Dec 09

The FT Top 25 Pubs of the 00s No 16: The Hole In The Wall, Mepham Street SE1

FT + Pumpkin Publog22 comments • 1,167 views
The Hole In The Wall

The Hole In The Wall

The Hole in the Wall is not a hole in a wall so much as a space under a railway arch by Waterloo. That is to say, it has a smallish carpeted front bar with a handful of tables for cushioned lounging in an L-shape facing the bar; a biggish uncarpeted box of a back bar with probably ten tables and plenty of standing room, and a laughable tiny concrete “beer garden” smokesies area out the back. Clientele a mix of commuters, hard drinkers, randoms and (on matchdays) football and rugby watchers. That’s it, really. But.

In the middle of the 1980s, before I was old enough to drink legally and before I’d even thought about living in London, I’d visit my student older brother here. I’d arrive and depart from Waterloo, off the one-track chuggy line up from Honiton.

My brother would meet his friends at the Hole In The Wall – they, undergraduates in not-unnecessarily-fashionable rags, would impress and awe me with tales of the kinds of activities I could only read about in the NME. I was a country boy in love at a distance with a specific brand of indie (let’s say continuity mod-pop with a non-rigorous and unsustainable kind of oppositional rhetoric) and the downwardly-aspirational, boozy, fading folk-punk scene (I loved the Boothill Foot-Tappers as much as I loved those early Pogues records). All the good stuff seemed to happen in the pub, up London. This place seemed like the sort of pub where it just might.

Perfectly London, waves of people I’d never know coming and going, not giving a monkey’s about bumfluff boy getting too-quickly sozzled with the big kids and trying his best to chip into the conversation. The cheek by jowliness of the attendant office-types and serious drinkers seemed the essence of pubness to me, and I had (to my great surprise) learned that my brothers’ inner-burb locals (Herne Hill or Nunhead, depending on the year) would feature the kind of folk who’d turn round and give you slightly suspicious looks if your face didn’t fit. Just like home. Weird.

Probably because it is , in part, a commuter pub, one of the great things about the Hole In the Wall is that, really, no-one gives a damn about you. In years of going there, I’ve only twice had someone trying to strike up an unsolicited conversation with me. I, like the pub, and like the other customers, am nothing special.

Those evenings in the Hole In The Wall still glow in my memory as glimpses into an amazing world I might one day inhabit. Crucially, the place was nothing special. Scuffed and fraying, this wasn’t one of those set-piece palaces which (in my mind) rang to the gasps of gauche out-of-towners, nor was it threatening or scary. It was just a pub where the sort of people who I might one day be would go, sit, talk, watch the football, drink, drink too much.

And so when I finally shored up here, it became a fairly regular haunt. It’s a favourite of mine not just for sentimental reasons: although it’s nothing special, it’s hugely adaptable. Want to meet a handful of friends to cook up some kind of plan? Front bar, round the corner. Want to watch the game on your own? Back bar is your only man: space atmosphere, good chance of a seat if your pubcraft’s up to scratch. Ten of you on a crawl: couple of tables in the front if you’re lucky. Twenty handed booze up on a Friday night? You’re probably best in the back, although you might consider colonising the whole front bar. Got visitors who want to see a bit of London drinking untouched by the tourist dollar in the guidebook classics? This is a place for you. Hanging out with some fancypants who doesn’t like alehouses? You’re probably best somewhere else entirely.

And as a result I carry a gallery of memorable days and nights in the Hole In the Wall – arriving late to the wintry pub crawl with my future wife in tow, the first time she met lots of the Freaky Triggerists; a notoriously difficult afternoon with some friends of friends who hated us, for reasons which only became clear years later; uproarious back bar Fridays of pinball and chips, the closest I’ve found in London to a real bierkeller atmosphere; the day after my fortieth birthday, with two of my oldest friends, unfunctioning, stinking and hungover.

It became the kind of place where I could be disappointed they’d done up the toilets: I’d got used to reading the graffito by the far urinal, in biro amidst the scratched names and logos of football teams and the weird insults, the legend “MY CATS CALLED MITTEN”.

All of which makes me think that I really have grown into the kind of person who drinks in the Hole In The Wall. Glamour, eh?  It’s a moveable feast. The Hole In The Wall in the 1980s offered a gungy kind of glamour, and God knows it’s barely changed. That dirty glamour was the best available kind to me, there, then. Now, it reminds me of me.


  1. 1
    Kat but logged out innit on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Medieval Madness pinball! ♥♥♥

  2. 2
    Mark M on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Lovely bit of writing there.

  3. 3
    Tim on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Here’s a thing: years later I found out that, right around the mid-80s time I’m talking about, lots of the early Creation records crowd would drink in the Wellington (about 100 yards away) after recording in the studios that back onto the Welly. SO CLOSE!

  4. 4
    CarsmileSteve on 16 Dec 2009 #

    that picture makes it look almost exciting, they must have been very cunning to get a pic without a 243 parked outside belching out exhaust fumes…

  5. 5
    PJM on 16 Dec 2009 #

    This is great, Tim. I suddenly like the place.

