The last pub was Jess’s discovery; this one was Ray’s. He visited with The Ring last October and we finally got there together in deep December.
All around it are colossal blocks of flats with lots of lights but apparently little life, so that the pub seems almost like a joke, or a contrivance by developers.
The windows glow softly, not throwing light out but guarding it, like a flame cupped in the hands.
It’s a Harvey’s pub – “A back-up Royal Oak,” we said, only half joking. It really does feel like its sister at Borough, only with a little less personality. The clientele seems similar, too: strong London accents and nicotine-stained knuckles, with a raspberry ripple swirl of public school vowels and college scarves.
Is this the kind of pub, we wondered, that survives through the custom of people who have become accidentally wealthy as their objectively quite unremarkable houses in London stock brick have rocketed in value? People who have always lived here, who miss how it used to be, and cling to the pub – this nail house – as part of their identity as ordinary Londoners?
Ah, what do we know, but it’s fun to ponder.
Old Ale illuminates the concept of best mild without saying a word. Cask Christmas Ale, headless and sherrified, says something about beer’s capacity to be both humble and grand. Wise beer, Harvey’s.
“We should start a podcast,” says one of the staff to some friends leaning on the bar and as they expand on the idea, laughter overtakes them.
Someone explains a complicated conspiracy theory to an uninterested friend.
An elderly woman sits alone, ignoring her paperback, eyes shimmering at some happy memory, or maybe a sad one.
A dark velvet curtain ripples in a persistent draft.