Sometimes it’s the little things you notice. Take the round bistro-style table at which I sit with a newly poured pint. As I placate my thirst, I note that the varnish on the table’s surface is well-worn and especially faded around the edges – a sense of timelessness replicated in the equally distressed and pitted wooded floor.
This kind of scuffed aesthetic could so easily belong to an off-the-shelf, ye-olde-English boozer; but the Kings Arms is genuine, a survivor, a thriving corner pub in a beautiful Georgian backstreet minutes from Waterloo. It is still divided into a saloon and a public space: its bar sits in between, an island of dark wood, topped by a gantry upon which glasses gleam.
At the back there’s a large room, an informal Thai-influenced eating space, but it’s the bar where all human life happens.
“Ah, original pork scratchings,” says the man to his friend on the next table. “We were once at a funeral and at the wake we had a slab of crackling.” His companion nods in assent to such a hearty goodbye and heads bar-wards in search of similar.
Elsewhere, a group of besuited gents, stretching out lunch perhaps, are all laughs and lifted glasses. Perhaps this sense of joy is also due to a choice of 10 beers, including Adnams’ Southwold Bitter, one of the finest expressions of an English bitter there is, and my first choice.
My next one is Moncada Brewery’s Notting Hill Ruby Rye, an amber-hued beauty with a thrilling Bach-like counterpoint between fragrant fruity hop character and dry, pumpernickel-like spiciness.
I continue surveying the public bar, noting the etched glass on the door, the brass hooks beneath the bar (it’s always the little things you notice) and the old photos of the area, a reminder of a London whose destruction was started by the Luftwaffe and continued by developers.
However, the Kings Arms still stands – solid in its durability, fulsome in its appeal – and as I continue to contemplate I realise it is time for another beer. In this gem, there’s always time for one more.
25 Roupell Street, London SE1 8TB
020 7207 0784; thekingsarmslondon.co.uk