They’re Open: 10 Great South London Pubs

It’s been nice, but we can’t sit in parks forever. The pubs are re-opening and it’s time to support them lest, come the autumn, when we really need them again, they’ve all closed and become charity shops or online delivery pick-up points.

Some of us may be wary of stepping back into crowded and confined spaces for hours at a time, after all it did nothing for the meat-packers, and they couldn’t even have a pint while doing it, the poor buggers. 

So, with that in mind, we’ve crossed the results of our Deserter 2020 World Cup of Pubs with the requirement for plenty of outside space. Thus it shouldn’t be a problem avoiding any Covid-deniers, who, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, are also invariably the ones who stand a little too close, spraying bits of spit onto your collar as they wibble on about the ‘controlavirus’.

Here we go then, ten absolute belters, worth a special trip at any time, but even more so for those who want to get paralytic and stay healthy at the same time. Salut!

(NB: Check ahead with the pubs to confirm daily opening times. Click pub names for links)

Old Nun’s Head, Nunhead

The Nun is Dead, Long Live the Nun!

Popular head manager, Nick, has departed for pastures new but the Old Nun’s Head lives on, bathed in the beer-light of his award-winning legacy.

You may recall that the ONH was our World Cup of Pubs winner, way back in January, when we were all desperate for something to come along to keep Brexit out of the headlines. Careful what you wish for, isn’t it? And while you won’t be able to order at the bar for a while after it reopens, you can still gawp at the trophy which is on display behind it.

The terrace out front has been done up a treat and supplements the yard at the back, which offers rain protection from the great English summer. 

Nun better

Ivy House, Nunhead

Up the road you’ll find this wonderful community-owned favourite, offering three bars and al fresco seating out front and back. At first, though, they are just re-opening the front bar and, like many places, requesting that people pre-book. 

If, as for us, booking ahead feels like something that only other people do, don’t worry. We’ve been supporting this pub during lockdown by taking growlers of its draught ale over to nearby Peckham Rye Park, which you’ll still be able to do if you turn up thirsty and unbooked. 

House meeting

King’s Arms, Waterloo

A real ale pub par excellence, it’s long been a summer tradition to hang around out the back here, smoking fags and leaning on the bins. It’s where all the best people are. 

It’s where Half-life met The Actress, wooing her by giving her ecstasy and slagging off every film she’d appeared in. Two hours later she snuck him into the National Theatre where they made love on the set of Uncle Vanya. But that’s another story. 

Bin men

Dog & Bell, Deptford

This cracking, archetypal backstreeter might not have made this particular list, what with its modest back garden offering, but what’s this? The road outside has been pedestrianised and traffic has been replaced with stationary beer barrels for resting pints on. Civilization. 


Lord Clyde, Borough

Also better known for its inside than its outside, Borough stalwart, the Lord Clyde, is now able to offer tables outside in little Clennam Street. 

They too are encouraging people to book ahead and order via an app, which you might think could cause a bit of head-scratching amongst the older regulars, until you remember that some of them used to run their own bookies from the back room. They’re way ahead of us. 

Bonnie Clyde

Skehan’s, New Cross

An independent family-run pub with a wonderfully diverse crowd of locals and regulars. It’s bright and airy, with terraces out front and back to avoid any thronging inside. Don’t get us wrong, we’re longing for thronging, but one step at a time. We don’t want to come a cropper like Boris the unstoppable handshaking machine or top tit tennis player, Novax Djocovid. 

Skehan’s also has bar games, a Thai kitchen and shows the racing and the football, but it’s probably best known for its live music, where appearances by the likes of Fat White Family, Foals or Joss Cope can happen out of the blue. Let’s hope it can get back into action soon. Music is the food of love, and we’re bloody starving. 

Waiting tables

Pelton Arms, Greenwich

Also renowned for its live music, the Pelton Arms is fortunate to have a sizeable garden in which revellers can indulge their bohemian desires until such time as we can get back indoors for a boogie. 

Regular, Rock Bob, was the first person I knew to get a phone you could play music on. 

‘It can store seven MP3s, Raider!’ he declared, as he played me Black Sabbath’s Paranoia.

‘Nice! What else have you got on there?’ I asked, and he gave me a quizzical look.

‘They’re all Black Sabbath,’ he said, like I was simple.

Rock Bob may not be able to sit on his regular bar stool for the time being, but at least he’ll be able to book a table from Saturday (phone only, 020 8858 0572).

Preparing paradise, Pelton

Cutty Sark, Greenwich 

Not far from the Pelton lies the Cutty Sark (these two make a fine double-dip trip), offering far-reaching river views, fresh air and dubious history.

‘Georgian Free House 1695’ declared its sign, a few years back, which incensed our mate, Osman.

‘Fuck are they on about?’ he muttered. ‘It’s either Georgian or from 1695. You can’t have it both ways.’

‘You might have to write a letter,’ said Dirty South, skinning up at one of the outside tables that overlook the water. And he bloody did an’ all.

Very soon the sign was amended, without fanfare, to read ‘Georgian Free House 1795’. Osman had cost them 100 years of history and, chuffed, he changed his Twitter bio to ‘Pub Truther’. 

It certainly taught me never to believe anything I read on the front of pubs. Especially the word ‘Closed’. (By the way, they are in fact closed until 20th July.)

Before Osman
After Osman

Duke of Edinburgh, Brixton

Toss up for biggest South London pub garden must be between the Fox on the Hill, Denmark Hill (which doesn’t make this list as it’s not really a pub, it’s a Wetherspoon) and Brixton’s Duke of Edinburgh, at which reservations are now being taken.

A good spot for the football (they show it on Sky, BT and, erm, Amazon), they also have a jerk chicken shack and a happy hour before 7pm, Monday to Friday. But the main attraction has to be the bangin’ back yard, so big Two Thumbs Tony once got lost in it and had to ring us to find his way back to the table. Mind you, he was off his tits. 

Thumbs up

Blythe Hill Tavern, Forest Hill

Never trust a London best pub list that doesn’t include the Blythe Hill Tavern, the jewel in the skew-whiff crown of the South London booze scene. 

You’d usually find us in one of its three handsome bars, being well looked after by Con, Terry and the boys. Here, having a perfect Guinness brought to your table has always been a thing, long before the introduction of pub table service.

But extraordinary times make for extraordinary men. We may override our habits, overcome our fears and bravely explore lands unknown. Yup, see you in the beer garden. 

Con, artist

Follow the Dulwich Raider and Deserter on Twitter

Like our Deserter Facebook page to get Deserter in your timeline

Join our mailing list to receive our highly irregular email update

Image credits: Lord Clyde by Ewan Munro, used under this licence; Duke of Edinburgh garden from their Facebook page; Cutty Sark ‘before’ picture is from Beer in the Evening, permission sought