When life gives you lemons, why not go to the pub?
It’s a simple motto that has served me well over the years, especially as I’m not that fussed about lemonade.
Not that my dilemma was overly weighty. A new micropub was opening in Greenwich at noon and I wanted to be among its first customers. That would ordinarily lead to a series of impossible-to-predict slides to other pubs in the vicinity, ending messily and at a late hour, probably with a doobie-do on the heath.
However, I had to pick up the nipper in the late afternoon, and converse with grown-ups, so daylight sobriety was required. Solution: Get to the pub for opening time and show hitherto concealed powers of discipline and just stop for one. Or two.
Twitter told me it was #CycleToWorkDay that morning. What’s wrong with #CycleToPubDay, I thought to myself? Oh, yes – cycling.
Not that I mind a bike ride, but uphill, after the pub? No, it would have to be a walk. An excited walk where I could contemplate the simple joy of a retail outlet’s conversion to intemperance. A new home of ale and chat.
Despite the midday start, Half-life had agreed to join me as he wanted to ‘pick up some lingerie for the twins’. It was still a surprise to seem him waiting outside Greenwich’s first micropub at 11.59. He was joined by a group of retired gentlemen who make it their noble business to go on a monthly ‘ramble’, taking in pubs and micropubs.
‘Monthly?’ Half-life queried. ‘I do that every day, except Sunday.’
‘What do you do on Sundays?’
‘I’m on me knees by Sunday, to be fair.’
‘Oh, you’re one of the faithful, are you?’
‘Not really. I mean, I like Klopp but he ain’t gonna win us the league, is he? Anyways, Sunday is my rest day. One pub, all day long, religiously. All the games, a few pints of 1984, a nip of ket and I’m done. You?’
At 12.06 The River Ale House opened its doors for the first time. The landlord, Trevor, introduced himself to every customer as they walked in, shaking hands and welcoming them to his new venture. Cameras filmed the event for a documentary about the micropub revolution, their task made more difficult by Half-life’s refusal to be on camera, allied with his refusal to be off-camera.
The chalk board announced seven cask ales of differing styles, eight ciders and a wine list.
‘Cancel everything,’ said Half-life.
I sometimes get the feeling that the more taciturn micropub owners create a pub simply so they can be alone in a tiny pub. That’s not the case here. Trevor was surrounded by his extended family, many of whom have been involved in converting the old shop into a cracking two-room bar, all exposed brick and chunky wood. It feels like a family-run concern and is all the warmer for it.
‘Here, Trev,’ began Half-life to his new pal. ‘Do you know where I can pick up some sexy undergrundies round here? I was sure there was a lingerie shop on this stretch.’
Trevor told him that the pub is housed in the old lingerie shop and that he had been the proprietor of that too.
‘You’re Mr Saucy Knicks?’ said Half-life to this gentle soul in his late sixties.
‘Well, yes, I suppose I am Mr Saucy Knicks,’ he said, doubtless for the first time.
‘So you’ve gone from underwear to beer? Weird. I always go the other way round.’
After trying a golden ale, and an APA, both marvellous, fresh and at the perfect temperature, I stuck to my resolution and set off to leave. I said goodbye to all the good people I’d met, including the guy from Westerham Brewery who spoke about green hops the same way Half-life does Salma Hayek, and left the big feller discussing balconette bras with a plumber.
I thanked Trevor for his hospitality but didn’t quite get out the door. Trevor told me about the sound absorbers in the ceiling that reduce noise and help keep conversations in one part of the room from being heard elsewhere. They were necessary because there are tenants above, he said. Luckily the guy upstairs thought it was ‘sick’ having a pub underneath his floor – the polar opposite of a NIMBY.
I told Trevor I’d be mentioning the place on Deserter and he said: ‘Deserter? You must let me buy you a drink.’
‘Pint of Dukeries, ta,’ said Half-life, from the other side of the room.
My one or two pints stepped into microbinge territory with the arrival of another lovely ale. But three pints and no spliff is practically saintly afternoon behaviour as far as I’m concerned and just allowed me enough time for pie and chips, a nap and bath before arriving at the childminder’s fresh as a daisy. Given The River Ale House’s proximity to The Pelton Arms, Cutty Sark, Hardy’s Freehouse, the Plume, the Vanny and The Crown, this was a small miracle.
The achievement allowed me to fully enjoy The Hop Locker, Waterloo Tap, Hole in the Wall and Old Vic bar later that evening without feeling like some kind of drunkard. Canonisation awaits.