Despite appearances to the contrary, The Fox On The Hill (Denmark Hill, SE5) is not a proper pub. No, it’s a Wetherspoon and as such is merely a facsimile of a pub. And like many ’Spoons, this one is a large, gloomy cafe-cum-bar which at the end of a long day smells faintly of piss. The food is mostly ordinary, the clientele is mostly pissed (and occasionally rather unhappy) and the interiors have all the soul of an airport departure gate.
So why do I keep going back there?
This is a question I have asked myself many times. And, indeed, a question friends have also asked of myselves. And so myselves had a little think about it. It is, we accept, not far from where we live. It is, yes, on the way to the football. And, funnily enough, look, there it is again, on the way back from the football. But there is more to it than simple proximity…
1. The Garden
Out front there is one of the finest pub gardens in South London. It has real grass, gets the sun all day, affords views across the city and is a perfect vantage point for the exquisite pleasure of watching people coming home from work.
2. The Beer
At any one time the Fox is likely to have on eight hand-pumped cask ales. Even better, they are kept extraordinarily well. They offer try-before-you-buy and have a no-questions-asked return policy if it’s the end of the barrel. It is all very civilized and little wonder the place not only appears in The CAMRA Good Beer Guide but was voted South East London CAMRA joint runner-up Pub of the Year, 2013.
Wanton tittle-tattle has it that Wetherspoon’s leverages its size and turnover to buy small amounts of lots of ales that are about to go out of date, in the knowledge that they will be able to shift them before this happens. They have refuted this but there is certainly an astonishingly high turnover of beer and brewers. Just as you find a new favourite, it’s off, never to be seen again. Indeed the temptation when you discover a new beer you like is to buy two pints of it, otherwise by the time you get back from the garden it’s likely to have disappeared. Thirsty lot, in Denmark Hill.
But, really, so what? The beers (and ciders) they do have in are well-kept and well-chosen, offering a great variety which, increasingly, features welcome appearances from tremendous local microbreweries like Clarence & Fredericks (Croydon) and Sambrook’s (Battersea). You just have to get used to trying something new.
3. The Pricing
The price of cask ale went up at the Fox last year. To £2.25. For a pint. In London.
I recently bought a pint of bitter, a pint of cider and a pint of lime and soda and got change from a fiver. I thought I’d passed through a time-portal, like Rodney in Goodnight Sweetheart. At these prices you’d be forgiven for shutting up the house over winter and moving in for the long haul, which may explain the smells.
It’s the sort of place where you can still shout “The drinks are on me!” if you have a good day at the nags and not have to worry about waking up boracic, again. And what’s this? If you’re a member of CAMRA you get another 50p off? Sweet Jeebus, where’s my hat…?