Sunday, October 21, 2012

This Old New England Beer Examiner, Examines the New Old London Pubs - Part XI – The Hole in the Wall, Waterloo

This is series of visits and reviews of the very highest rated London Pubs according to CAMRA (Campaign to Save Real Ale), Cask Marque, Time Out London and (along with some very pleasant surprises along the way).
In brief, the better London pubs of today capture most of interesting architecture, style, charm, character, comfort and feel of the pubs of yore, but they are so much more. Oh, so much more!
The Hole in the Wall, Waterloo, London
We had spent the day with an avid (nearly rabid) group of ‘Spooks’ fans.  ‘Spooks’ aka ‘MI-5’ was a thrilling BBC television series which ran for 10 seasons. The group I’m with wants to visit and photograph as many favorite scene locations as humanly possible in one day. This turns into a very intense 9 hour force march across London. This is perhaps the best way to see parts of London you might otherwise not even consider during an extended  vacation, unless you happen to be a superhuman triathlete. If, however you are a normal person, like me, you will find yourself bedraggled, hungry and extremely ready for some simple pub activities such as eating heartily and drinking lustfully. I NEED a pile of food! Something with rich gravy! And Ale! Lots of ale!
Conveniently, our entire group will journey on separately from Waterloo Station. We bid our fond farewells. Four of us, my wife and 2 friends, head out in search of the nearest pub listed in my “CAMRA’s London Pub Walk” guide book. And there, shining like a beacon of hope lays The Hole in the Wall.
Ok, I exaggerate a bit. There, nestled snuggly in the pit of a busy intersection, underneath a rail line lies the dimly lit, hardly noticeable, Hole in the Wall.
There are 2 entrances to the Hole. The Waterloo side is rather close to the road. Be careful not have one too many and stumble out that way at the end on the night! The other entrance provides a safer exit for sure, but it leads into a very noisy bar. Aside from the nice lineup of handpumps, it’s not very pubby at all.
As you enter from the Waterloo side, take an immediate left and you find yourself transported into a pub from time past. The walls are adorned with Rugby uniforms and banners. The patrons on this evening are large, burly fellows who look as though they had just finished a hard match. Hope they won.
The rustic old pub is buzzing but we manage to find a small corner table for 4. Perfect! The bar keep appears to be under siege by the volume of folks shouting their pint, drink, and food orders, but the man is efficient like a magician and appears in front of me ready for my order before I was ready to give it. May as well blurt our whole drink and food order out at once, lest I lose the opportunity. He put my racing mind to rest and calmly discussed the ale selections with me, offering a sampling. There are 5 pump taps of real ale in this side of the pub, plus 3 of the usual suspects on tap. But notice the small chalk board on the wall to the left and you’ll see their full range. They actually don’t mind fetching ale from the other bar.
Another bartender appears at his side and continues to fill glasses and menu requests with amazing efficiency. Looks like they’ve done this once or twice before. Nice!
We grab our drinks and head back to the table. Our food arrives, piping hot in 15 minutes. Just in time to order another round. A leathery old chap sits down in a spare seat next our table and laments about the noise and clatter of the adjacent bar he just escaped from. “It’s certainly not my idea of pub. You can’t carry on a civil conversation”, he says. I agree so we strike up a conversation. His name is Dennis. He was one of the original founders of CAMRA (see above). He opts for the Young’s Bitter. Battersea Bitter for me. He hands me his glass. “Taste any off flavors?” Me: “Tastes Spot on to me”. Dennis: “That’s the point. Their pints are always in prime condition.”
Turns out he’s enjoying his retirement years touring the US and Europe at a leisurely pace, spending days in faraway places soaking up the local culture and drinking up the local beers. The man is living out my dream! Nice fellow! Cheers to him!   
The evening flies by. My wife, who doesn’t even drink joins our beer-fueled conversation. I think she understands my near obsession with pub culture. I hope so. There’s a lot more to a good pub than just the beer. A good pub seems to bring people together.
The Hole in the Wall 5 Mepham Street, London 020 7928 6196 is a good pub.
Next stop; Top 5 MUST visit London Pubs

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