around people who aren’t that’s shite. It’s like hanging out with your parents.’
‘Your parents are great,’ I said.
‘No, your parents.’
The last on Roxy’s list was the Railway Telegraph at Thornton Heath, that we’d covered in Pre-Match Pinting and although I could have managed another pint, I couldn’t handle the travel. We trundled back to Peckham to finish on a high note – a fat one on the Rye before Roxy headed home to tell Jan the truth.
Update, November 2016:
As a couple of readers have pointed out, there’s a couple of omissions to the railway tour that should be included. The Railway Tavern in Lower Sydenham and the Railway Bell in Gipsy Hill. Do them all and you deserve a medal.
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