Loving this place is a sign of my advancing of my years and slowing pace, yes, but also of the maturing of my tastes. The Dog & Bell is a real ale pub, is always has five cask ales on the go, including guest ales and some interesting bottled boozes too. By all the gods that be, I have drunk some fine beer in this place. It has a scruffy and eccentric clientele and an ivy-covered corner in the beer garden. It is a perfect place for a chat with friends over a pint. Perfect.
Time was I wouldn’t have given a toss about the Dog & Bell being south-east London CAMRA’s ‘Pub of the Year 2004’ but nowadays that’s not only that which excited me there, there’s also the ‘Home Made Pickle Contest’ CAMRA are running with the pub on the 27th November.
Do not pity me, though, for that sort of thing is good.
The Cricketers, Greenwich
The Cricketers starts well. It’s pubby, what some people might mistake for ‘dingy’, with three cask ales, toasted cheese sarnies, a book on local history on sale behind the bar and décor doesn’t look forced or contrived.
There are also board games lying around so you can play connect-four or drafts while you drink, which is conducive to the relaxed atmosphere. All of this is good, there are not enough ‘actual’ pubs in the world and lots of brightly-lit, soul-less holes trying to fake it.
The magic at The Cricketers really happens on a Tuesday night, of all nights. The Greenwich Traditional Music Co-Operative get their fiddles, flutes and assorted squeeze-boxes out and start playing traditional English folk tunes.
If that doesn’t constrict your accordion, and I accept that my tastes can lean toward the ‘beardy’, then at around 10pm on this night the bar staff dole out free cheddar and biscuits to go with your beer and music. If that isn’t magical, then I don’t know what is.
The Wibbly Wobbly, Surrey Quays
‘Pub’ is, of course, an abbreviation of ‘public house’, a house anyone can walk into and fill themselves with booze and crisps for money. This place is a barge sitting in Greenland Docks in Surrey Quays but its interior is ‘pure pub’ making it, perhaps, a ‘public house boat’. Anyway, enough of that, there’s a beer-garden that is an adjacent floating platform performing a ‘beer garden’ function.
It’s a site to see, really. One day I dream of taking charge of the pub, having a few beers by my drinking arm, a jar of pickled-onions under my right-arm and cutting the moorings. I would then tour the world, searching for ancient sacred sites and bizarre animals, hither-to unknown to science, on my floating pub. I can see the telly series based on these adventures on BBC3 already. Let it be known that I would like the part of ‘Skitster’ to be played by Emily Woof, if possible.
The Montague Arms, New Cross Gate
The location isn’t promising, the Monty is on the very boundary where bouncy New Cross becomes edgy Peckham and the exterior looks ominous, there’s big black boards with ‘COACH PARTIES WELCOME’ painted on them.
And s othe coach-parties should come. Along with the Brockley Stone Circle, the ruins of Lesnes Abbey and the wonky dinosaurs of Crystal Palace Park, the Montague Arms is one of the seven (or more) wonders of south-east London. The interior is full of old naval equipment and trinkets and stuffed animals and human skeletons watch you are you enjoy your ale. Think of an old, dusty museum that had been opened as a pub without clearing out the exhibits.
One of the family who run the pub, they may not be related but them seem like one big family, collected old psychedelic projectors so on the stage, there’s a stage, one can often enjoy illuminations of zodiacal signs and other strange beasts.
And of the stage, well, many have performed there, local music clubs such as Fear of Music, the Lost Club and Throbb put on interesting and eccentric music there but, good though many of them are, none of them can beat the house entertainment.
I know not his name despite seeing him often. When the coach parties come to the Montague Arms on a Saturday night they, and any locals who potter in, are entertained by a blind organist who does ‘interpretations’ of both current pop songs, classic tracks and other surprises. This may be more than one evening rolled into one by my, frankly, harmed and faulty mind but in one sitting I have heard ‘Closest Thing to Crazy” by pony-loving Katie Mela-woo-warr, David Bowies ‘Life on Mars’ and the hymn ‘Jerusalem’ all played on a moog, often in a jaunty oompha style. All of these are interspersed with abuse hurled at the bemused Dutch and German coach parties and offers to let someone from the audience to get up and sing to the locals.
It’s very much like Bill Bailey when he performs Cockney versions of rock songs but real and performed by someone with south-east London engrained into them. In, remember, the strangest looking pub you will ever sit in. And according to this page and this page on the UK Cabaret Records website, not only has he been doing in since 1972 but he’s also had four live albums out of him and his mates insulting the big-haired tourists of yesteryear and mingling Beatles songs with Hawkwind. The man’s a dangerous genius.
It’s both Yule and my birthday in December. Have you enjoyed reading this? Those records must be out there somewhere. You know what to do.