Love Spoons? Go to paragraph one. Hate Spoons? Jump to paragraph two.
With their cheap drinks, well-kept real ales and often fabulous premises, it’s not outlandish to suggest that Wetherspoons is a prime player in safeguarding the future of pub-going. They are places where even the poor and the young can congregate for a night out or a meal together, and who would wish to exclude these groups from having fun? There are 15 Wetherspoons that carry an SE postcode. But which is the best?
With their piss-stinking carpets, canteen-style interiors and bonkers Brexiteer boss, who would ever want to set foot inside one of these god-awful booze cathedrals? If they are not filled with obese, diabetic men drinking from dawn to dusk while picking perfect partners on the Internet (‘Not Keira Knightley, her chin’s too big’) they are infested with the poor and the young. There are 15 Wetherspoons that carry an SE postcode. But which is the least worst?
When we put this question to Twitter we were surprised to find one person’s best was often another person’s worst, or occasionally both at the same time. What was needed here was a rigorous and systematic scoring system. So we devised a list of important criteria and then visited every Spoons at a different time to make a mockery of it, ourselves and all science.
Do I care? Look at me. Look into my eyes. I’ve been to 15 Spoons.
Ambience: Very busy, almost too crowded. Mostly older men in groups or sitting alone. Got asked if I wanted to buy a toaster. 3/10
Premises: The action takes place on the ground floor of a grim and dilapidated 1960s office block. 2/10
Ale selection: Four guest ales. 5/10
Service: Fine. Aided by a smart, elderly, ear-ringed punter at the bar who told me they do free tasters and encouraged me to taste everything in order to save money, like his father-in-law taught him. ‘He’s over here, if you want to meet him.’ 5/10
Ambience: Lots of tourists in with the locals, which makes sense given its situation. They probably can’t believe the prices, although at £1.68 for a half of Wadworth’s Burnt Orange, it is the most expensive Spoons in SE London. I take a seat between two guys on laptops. One is watching a Hugh Hefner documentary and the other is writing his CV. He has mis-spelt ‘detail orientated’. 4/10
Premises: A grand old building on a corner plot just seconds from Tower Bridge (formerly the Tower Bridge Hotel). The pub is split into two uninspiring sections, making it tricky deciding which one not to sit in. 4/10
Ale selection: Five guest ales on which to get leathered. 6/10
Service: Slow service despite four staff behind the bar. One lad is good but the others? Too much pouting and not enough pouring. 3/10
Outside space: Pavement only. One point for the bins and another for Tower Bridge. 2/10
Ambience: Busy with a very mixed crowd. Lots of old boys, Latin Americans, bikers and young’uns prinking. One very much feels one is in the city. Indeed, you can watch it hurtling by through the floor to ceiling windows. 6/10
Premises: Glass-fronted ground floor of a ’60s office block with trademark Aren’t-Deco motifs. A surfeit of furniture. 4/10
Ale selection: Five guest ales on. 6/10
Service: Asked for a half but was given a pint because he wasn’t listening properly. Offered to give it to me cheap, which I accepted, possibly too enthusiastically. 3/10
Outside space: Some tables available on the pavement out front, at least set back a little from the traffic. Allows you to mingle with the street drinkers.
‘The Gypsies took it,’ one of them confided in me.
Ambience: Plenty of chatter and laughs, especially up front. A good mix of colours and creeds – made me realise how much whiter the clientele is in many of the others – but was very male heavy, which gets on your nerves after a while, like gas or war. 5/10
Premises: A former merchant’s villa with a large front extension on the busy A21. 4/10
Ale selection: Three guest ales available. 4/10
Service: Plenty of staff on and efficient service. Was offered a surplus strawberry. 7/10
Outside space: Restricted to tables out front on a small terrace separated from the pavement. 4/10
Ambience: Manages to feel a little cosier than some, a bit softer, quieter. Might be the faux bookcases. A perceptibly younger crowd, by which I mean people in their 40s and 50s instead of 60s and 70s. A man at the bar told me he felt sorry for everyone in there as they hadn’t seen the world. ‘Not like me. I’ve seen Maria Fletcher. You know? In New York. Danced for the Aga Khan.’ Bumped into Stinky Pete who told me he’d only popped out to buy some milk and was on his fourth pint. 7/10
Premises: A bit smaller than average but with a long, rambling journey to the 1st floor lavs like you’re staying in the the worst hotel you’ve ever stayed in. 5/10
Ale selection: Three guest ales available 4/10
Service: A short wait but a lovely, smiling bar girl who looked pleased (relieved?) to have someone smile back at her. 6/10
Outside space: A tiny smoking area at the rear and a few tables out front on Lewisham High Street. 2/10
Ambience: Gor blimey, guv’nor, this feels like proper old London. Builders swearing, old girls doing shots and workers tucking into fish and chips (the offer of the day). A geezer on a mobility scooter is constantly on the move, like he’s wandering about, which to be fair, is how I’d use one. 6/10
Premises: A nondescript building by a mega Tesco on the busy A200. Sunny at the front and gloomy at the rear 5/10
Ale selection: Just two guest ales on, the fewest on my tour. 3/10
Service: Charming service by two youths discussing how little sleep they had had the night before. 6/10
Outside space: A terrace ideal for fans of the A200, but it is at least roomy and sunny. 4/10
Ambience: Very busy and with a loud male roar as the build-up to the weekend commences. At the bar, as I am counting out some change to pay for my beer, a woman puts her hand on my arm and asks me softly if I have enough money for the weekend. (Admittedly, I am looking a little dishevelled.) Overwhelmed by this unexpected kindness, I begin to cry. I assure her I am fine. She looks unconvinced. 7/10
Premises: Undistinguished corner plot on General Gordon Square, with a row of mobility scooters parked against the outside wall. 5/10
Ale selection: Four guest ales available. 5/10
Service: A decent effort in difficult circumstances. 6/10
Ambience: A good mixture of the locale: Young and old, black and white, men and women. A woman sits alone knitting, giving the place the feel of a front room. The young’uns get louder as they build up to a night elsewhere. At least, I hope they are building up to a night elsewhere. Actually quieter than I expected for a Saturday night, but it’s only 7pm. Maybe it’s bedlam at 11pm. 6/10
Premises: A small-ish entrance on Peckham High Street gives way to a long, rather handsome booze hall. 7/10
Ale selection: Three guest ales on. 4/10
Service: Service great. Good fun and patient with me when my card was declined. 7/10
Outside space: A small terrace at the back, through the conservatory, with a view across a square through iron bars. 4/10
Ambience: A warming hubbub fills the vast interiors of this ex-cinema in which, upon entering, you feel like you have both arrived and disappeared at the same time. Features a broad cross section of Forest Hill life: Students, artists, drunks, professionals and retirees. 7/10
Premises: The finest Spoons premises in SE London, with classic Art Deco styling and a sensational booze altar. Worth a trip in itself. 10/10
Ale selection: Seven guest ales on offer. 8/10
Service: Efficient service, possibly aided by the mysterious occasional formation of a booze queue that snakes back from the bar. 6/10
Outside space: Smokers can enjoy some time out to the side of the building, and round the back you can get up to whatever you want. Extra point for that. 5/10
Further reading: For more in-depth reviews (and SE London Spoons outside the SE London postcode) see the wonderful World of Spoons
More on the Raider’s tour of duty in this podcast: