One warm sunny afternoon I jumped on the train to Wimbledon for a wander around the Common and to visit some of the pubs there. Leaving the station, I passed the Hand & Racquet (noting it for my return), past the Alexandra and uphill to the Ridgeway, past where the King of Denmark used to stand and into the Swan, a Greene King pub. I was greeted at the door by a member of staff who asked if I was expected. ‘I don’t think so’, I replied. I was duly signed in; ‘apps’ were mentioned but we didn’t go down that path. I was able to go to the bar to make my selection with the usual Greene King range plus SW19 from Wimbledon Brewery, which I chose. With my CAMRA discount it was £4.59 instead of the normal price, £5.10. I’m sure that GK pubs used to be very reasonable but now the £5 mark has been reached. I was told it was table service so I paid for my beer with my card (no cash was being taken) and went outside to find a table. Very soon my beer was brought out; not actually to my table, but to one nearby so I had to get up to collect it. At least it was good.
On leaving the Swan I carried on along the Ridgeway for a little way before turning right along the alleyway which leads straight to the Hand In Hand and the Crooked Billet next door. They are both Young’s pubs but my choice was the Hand In Hand. It seemed fairly busy but, after going through the ‘meet and greet’ routine, I was given a table for one outside just by the door. I was however allowed to go inside to survey the range of ales and my choice was another Wimbledon Brewery ale, this time their Common bitter. With the CAMRA discount it was £4.39. Again my beer was bought to me but this time actually to my table. Again I had to pay by card. I enjoyed the beer and I will say that I thought the staff here seemed very friendly and efficient at the routine that they were having to go through.
Next I walked along the side of the Common to the Fox & Grapes. This used to be a nice little cosy traditional pub with two bars but, since its refurbishment a few years ago, it has become all rather foody, although, as long as it still does some real ales, I’ll give it a go. At the door I sanitised my hands and explained to the member of staff on the door that, no, I didn’t have a reservation and yes, I’ve only come for a beer. There were only a few customers inside so she managed to find me a table. At the bar there were two ales on, Fuller’s London Pride and, once more, Wimbledon Common. All the same, I went for the Common but, after a few pulls on the pump, I was told that it had ‘just gone’. ‘Better make it the Pride then,’ I replied and this was duly brought over to me. It seemed to be in good nick but it didn’t taste like Pride at all so I wasn’t overly happy with it. I hadn’t actually paid for it and I don’t like paying at the end when I’m only having one drink, just in case I walk straight out as one normally does. I asked the bar staff if I could pay and, once again, no cash was being accepted so out with the card. I passed it over the machine but didn’t see how much I was paying and on being asked she replied £5.50. What! She replied that ‘beers around the Common have always been around £5’. ‘No they haven’t,’ I retorted, but I conceded that ‘I think I am a little older than you are.’
On finishing my pricy pint of Pride, with the pub still three quarters empty, I headed across the Common into Wimbledon Village. It took about ten minutes to get to the Rose & Crown, another Young’s pub. There appeared to be plenty of empty seats but, going through the now usual formalities, the staff member on the door told me the garden was full but there was a table for one right close to the bar at the front. Yes, I said, that would be fine. I was told that I could order from my ‘app’. No I can’t, I replied. Don’t worry, I was told, she would do it for me. I asked for a pint of Young’s Bitter and went to my table. There was a member of staff near to me behind the bar who seemed not to be busy so I asked him for my pint of Young’s Bitter. No; he couldn’t do it without an order so I sat down and waited for my beer. I finished an article I had started reading but still no beer. Perhaps I was being a little impatient but I had waited for some time so I gathered up my belongings and departed.
I returned down the hill towards town, passing the Dog & Fox, to the Hand & Racquet, which I had spotted earlier. This is a Greene King pub that usually has some interesting guest ales. I sanitised my hands, signed in and went to the bar, getting served straight away. More Wimbledon Brewery; this time their SW19. The barman spotted my CAMRA t-shirt and helpfully told me that there was a 10% discount for CAMRA members, which brought the cost of my pint down to £4.14. I was allowed to pay in cash and my beer was bought over to my table. Simple, and the beer was good.
This was my last call of the day so, on finishing my SW19, it was back to the station and a train home. It had been an interesting afternoon, I suppose, with a variety of pubs and a reasonable selection of ales. It had also been interesting to see how different pubs were interpreting the Government guidelines.
Am I right in feeling that prices have gone up since the pubs reopened? We know they need to rake in all the lost money, but won’t high prices just as likely deter customers? Especially so, since, during lockdown, I was purchasing beer from the supermarket and could get some good bottled beers for less than £2, and even some at just over £1.
Editor’s note: Clive made his visit on Wednesday 5 August 2020.