For those of you in the loop you may already know about the success story that is the Ivy House. In March 2012 it was threatened with being turned into flats, however, after a huge effort from the local community and a helpful piece of recent legislation tucked away in 2011’s Localism Act called ‘community right to bid’ it was saved and is thankfully still a pub. It took over a year and was no doubt a struggle for all those involved but the outcome is well worth it.
A rare example of an interwar pub, the Ivy House is truly a mammoth place. It is tucked away on Stuart Road just behind Nunhead cemetery and Nunhead reservoir, the latter holding claim to the greatest unofficial view of London (please note Meantime Brewing Company does not condone breaking onto reservoirs – but there are plenty of gaps in the fence). It has a colourful history and can boast hosting Joe Strummer and Ian Drury on its stage, amongst others, so it’s little wonder that the local community rallied to its defence.
The inside of the place is pretty spectacular, it is as if whoever designed it was trying to mimic the wood panelled walls of Elizabethan palaces but didn’t quite have the money to back it up. If it were to be built new today it would probably be dismissed as tacky, however the 80 years of wear and tear do make you wonder initially whether the pub might actually be that old …until you remember you’re in the middle of a housing estate in South East London. The centre piece is a stage in the large room that adjoins the two bars and it’s great to see from the posters adorning the walls that it is still in use. A stage this grand (it has red velvet curtains and everything) seems to be a touch out of place in a London boozer until you find out that this is an original fixture and this sort of thing was regularly built into pubs of this era. They were termed ‘Improved Public Houses’ and provided such things as dance halls, reading rooms and crèches as well as doing things that were just downright crazy such a serving non-alcoholic drinks.
Talking of alcohol I should probably enlighten you as to what they had on the taps. The Ivy House, being a local boozer saved by the locals, puts an emphasis on brews made locally. As such you can try beers from all over south east London; Crystal Palace (Late Knights), Croydon (Clarence and Frederick’s), Brockley (Brockley Brewing Co) and of course everyone’s favourite Greenwich brewery.
After sampling some of London’s finest it became pretty apparent that we were going to need some ballast, so had a peek at the food menu. Now, I have been a vegetarian ever since Meantime sent a few of us to Germany to train up for our beer sommelier exams. All day and night in a beer hall may sound like a laugh but your food options are pretty limited to ‘half a pig’ or ‘a whole pig.’ After eating the equivalent of a herd I decided to go off the meat for a bit when I got home. A bit has turned into 6 months and I don’t think I’ll be getting back on it anytime soon. The downside to this is that usually pub menus don’t cater for stupid carrot eaters like me, and I love going the pub. If there is anything veggie on the menu it tends to be something pretty simple to shut the veggies up. However the Ivy House is committed to not only providing for veggies but also for their evolved mega veggie cousins, vegans. (No word yet if they are planning on providing for those dudes who only eat fruit that has dropped from the tree). Fortunately then, there was plenty to chow down on and couple with great London beers.
In summary then an awesome period pub, serving up some of the best beers London can offer at the moment on tap and cask with a menu that doesn’t leave anybody out in the cold, all fuelled with local passion. I think what’s great about the Ivy House is that originally this was built as an ‘improved public house’ a 1930’s attempt to make the pub popular again by providing it with amenities, making it seem more welcoming and generally ensuring that a cornerstone of British urban life remained relevant to the Londoners of the time.
In the 21st Century we’re fortunate enough to have kindergartens for the kids instead of a crèche in a pub and dubstep nights down the road in Peckham instead of dance halls for the teens. What 21st century pubs need to do to remain relevant is to change their offer; no longer can you rely on your ‘regulars’ to keep you afloat. There needs to be a reason to go to the pub! But good local beer, a good choice of well-made food and nice wood panelled surroundings seem as good a set of reasons as any to me. I wish the Ivy House the best of luck and encourage anybody reading this to pop down the next time you find yourself in Nunhead.