We are often asked, ‘Which are the best pubs in South London?’
Well, we reply, it depends on what you’re after. Is it good beer you want? Or perhaps you’re more interested in your surroundings, or your fellow drinkers? Do you want lively or cosy, for example? What sort of mood are you in?
‘Yes,’ they say, ‘But which are the best?’
That’s when we cooked up the World Cup of Pubs, which has been running over the last month. We can’t decide, so we let you decide. And this is what you said.
10. Catford Constitutional Club
On your first visit you will find yourself thinking, ‘Can this be right?’ as you make your way down a covered alley towards what is purported to be the oldest building in Catford. Even when you’re at the door, it’s difficult to believe what you’ll find inside: A vast booze hall and adjoining withdrawing room, featuring signature antic wall-kook and, according to our Roxy, ‘the finest ladies lavs outside Buck House’.
The beer selection is good, like most antic pubs, but there’s no doubt it’s the premises that’s the winner here. Once a grand Conservative club, now it has been reclaimed by us, the rabble, and is all the better for it.
9. The King’s Arms, Waterloo
Roupell Street is already a treat, with its unspoilt Georgian terraced houses. That it also has a pub on it elevates it, naturally, from ‘of interest’ to ‘notable’. But the fact that the pub is the exquisite King’s Arms makes it one of the wonders of the world.
Nine ever-changing cask ales, chosen with love and attention, makes this a beer destination par excellence. It does get full with the post-work crowd, so the key thing here is to either have no work, or knock off early doors and get the good seats. The main bar gets a delightful afternoon light, but the alpha table is at the fitted seats in front of the fire in the side bar. It’s what we deserve after a hard day’s doing very little.
8. Skehan’s, Nunhead
OK, it’s in Telegraph Hill and claimed by Peckham, Brockley and New Cross. But we’re giving it to Nunhead because Nunhead Station is two minutes away and it’s how we remember to get home.
This cracking independent, family-run boozer offers a classic mix of games, sport, outside spaces, live music and decent food (Thai, like the King’s Arms). It’s finest asset, in our minds, is the mixed clientele – a fun-loving crowd, old and young, mix in a tribe-free old school pub setting.
If you were being picky, you might say that the ale revolution hasn’t quite made its mark on the bar offering, but really, you should probably be on the Guinness.
7. London Beer Dispensary, Brockley
Operated by our friends at Southey Brewing Co, this bar-less, beery wonder is an ever-present in anyone’s top ten. Good beer is a given, as is friendly, knowledgeable service.
The pubby front bar gives way to a loungey back room and there’s a charming little back yard for sun and smoke-ups. It was once famed for serving the finest burger and chips and I’m pleased to report, after some important research with the boys last week, that this reputation remains fully intact.
6. Pelton Arms, Greenwich
Much-loved pub managers, Jason and Kate, leave the Pelton this week after six years at the helm, having turned it into the pride of Greenwich. Farewell to them, and long may their legacy live on.
A cosy-feeling, backstreet pub, it’s popular with both locals and the old characters of central Greenwich, who’ve gravitated towards it during Jay and Kate’s tenure. We love the garden, particularly the sofa-filled covered area, which comes into its own late on when smokers gather and conversations with strangers randomly spark up along with the cigarettes.
5. East Dulwich Tavern
East Dulwich’s finest is a second entry for antic on our list (and their first pub). So smoothly does the EDT run that you’d be forgiven for overlooking its manifold charms. Let’s start with the place itself: The big back room is great for the football, the main bar with its picture window and wonderful floor-tiling is a fine home for regulars and the generous side room, with it’s big doors that open onto the street in warm weather, is great for larger gatherings and for taking your pints over to the roundabout, if the mood takes you.
The beer choice is excellent, and there’s always a pint on cheap: Peckham Pale (delicious), Hophead (sensational) or house ale, Volden (I know). Likewise, the food is good and also comes with a cheapish option – a fine sausage and mash will only set you back £7.
Staff turnover is pretty high but any lack of a personal touch is made up for by their bright and friendly demeanour. All in all, proper.
4. Ivy House, Nunhead
London’s first co‑operatively owned pub, the Ivy House was defending World Cup of Pubs 2016 champion. It may not have made it back to the final this time around but remains a firm favourite in South London and beyond.
Rescued from closure five years ago, its wonderful original ’30s interior remains intact, offering a woody front bar, a glorious music room and handsome refectory. The beer choice is liver-boggling with plenty of cask and keg choices, and we mean plenty.
The back yard has some cover for drinking outside in the rain but our tip is – get a wobbly table out front. A great afternoon sun trap and who doesn’t enjoy drinking in the street, moving like a roadman?
Lee and Lauren’s brilliant Beer Shop flew the flag for the micropub revolution in our competition, and more than held its own against the established big boys in the area. The focus, as you might have guessed, is on fresh, interesting beers on keg and cask, to drink in or to take away.
The bar is small and cosy, which means you get chatting to all sorts, and now there’s a small paved garden perfect for summer daytime drinking. And it means that, finally, there’s a pub on each corner of Nunhead Green, as nature intended.
2. Dog and Bell, Deptford
North of the busy A200 an explosion of posh new flats by the river now sits cheek by jowl with the established council blocks and vacant light industrial sites, presided over by an imperious Canary Wharf. Tucked away, nestled serenely amongst the tumult, like nothing ever happened, is the Dog and Bell.
A classic backstreet boozer, newish landlord, Seamus, has maintained the warm welcome and commitment to good beer of now-retired Charlie and Eileen. There’s a TV for sport and a patio out back, but we’re usually at the bar billiards in the side room.
We’ve lost count of people who’ve told us they didn’t know it was there. Well, now you know. Get down there and find a new favourite.
1. Blythe Hill Tavern, Catford
One of the hardest things to decide at the Blythe is in which of its three exquisite bars to sit. But the hardest is what to have to drink. Can it be possible for a pub to serve the best kept Hophead and the best kept Guinness? Oh, and the ciders are top notch, too. And, look, there’s something from Kent Brewery again…
All pubs can take a lesson from the Blythe in terms of service: A smile, a word, a laugh, and never at the expense of its legendary efficiency. Even on Gold Cup day, with the bar three deep, you’ll still get served more quickly than in an empty Spoons. And by someone in a shirt and tie. It’s nice to feel important while you’re on the lash.
A worthy winner. But when you think about it, with this lot, we’re all winners, right? Three cheers for the glorious South!
All 40 pubs in the tournament are shown on this map: