As local residents are well aware, Telegraph Hill is so called because it has the highest concentration of Daily Telegraph readers this side of Putney Bridge.
Having been challenged by Tim at waterintobeer to write a guide to boozing in Telegraph Hill, as penance for its absence in our book’s index, I was helpfully provided with a map. I’ll admit, I thought the locale consisted of the conservation area around the two halves of Telegraph Hill Park and the pub, The Telegraph at the Earl of Derby, squeezed between Nunhead and Brockley. Little did I know that the ward of Telegraph Hill extends into New Cross in the north and to France in the south.
But such is the nebulous business of borders. Waterintobeer for instance is in Telegraph Hill but is next to Brockley Station. Why not call it Telegraph Hill station? Or better still, waterintobeer station?
And Skehan’s is right by Nunhead station. It never occurred to me it was Telegraph Hill. Even the Earl of Derby is not sure where it is. Its old deeds reveal it was once considered Deptford. Then New Cross. Now it’s Telegraph Hill, but its website boasts that it is ‘Peckham’s Best Local’. Is it any wonder I’m confused?
Now, being a lazy person the key thing I spotted about Telegraph Hill was the word ‘Hill’. If you are going to do a pub crawl in Telegraph Hill, for gawd’s sake do it downhill. No one wants to hike up Pepys Road with the brewing might of South London swilling about their innards. No, you start at the top, work your way down and then sleep on a bench.
So, I started at waterintobeer, an establishment I’ve encountered on a few occasions before. It’s a bottle shop with a difference. It has homebrew kit, a cracking vinyl selection, plus fine draught beer. But I’ve also listened to an FA Trophy replay between Macclesfield Town and Dulwich Hamlet on the radio there; a night none of us will forget. And, I enjoyed a beer and crisp pairing evening, in which a smoky imperial stout was matched with Twiglets, and a Belgian Saison with Prawn Cocktail Skips. One of the many unique aspects of a night on Telegraph Hill.
Leaving waterintobeer, I briefly walked on St Norbert Road. And Norbert, it turns out, was a bit of a Herbert.
Born to aristocratic parents in 11th century Germany, Norbert got a cushy clerical post where his only job was to chant a set of prayers, every day. However, he couldn’t even be arsed to do that. So he paid someone a small fee to do it for him, like a proto-Deserter. He then got a second well-paid gig as religious advisor to Holy Roman Emperor and King of Germany, Henry V. So two salaries, an hour’s work a week maybe, and a life of privilege and luxury.
Then, something struck him like a lightning bolt. It was a lightning bolt. Actually it struck at his horse’s feet, throwing Nobby off. That’s definitely what happened. He was absolutely in no way drunk.
The experience changed him forever. Rather than think, life is short, I’d better get on with enjoying it, he chose a life of penance.
Norbert abstained from sensual pleasures, like lovely beer, Scotch eggs and so forth. He founded a religious order, the Premonstratensians, who took root in 12th century England, due to their catchy name and high Scrabble score. And presumably they are the reason he ended up having his own road in Telegraph Hill-slash-Brockley.
Norbert embraced an asceticism so fierce that it killed his first three disciples. But still, Nobby was alright, so, whatevs.
The Premonstratensians were devoted to chastity, poverty, obedience, detachment from the world, prayer, fasting and silence. At least I hope they were silent.
In honour of St Norbert, I abstained from booze all the way from waterintobeer to Skehan’s.
Skehan’s bills itself as ‘A melting pot in the middle of the melting pot that is London’, with some justification. On the surface it’s an everyday Irish boozer. But you don’t have to spend long in there to realise it is anything but ordinary.
The beer is only OK, but the Guinness is fine and the craic is strong, with live music four nights a week and really rather good Thai food.
On Wednesday night they host Hankdogs Easy Come Sessions – ‘London’s oldest running country night’. It was these nights, that inspired Fat White Family, the Peckham (or is it Telegraph Hill?) band described as a ‘scuzzy mix of country, rock & roll, post-punk and nihilistic psychedelia’. A fantastic live band, Fat White Family played their first gigs at Skehan’s and still occasionally get up for a few numbers there.
I like their attitude. Guitarist Saul Adamczewski once had to come to the aid of a friend who was facing charges in a court of law. Saul told The Quietus: ‘I was supposed to be his character witness but I ended up staying up for two days and then I was too hungover to get to court.’
His mate got two months in Wandsworth. The lesson here is, if you can’t be a good mate, at least have a good time.
Next on my tour was the Golden Anchor. Landlady Lana says it’s not a Caribbean pub, it’s a pub for everyone. It is a Caribbean pub, there’s no getting away from that, but it is a Caribbean pub for everyone.
I didn’t fancy another Guinness so I thought, when in Rome – drink rum & coke.
They say that people come to the Anchor for the Caribbean food – the jerk chicken and jerk pork – and the music; reggae, Soca and Afrobeat. But it was clear to me that people came for something else. Something unspoken, something unusual. People go to the Golden Anchor because is a hotbed of… dominoes.
Every night, seven days a week, old and young gather round tables in groups of four and SLAM! They don’t just place their tiles down carefully like your auntie. They SLAM those bones. No one knows why. Some think it’s intimidation: ‘Feel the might of my double three!’
I had no idea dominoes was such a physical game. And yet, despite the racket, it really is a welcoming sort of place.
Next up was the beating heart of Peckham, The Earl of Derby.
