BY BILL LACY
Pubs opened for indoor drinking last week for the first time since December, the end of a nearly six-month hiatus for some pubs unable to open at all.
In South London, this meant many good pubs without outdoor seating were able to fling their doors open and welcome back customers.
After weeks in chilly pub gardens, I made sure I booked an indoor seat, and chose to support a pub that didn’t have the ability to open outdoors.
Social distancing, one-way systems, apps and takeaway service have all become features of the modern pub.
Even when (or if) all restrictions are lifted on June 21, some of these changes will be permanent.
How refreshing then to visit a pub where not only did it feel like drinking did a couple of years ago, but a century ago.
The Royal Oak in Borough is a traditional, Victorian street corner pub.
It is in the less trendy part of London Bridge and, while modern flats have sprung up, is among back streets that feel like olde London.
It has a tiled exterior and modest seating, curtains and lanterns on the inside.
A traditional circular bar serves two distinct rooms.
It is an old-style alehouse, with few modern trappings.
The pub is a tied house of Harvey’s, the oldest brewery in Sussex, and only one of three such pubs in London – the others being The Cat’s Back, Wandsworth and The Phoenix, Stockwell.
I’m used to seeing Sussex Best Bitter in pubs across London, but not the full Harvey’s range.
The Royal Oak had cask and keg Harvey’s beers and many of their bottles.
Some are among Britain’s best premium beers, and after a couple of pints of Sussex Best, I sampled the wonderful Imperial Extra Double Stout, a multiple award-winner but which isn’t the easiest to get hold of.
The food is old-fashioned, proper pub grub. Even the pies are Harvey’s vintage, and are wonderful (although the chicken madras pie was more like a coronation chicken one but tasty, nonetheless).
The prices are extremely reasonable, and I finished the night with the rare London experience of my bill being less than anticipated.
The pub is perfectly sized, neither too big or small. There is no music or television, and is the kind of pub where conversation is the main constituent of the atmosphere.
There are no apps, and the service is friendly and personal.
The impact of the successive lockdowns has been enormous.
Six pubs a week have closed since the start of the pandemic.
With the pub shut, one member of staff told me he spent six months bored and worried, but at least he improved his score on Minecraft.
This week, he looked pleased to be back serving punters, and so was I.
The Royal Oak, 44 Tabard Street, SE1 4JU
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