I wouldn’t ordinarily put a closed pub in a Top Ten of anything, other than sadnesses, but The Porky’s closure is subject of a public inquiry, so I am ever optimistic that the corporate giant that bought it will yet convert from the pursuit of profit to the cause of local lubrication. Remember, every time a pub closes, God kills a kitten. There has been a pub here since the 1400s. From 2016, there will have been a Lidl there for nearly a year. Thanks, but you can stick your stollen up your arschloch; mine’s a pint!
The Sun In The Sands has the distinction of having a roundabout named after it and a whopping great one at that. It’s at the junction of the main road from London to Europe and South London to East London. Consequently it’s tempting to pull off into one of its parking bays, get paralytic and sleep in the motor. The Sun In The Sands has been cut into two, with the other half now Roy’s Cafe. Handy, if you’ve just slept in your car and have a stonking hangover. It has no proper beer (I’m going to call these pubs No Ale Holes from now on), but it does have pool and Sky Sports, unlike anywhere else in nearby Blackheath Village. It’s probably at its best if you’re a bit stoned in the afternoon and have been walking for what almost seems like nearly a mile.
It used to be a dark, forbidding place, even for The Elephant, populated by characters left over from a Tom Waits’ nightmare. Now it’s less dangerous but still lacking in the kind of welcome you hope for from people who have chosen to serve the public. It’s a No Ale Hole (I told you I would) and has brightened itself up with lighter wood furnishings at no considerable expense. Its best feature is a beautiful old fireplace near the pool table, but it takes more than that, a roundabout and a distant link to movie greatness to get Half-life to put his hand in his pocket.
The Castle promises Ghanaian food all day, apart from the parts of the day when they’re closed, which can surprise you. It’s got a big beer garden and is a joyous place to watch Ghana’a Black Stars in the World Cup. The outside tables have a view of the roundabout (get in!), the river and two beautiful art deco buildings, the former Granada and Coronet, now both churches. It’s such a shame they’re now given over to worship and prayer instead of shit films.
6. Clancy’s, Woolwich Dockyard It’s a strange part of town, with its industrial estates, tower blocks, Arts Hub and climbing wall, but Clancy’s was a pleasant surprise, despite being a No Ale Hole. It gets a healthy pre and post-match crowd before Charlton games, has BT Sports, pool and darts, making it a sporty boozer for the big-boned athlete. It’s also a locals’ gaff, with hearty food, Irish and Country Music nights and the threat of karaoke. And it looks right out onto a lovely roundabout.
5. Royal Standard, Blackheath Standard It was the first pub to make me ask: ‘What is a roundabout?’ Yes, it’s a circular intersection in which traffic flows, in theory, continuously, around a central island. But outside the Standard are two islands, one shaped like a giant hash brown, with closed underground toilets, dying for someone to turn them into an all night bar. Despite being a good place to watch the footy, the free wifi and consistently good ale, the Standard struggles to shake off old some of the old clientele that gave it a roughhouse rep. Fine during the day, it seems to be a place where, late at night, misunderstandings occur.
4. The Paxton, Gipsy Hill The Paxton has room enough to provide plenty of space for watching footy, other areas for a quiet chat about your feelings (should you have any), somewhere to eat from their trying-to-please-every-fucker menu and a garden the size of an elephant’s garden. The makeover is a little unsure of itself, but a pub this big has to cater to all: people who have children, people who don’t, people who can’t and people who won’t. It must be a godsend for those with kids who want to see the footy, then have some issues and chuck down some harissa lamb before poncing a rollie in a garden large enough to hide from offspring.
3. The Elephant & Castle/Los Toros, Elephant and Castle
Though the pub is the more likely source of the name Elephant & Castle than La Infanta de Castilla, who often gets the credit, it’s been a modern pub for 50 years now, if that’s possible. But its 1960s-ness has always looked like bad futurism until now. I like the latest incarnation with its pan-South American menu, reflecting the area, from Argentinian steak to cerviche. It’s got an ace outside area for pool and fusball and several front row seats for London’s sexiest roundabout. Student-friendly, as you’d expect here, it might finally be coming of age, as, I hoped, had the girls talking to Half-life.
The EDT already does a decent pint, good food and shows the footy amid an affable crowd, but providing the luxury of supping a frothy one while sitting on (sitting on!) a roundabout was almost too much for me. Half-life hated it (drinking in traffic, that is), but in my single-minded pursuit of the best pub on a roundabout, I was dizzied by this advanced facility.
‘I’ve woken up on a roundabout too many times,’ Half-life explained (in a way).
None the less, facts is facts. This is circular junction heaven.
In the end, it was a two-horse race between the only outstanding candidates, but The Birds Nest was such an unexpected delight. From an unpromising position, it impressed in every way. Good ales, in good condition, scruffy and unfussy decor, with very good, simple handmade food, it’s a place at the heart of Deptford’s cultural life. A packed line-up of gigs, a gallery for local artists and a history that takes in not only Dire Straits and Squeeze but stretches back as far as Christopher Marlowe. Was it the deserted pub in which Mark Knopfler saw the ‘Sultans of Swing’, to inspire his global hit? I would have asked but with a £2.50-a-pint happy hour daily from 5-7pm, one tends to forget. Hat’s off to a worthy winner.
An honourable mention must go to the Florence Nightingale, formerly at the roundabout at Westminster Bridge Road, which took British customer service to a new level before it closed. The landlord would routinely tell people who asked for coffee to ‘fuck off’, according to a former employee. And when a group of 20 lads hoping to see the Champions League semi-final between Chelsea and Monaco asked if he was putting the football on, the landlord replied in the affirmative, but as kick-off approached he put on a three-year old video of Hereford United.
And now, it’s gone. It’s just another roundabout, watched over no more by genius.
Update: July 2015
Sadly, three of Southeast London’s finest roundabout boozers are currently closed. The Elephant & Castle had its license revoked after a customer was stabbed in the head with a pen, proving that it is mightier than sword and certainly easier to sneak into a pub.
Squatters moved in this summer in a bid to keep Foxton’s out. Estate agents have pens too and possibly no souls, so they’re holding off a disaster right there.
Clancy’s has also closed its doors and been taken over by an outfit called Future Ventures, which screams ‘Flats!’ to me, though I could be wrong. Indeed, I was once was.
The Porcupine remains closed but is still pub-shaped, with a pub sign, so there’s still hope. Lidl’s bid to demolish it was rejected but they’re expected to drone on until they get their way.