It’s the epitome of the handsome backstreet boozer. You have to look for it as you wouldn’t stumble across it. It’s like it’s hiding. It has that nice community feel, like a library with beer. It has all the events publicans have to run to get people in to their pubs: quizzes, open mic nights etc, which I generally avoid. They give people an excuse to go to the pub. I don’t need an excuse. I need an excuse not to, and pub quizzes often provide that.
The Earl really is a beauty inside. With lovely wooden panelling and cosy seating. I love the giant map of the world dominating the wall to remind you of distant horizons – like Camberwell. The beer is good. The food looks it. And it’s the only pub to mention the Telegraph.
Telegraph Hill (formerly Plow’d Garlic Hill) refers, of course, to the semaphore telegraph station that stood where the Upper Park is now, just behind the tennis courts and where the important news of the day was received and distributed, one letter at a time. The station was removed in 1823 with the advent of Twitter.
Now the space provides a glorious spliff spot, with gorgeous views across the city. If you are going to spark up there, mind, do ensure there are no children nearby, as they will most certainly want some.
Onto The Montague Arms
Many will know it as the steampunk boozer, famous for its stuffed animals – zebra and oryx – skeletons and maritime paraphernalia. It doubled as a live music venue with extraordinary club nights and as a bizarre introduction to London for bemused coach parties arriving from the Continent.
It’s hard to follow such a legendary boozer as The Monty once was, before Stan and Bet passed away and it closed in 2012, but James, who has taken on the task, is doing his best. The taxidermy may have gone, bar one lonely animal head, but the Monty’s USP now is free games: Shuffleboard (great game), bar billiards (the king of pub games imho), table football, darts and retro arcade games, all free. Even the wifi password is freegames. Everything is free, except the beer, which is a bit pricey as it’s all keg (but all delicious as it’s mostly Fourpure).
I played bar billiards with a pal, The Clunas. I scored 420, coincidentally, but still got thrashed. I’m not sure anyone really knows the rules of bar billiards, but we played a rule called ‘The Silly Finish’ where you have to pot the final ball in the nearest hole, which is being defended by a skittle, so you have to go in off the cushion, at a sharp angle. It’s very hard. If you knock the skittle down, you lose your entire score, 900-odd in The Clunas’ case. It’s like playing football – you’re winning 18-0 and someone says, ‘Next goal wins’. Which I would like to see trialled in the Premier League much more than I would VAR.
Just down the road is The White Hart.
The White Hart was a real surprise, with two Magic Rock beers on cask, four taps from Kernel and four from Cellar Boys, both excellent Bermondsey breweries. The staff were lovely. And it’s a great spot for drinking in traffic.
This cracking boozer is currently under threat from money. Please sign their petition to keep late nights and live music in New Cross-slash-Telegraph Hill.
Monday to Thursday you can also get a £10 lunch that includes a pint, or wine. Not a pint of wine as I hoped, but you can’t have everything, for some reason. So steak, chips and a pint of cask for a tenner. Unfortunately I don’t like to eat on an empty stomach so I just had the lovely beer.
The White Hart also has a craft beer vending machine – possibly the best vending machine in the world. Perfect for when you reach that point in the evening when you can just about press buttons but are unable to string any coherent sentences together.
And they tell me they get a lot of Sunday diners down from ‘Telly Hill’. (Hang on, I thought you were in… oh forget it.)
I did finally eat though, at The Rosemary
Quite simply, the finest organic Hungarian food in Telegraph Hill.
The Rosemary also does Hungarian wine – I had a beautiful glass of red – and Hungarian craft beer. I swerved the Soproni IPA as, although it is a very old Hungarian brewery, it has been taken over by Heineken, so you’re drinking hard commerce, not love.
No, I had a beer from Mad Scientist. It doesn’t sound very Hungarian – not enough consonants. But they are the real deal. They’re Budapest craft brewers, and their Smooth Hoperator is a cracking IPA.
I ate the Gypsy roast, which is pork marinated for 2 days, with a garnish of pork. There are vegetarian options on the menu though they are mostly made of pork.
And that should have been that, but I could see a pub across the road. Across the border in New Cross ward. Don’t @ me. Was I to be dictated to by the tyranny of borders? Let me tell you, I am not that sort of mister. So the Five Bells it was.
The Five Bells famously provided the scene for the illustrator Mr Bingo’s legendary scratch-off advent calendar (see below), which gives you a flavour of the place.
Friend of Deserter, Mad Ian, calls the pub The Ringers. Mind you, he is mad. During the day, it’s old style, old skool, old fashioned. A bit Millwall on match days. It’s got a large screen for the footy and chirpy, cheeky regulars propping up the bar.
At night though, it’s something else with punky bands downstairs and arty films upstairs. Late nights, dancing and the occasional punch-up.
But most nights, it’s loud music and students rollings fags outside, talking about their feelings. The beer’s not very good, so maybe it’s not Telly Hill. And I couldn’t end the evening on a shite pint. I’m against that sort of thing.
So to the eastern end of the ward, to The Rose. Is that Telegraph Hill? I mean, it’s not like I’m gallivanting into the Occupied Territories, is it? It’s a bloody gastropub. It’s nice though. A bit posh even. The students have real fags, it has a lovely beer garden out back and decent beer to end the evening on.
By now it was time to sleep it off. If I were you, I’d book an Air BnB at the White Hart, now it’s no longer a hotel. In the morning, have your valet carry you up the hill to that wonderful community cafe, The Hill Station for a restorative breakfast – accompanied, of course, by the ubiquitous Daily Telegraph.
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