London’s Best Micropubs
There’s a quiet revolution taking place in the way people go out for a drink. Micropubs are intimate little venues — usually in old shop units — where the emphasis is on quality drink and conversation, rather than loud music and pints of Foster’s.
The first micropub — the Butcher’s Arms — opened in the Kent village of Herne in 2005, and the Garden of England is now full of these tiny boozers. London’s first micropub, The Door Hinge, opened in Welling in 2013, and six others quickly followed suit across South East London’s outer reaches.
Just Opened… The River Ale House
Now this revolution has come to Greenwich. London’s 12th micropub — The River Ale House — opened its doors in September 2017 and is already doing a roaring trade. It’s a long way from the tourist end of SE10: the neighbours are a Chinese takeaway, a kebab shop and the local Labour Party office. But it’s well worth the wander off the beaten track.
Micropubs tend to specialise in real ale from casks, usually have no music and often ban using mobile phones for taking calls. Many of the newer ones also feature wines, while the River Ale House has a range of gins too, along with craft beer in bottles and cans.
From bras to beer
The River Ale House started life in the 1990s as a lingerie shop. Then the bottom started to fall out of the knickers market, and owner Trevor Puddifoot took the business online. He began to wonder what he could do with the unused shop space, especially with housing developments in the area bringing him thousands of new neighbours.
‘I saw something in a local paper about The Long Pond, a new micropub coming to Eltham,’ he says. ‘I’d never heard the word before. I thought it was interesting and I’d go along and see it. I thought it was different — more like a continental café than a pub — and it was nice because of that.
‘But I didn’t put two and two together until a couple of weeks later when a friend mentioned turning this place into a micropub.’
Getting planning and licensing approval took longer than he hoped, but Trevor managed to turn a building delay to his advantage.
‘When we started to rip out the carpet and plastered walls, we revealed some lovely brickwork — you can tell it’s been around a long time, since about 1911,’ he recalls.
‘So we’ve done everything from there to capture the age of the building — colours, the old wood we’re using, the fabric, lanterns — they’ve all got an old feel to them.’
The result is a stripped-down interior, full of wood and the original brickwork, with fabric panels on the ceiling to absorb noise and keep conversations intimate.
More than just ales
Many of the earliest micropubs solely concentrate on cask beer. And the River Ale House has six different beers on offer the night we visit, from a crisp pale ale to oyster stout. But there’s also cider, perry, wines, and a whole host of gins — a conscious decision to attract more than a beery, blokey crowd.
‘We put on some nice wines — it’s not a long list, but it’s carefully thought through rather than whatever happens to come from the wholesaler. And then there’s the gins, too.
‘I wanted this to be inclusive, to bring in the whole of the community — you’re not having that when blokes say, ‘I’m going there, see you later dear’. People in micropubs don’t want any silliness; they just want to have a nice conversation and be untroubled.’
Trevor hopes his new customers can discover new beers. ‘Our job is to keep on ringing the changes, so each time you come in here, you’ll see a different list up there, and a choice of types of beer,’ he says. ‘You’ll always get a dark, a golden, a bitter or a pale — and we’ve had mango and raspberry beers too.’
While local beers from South East London and Kent breweries, such as Bexley and Pig & Porter, have gone down well, he aims to showcase ‘beers you won’t come across in the pub up the road’. ‘That’s our job, to keep on digging out different breweries from around the place,’ he adds.
There’s also been help from other micropubs, who have provided ideas and the benefit of their experiences which have helped with designing the River Ale House.
‘They’ve been very good; it’s a nice little network to benefit from. Immediately you set up as a micropub, you’re gaining from being one. Micropubs give you something you don’t get from general pubs.’
The Saturday rush
After just a few weeks, the formula’s already working. ‘People are coming back, and coming back again. And they’re bringing other people along,’ Trevor says.
‘I went to watch Charlton Athletic on Saturday afternoon and left my daughter and a colleague in charge, and when I came back I was surprised how busy it was.
‘I thought I’d chip in and help and at seven I said to my daughter she’d better go home. She said, “I can’t” — and she was right, all three of us were busy for the rest of the evening.’
Judging by the steady flow of customers on the evening we visited, Trevor might have to rethink his Saturdays at the football. With plans for quiz night and music, The River Ale House is all set to become one of Greenwich’s most distinctive pubs.
The River Ale House, 131 Woolwich Road, SE10 0RJ
The Long Pond
The Eltham micropub that inspired The River Ale House, this is the Campaign for Real Ale’s South East London Pub of the Year.
The Long Pond, 110 Westmount Road, SE9 1UT
The Penny Farthing
This has won Bexley pub of the year so many times it’s not allowed to take part next year. Serves real ale, cider, wine and soft drinks.
The Penny Farthing, 3a Waterside, DA1 4JJ
The Hopper’s Hut
Linked with the nearby Brew Buddies brewery, you’ll also find ciders and English wines on offer in this cosy little bolthole.
The Hopper’s Hut, 1 Sidcup High Street, DA14 6ER
The Hackney Carriage
Spirits, prosecco and a huge range of beers and ciders at this hugely popular bar, named in tribute to the owner’s cabbie husband.
The Hackney Carriage, 165 Station Road, DA15 7AA
The Broken Drum
One of the more unlikely locations for a micropub – a former nail bar next to a dual carriageway, but with a fine range of ales.
The Broken Drum, 308 Westwood Lane, DA15 9PT
The Dodo Micropub
Owner Lucy Do packed in a career in marketing to found this gem of a bar, featuring ales, ciders, wine and prosecco, along with cans and bottles.
The Dodo Micropub, 52 Boston Road, W7 3TR
The Owl and the Pussycat
Just down the road from the Dodo, this former children’s bookshop is home to the Marko Paulo microbrewery.
The Owl and the Pussycat, 106 Northfield Avenue, W13 9RT
The Beer Shop
A little different to other micropubs, The Beer Shop has music, keg beers, Bloody Marys, and regular food pop-ups, all housed in a former wool retailer.
The Beer Shop, 40 Nunhead Green, SE15 3QF
The Hop and Vine
Real ales, craft beer, wines, gins and cheese help make this friendly bar worth a trip out on the Metropolitan Line.
The Hop and Vine, 18 Ruislip High Street, HA4 7AN
One Inn The Wood
Another award-winner, the beers and ciders have put this micropub – by Petts Wood station – at the heart of the community in this sleepy suburb.
One Inn The Wood, 209 Petts Wood Road, BR5 1LA
The Door Hinge
London’s first micropub. A real back-to-basics bar, selling real ales, ciders and wine. Look for the smashed-up mobile phone on the wall…
The Door Hinge, 11 Welling High Street, DA16 1TR
The Kentish Belle
Close to Bexleyheath station, this will be London’s next micropub.
The Kentish Belle, 8 Pickford Lane, DA7 4QW