Glorious sunshine, fresh air, happy, scantily-clad hotties – what’s the best way to escape them?
Entering Hardy’s Freehouse from sunlight leaves you squinting as your eyes adjust to the sudden dark. There’s a foot-high step between the door and the bar which takes care of a number of runners and riders before they’ve even had their first pint.
From this unpromising beginning you’ll find a friendly old boys’ boozer, a throwback to A Time Before Gastropubs.
I used to call Hardy’s ‘The Windowless Pub’ but actually it does have one window: A stained-glass one at the front which boasts, ironically, a golden sun, emblazoned with the legend: ‘Pub’. It makes me want to high five a stranger.
Should you be Deserting, your boss is not going to find you here amid the gloom and the greyhairs. You could hide out for days, provided you’ve got a vitamin D supplement. It’s not an Irish-themed pub, it’s home to Greenwich’s first and second generation Irish. It serves a good pint of Guinness, shows the horse racing and hurling and has a singular Irish chef (and owner of the Green Pea restaurant next door), Tom, for whom every dish is a story.
You won’t see a menu. Tom will tell you everything he has, then tell you what you’re going to order. He’ll start with:
‘I’ll tell you what I’ll do for you.’
Tom’s pies are legendary, as are his monologues. Your initial encounter may be startling, as he complains you are extending his already long working day, but he wins you over in the end with his reluctant, but unmistakably loveable side. And his outstanding homemade pies.
The ale can be variable, but at £2.20 a pint of Greene King IPA, (updated March 2015: £2.80 for Doom) I’m prepared for the odd disappointment. The last couple of visits, it’s been excellent. You can get in trouble if you disturb the eye line of a septuagenarian sitting at the bar watching his pension disappear at the 2.15 from Clonmel, but they’re an affable lot. The bar staff go out of their way to deliver drinks to the auld fellas’ tables if they struggle to walk. God only knows how they get home, if indeed they do.
On Saturday night, it’s busy, attracting old men treating their old ladies to a port and lemon and a game of darts. And the younger crowd are those who don’t mind socialising with their uncles.
And Hardy’s is, of course, a fine place to enjoy St. Patrick’s Day and celebrate the banishment of snakes from the Emerald Isle. Snakes have not been seen since St. Patrick’s 5th century intervention, nor indeed, before. The only natural response to such mysteries is to have another pint.
It’s not a summer pub, unless you’re ginger, a vampire, or both. But it’s good for the footy or as a starting point before sharing a bifta by the river near the Cutty Sark pub and pushing on to the Pelton Arms for a younger vibe. It’s a characterful old boozer where the staff and regulars depend on each other for kindness and chuckles. I can’t think of a better place to be when my legs fail than this, the best nursing home around.