EVERYONE seems to be dishing out gaudy plastic idols in recognition of any tut at this time of year – I saw one where Andy Murray won best ‘personality’ – so now it is time for me to wheel out this tired conceit which means I don’t have to leave the bedsit this week.
Drum roll, please...it’s PubSpy’s Golden Pint and Grotty Toilet Awards 2013.
THE GOLDEN PINT
It will be of no surprise to most of you when I say that our bit of south east London and north Kent has some truly epic pubs.
Whether you want to discuss aliens over an ale at The Alma in Sidcup or feel like Hemingway in the no frills, welcoming Jolly Woodman in Beckenham, there are great traditional style boozers aplenty.
If it’s atmosphere you’re after then south east London is oozing watering holes that don’t look so salubrious but you’ll struggle to leave – like The Harp in Deptford or the indie Wonderland of The Fox and Firkin in Lewisham.
Or maybe you want somewhere a bit more refine where you can get a posh bit of tucker – you could do worse than The Hare and Billet in Blackheath, The Ravensbourne Arms in Lewisham or The Rose and Crown in Green Street Green.
Winner: This year’s winner will not make everyone happy. In particular, it won’t please too many hard-working independent landlords, because it’s a chain pub. And not any old chain, it’s the Deathstar of chains – JD Wetherspoon.
The Tailor’s Chalk in Sidcup has it all. It looks great, it’s cheap, there are ales aplenty, the staff are happy and helpful and the place has a vibrant yet non-threatening buzz to it. Even the bogs are great.
THE GROTTY TOILET
Sadly, our illustrious patch is also home to some real bottom-dwellers. There have been some miserable times sat in some dives this year - or worse yet - really bland, mediocre pubs that were more like badly painted waiting rooms.
But the shortlist for the worst is only two deep.
Hanging near the back like an obese asthmatic at sports day is the Lullingstone Castle in Swanley.
From the moment you pull into the lunarscape that is the car park, the hostile Guy Ritchie-meets-Shaun of the Dead stares fix themselves like lager lasers. And it doesn’t get any better from there.
Inside it smells like toilet cleaner, although you could sit outside – on a concrete bench in the shadow of Asda. Welcome to Swanley, the home of flowers.
But beyond even the Castle, and – to continue the sports day analogy - lagging so far behind that the paramedics have already started to charge the defibrillator and the caretaker’s trying to work out how to drag the sweat-soaked, blubbery corpse from the field, is The Portobello in West Kingsdown.
It is a pub so ugly, dispiriting and dated that even the punters seem to have been dragged back into the 90s.
Drinking gassy beer from dirty glasses at a scarred old table as the cars dash by was one of the low points of my life.
As I noted at the time “I wouldn’t even fancy pulling off the main road and popping into the Portobello for a leak on a long drive.”
Geographically, the Portobello is so close to the edge of the News Shopper patch that I strongly recommend redrawing the boundary around it and cutting it off for good.