When I was young, my family lived north of Clapham, and so we often used to pass the Fox & Hounds on the way to and from town. We were not a pub-going family, and so I never went in; and so the only comparison I can make, seeing it probably for the first time in twenty years, is the outside.
The signage looks like it’s been refreshed within the last few years, but the building itself looks reassuringly unchanged: a large property right at the junction of Oakley and Milton Roads, with bay windows, a white picket fence out front, a black-and-white timbered first floor, and with that poor fox still being chased by those hounds across the ridge of the roof. As seems almost mandatory, a banner affixed underneath one of the windows advertises the presence of televised sport. The light is quickly fading, and there’s just barely time to get a photo before we head in.
From the vestibule, there’s doors left and right, but it seems that the right-hand side is locked off today; RealAleRocks suspects that it’s reserved for a private party this evening, but we don’t actually see a notice saying as much. So, the left hand side it is.
As we arrive, it’s just coming up to 6pm; on the televisions (plural), the England men’s rugby team is on the verge of winning their Six Nations game, and spirits are high. There’s perhaps a dozen men here, some women too, a few kids, and a couple of dogs. It’s quite noisy, but not intimidating. The room here is roughly U-shaped, with the bar in the centre of the “U”; there’s a TV just above one side of the bar, almost above the door we just came in through, and another TV in the opposite corner. In the front corner of the room, it looks like a DJ is getting set up for later, with decks, speakers and lights taking up at least not too much space; further round, the doors to the toilets are opposite the bar, then there’s a small raised area with a few tables, then the door out to the beer garden; then finally a few more tables, and a pool table. There’s also a dartboard here; stashed above the bar, several sets of darts are available.
RealAleRocks and I make our way to the bar: the handles here offer Courage Best, Charles Wells Eagle IPA, CW Triple Hopped IPA, and the CW Dry Hopped Lager; Courage Pale Ale is in the fridge. I’m sure there would have been the usual lagers, ciders and Guinness, but on this occasion I’m afraid I didn’t bother listing them all. We both select the Triple Hopped IPA, at £8.40 for the two pints.
While there’s still just about enough light, we head out into the garden, a large grassy space with picnic tables, and also a covered decking area. Tucked around to one side, near the gate, there’s table football; in another area, rather less hidden away, is a plastic slide for the younger children. The garden here is surrounded by walls on three sides, with the main roads just beyond, and the pub itself on the fourth; but since the bypass was opened, well over a decade ago, these roads are a lot quieter now, and we can drink and chat quietly as the last of the daylight fails.
After a while it feels too cool and dark to sensibly stay outside, so we head back in. The rugby’s no longer on, but it’s still buzzing here: the music is on but not too loud; a couple of kids are playing pool. A dog walks around the bar, inquisitive, interested in everything.
We stay for a second pint; a Guinness for RealAleRocks, and the CW Dry Hopped Lager for me. The barman asks her if we’ve had this beer (the lager) before, though it’s not clear why he asked that. As it turns out, the lager was distinctly passed its best, and to be honest I really should have taken it back, but I’m afraid to say I didn’t. Maybe the barman knew he was serving a dodgy pint, I don’t know.
Six men and a woman stand around the bar; at a nearby table, two men, a woman and a young girl. It’s a lively Saturday evening, and it seems to be someone’s birthday (also part of the reason why I didn’t manage to get a photo of the inside of the pub) – food is on platters on one of the tables, there are balloons, and people wearing hats, and maybe later the disco will properly get going. We tuck ourselves in the corner, and play a few games of pool; RealAleRocks enjoys her Guinness, and I endure my lager. As we leave, I notice that the right-hand bar is still empty, and locked – maybe the birthday group is moving into there later, who knows?
Fox & Hounds was certainly friendly, perhaps buoyed by the favourable sports result on TV, and someone’s birthday; but I suspect it would have been quite friendly anyway. The beer selection was what we’ve come to expect from Charles Wells: that is to say, limited, but understood. But after being served a bad pint (and yes I should have returned it, provided feedback to the bar staff, etc etc), I have to say I’d be cautious if I came back. As it happens, that’s probably quite unlikely, purely because of the geography.
See you again in twenty years maybe?
Image by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0