    “– arriving late to the wintry pub crawl with my future wife in tow, the first time she met lots of the Freaky Triggerists”

    Reader, I was one of them. But was correctly referred to as a Sinisterine. It is also the place where you told me, with considerable glee, that Jenn is nothing like me.

  6. 6
    Matt DC on 16 Dec 2009 #

    That picture has just made me realise that I have never seen the Hole in the Wall in daylight.

  7. 7
    Steve Mannion on 16 Dec 2009 #

    I don’t think I’ve ever actually been in here.

  8. 8
    Ewan on 16 Dec 2009 #

    @3 It took me many attempts myself to get a photo of it without obstructions…

    I walked past this pub pretty much every day after I first moved to London on my way to and from work (I lived in Elephant & Castle up the road) and it always intrigued me; I had thought it was just the small front room. When I eventually visited it years later it did seem like something of a ‘local pub’ for a transient and ever-changing population such as central London’s, friendly enough but anonymous. Its charms are as hidden away as the pub itself seems to be, but it definitely has charms.

  9. 9
    Glue Factory on 16 Dec 2009 #

    I once spent an afternoon in here, rather than going to the Deptford Free Festival.

  10. 10
    Kat but logged out innit on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Wah my comment was marked as spam!

    ANYWAY what I said was: Medieval Madness pinball = TICK VG

  11. 11
    Alex on 16 Dec 2009 #

    +1. The Hole in the Wall is a superb pub. *and*, when I took my grandad to catch a Eurostar and we were delayed an hour, he remembered drinking there on leave from the navy during the Second World War.

  12. 12
    wichita lineman on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Lovely write-up, Tim.

    Two other groups of people who meet in the HITW:

    1. South Bank Centre conspirators, knowing they can safely talk about their bosses who will be drinking at the HITW’s aspirational twin, the Archduke.

    2. Members of Earl Brutus who organise an irregular pop quiz there called The Electrical Circus. Expect questions on David Bowie and Focus.

  13. 13
    Mark M on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Re 2: apart from those characters encountered later on who turned out to be decent people (Jim from the Jasmines, Gregory from the Razorcuts), would meeting any of those people then actually have enhanced your life? A lot of that Creation crew appear in retrospect to have been tiresome at best…

  14. 14
    Tim on 16 Dec 2009 #

    The chances of me (then) summoning up the courage to go and talk to any of them were minimal anyway! But seeing Jim Beattie in the alehouse would surely have counted for something in one small corner of East Devon.

  15. 15
    porkypie on 16 Dec 2009 #

    excellent piece Tim. HITW is one of my favourite London pubs, but one of those that I feel if I went to very often it might become less favoured, not sure why.

  16. 16
    PJM on 16 Dec 2009 #

    We should really test your theory, Porkypie.

  17. 17
    PJM on 16 Dec 2009 #

    Although The King’s Arms is so close…

  18. 18
    Jimmy the Swede on 17 Dec 2009 #

    That’s a splendid write-up, Tim. I know this place so well or at least used to. The Hole used to be a good place to get your head kicked in by a flange (and I cannot think of a better collective noun) of Millwall supporters at lunchtime on a Saturday. I used to call it “The Hole in the Head” because of this and used to scuttle off to the safety of the Wellington, which was far more civilised and still is.

    Perhaps The Hole is better today but as a man in middle age now, I have no real inclination to put in the research on my increasingly fewer trips back to my native Smoke.

  19. 19
    CarsmileSteve on 17 Dec 2009 #

    I can’t say I’ve seen much Millwall in there over the last few years to be honest, and a lot of my recent trips to the HITW have been at football times. What I have seen is lots of middle aged blokes (and some women) in replica tops of various, generally non-premiership, teams all happily having a lovely pint of ale, before tootling off to their assorted trains (the friendly atmosphere only dissipates for me when i realise that, once again, i am going to s0dding aldershot (NEVER AGAIN))

  20. 20
    Tim on 17 Dec 2009 #

    It’s actually fairly tricky to get to the New Den from Waterloo, Millwall tend to be a bit more London Bridge-centric these days (I think). Millwall awaydays this season which might involve them setting off from Waterloo: Southampton, Exeter. I think that’s it.

    I’m used to seeing lots of AFC Wimbo fans in there, which is usually a good thing.

  21. 21
    Jimmy the Swede on 17 Dec 2009 #

    AFC Wimbo, of course, now in the top tier of non-league footy along with such giants as Luton, Mansfield, York, Barrow, Wrexham, Cambridge and Eastbourne Borough. Great standard of footy, that, refreshments freely available and no sign of any pondlife. A far cry from the noddyland of the premiership, where the most dispicable creatures are nowadays the players and managers rather than the poor fools who have to empty their bank accounts to buy a burger, never mind a ticket for the game.

  22. 22
    porkypie on 17 Dec 2009 #

    *Luton, Mansfield, York, Barrow, Wrexham, Cambridge and Eastbourne Borough. Great standard of footy, that, refreshments freely available and no sign of any pondlife*

    excellent trolling, well done.

    There are complete idiots at every level of football, it’s a bit like life in that respect.

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