Prodigious south London bloggers/podcasters/layabouts Andy Grumbridge and Vince Raison (aka Deserter) often spoke about opening their own dream pub — and then, in July 2022, something extraordinary happened — they actually went and opened one, the Shirker's Rest. Well, Andy did. Vince thought he'd just wait for it to open.
At what point does a drunken conversation about opening your own pub turn into actually doing it?
Andy Grumbridge: We've spoken about it for many years. When you're in a great pub, a couple of pints in, it's the best feeling in the world. I imagine most pub and beer lovers have thought about running one at some time or other. We always ended up deciding, though, that we are more what you might call "end users". Especially when the hangover kicked in.
Vince Raison: I still can't believe it, to be honest. Me? With my very own pub.
AG: My mistake was to mention it to some people who aren't like us. In a word, achievers. Deserter associate Pompey Dunc and the boys from Shark Micropubs. Before I knew it they were filling out forms, ringing people up and inviting me to participate in video conference calls about head leases. Can you imagine? Meanwhile, Vince was at home with his feet up. I was furious.
What was on your to-do list for the perfect pub?
AG: Bring your own booze, pre-rolled joints in a glass case on the bar and a free flop house upstairs. I was talked out of those by the money men and the legal eagles. Honestly. This country.
VR: I always think the best pub in town is the smallest. I do remember you saying you wanted it to be somewhere not too big, or at least have a short walk to the lavs.
VR: Along with great beer. And my own chair.
Did you take inspiration from any of the great London drinking establishments?
AG: Yes. We love places like the Blythe Hill Tavern in Catford, the Beer Shop in Nunhead and the Harp in Covent Garden. What they all have in common is good, well kept beer and a friendly welcome.
VR: I take inspiration from every great London boozer. Not necessarily for running a pub. They just make me feel magnificent again.
Running a pub seems like an awful lot of work. I assume you're outsourcing all of this?
AG: On the face of it, it runs counter to everything we stand for — as recorded for posterity in our new book, Shirk, Rest and Play — the Ultimate Slacker's Bible. But you have to remember that firstly, there are six of us behind it; secondly, we have a brilliant general manager, James, and some excellent staff. And thirdly, we have Vince Raison, Special Advisor and secret weapon, who has his own chair and everything.
VR: True. If it wasn’t for me sitting outside in the A20 Lounge on that rocking chair, chuffing away on a fag and slurping on a DIPA, you wouldn't be half as busy as you are. I am a living advertisement for getting more out of life by doing less — the main tenet of our book.
So Vince, it's your job to make sure the beer's in mint condition, right?
VR: We are nothing without standards. That's where I come in. Some people think my role is easy. They don't know the half of it. Is it easy to come up with adjectives for beer apart from 'Delicious' and 'Amazing'? Well, is it?
The Shirker's seems to have a beer/drink to suit all tastes. Are pubs with crap drinks lists just being lazy?
AG: The easy answer is yes, I suppose. Or maybe people just want to drink mass-produced lager and bitter. We're all beer nuts so having a good range, with lots of favourites mixed with new things to try was very important to us.
VR: There's no excuse for crap beer, not these days, though some people like it. There are so many great local brewers right now and I'm more than happy to road test them for the guys. And Ben, one of the founders, is from Stockport so he's been bringing down some crackers from up that way, like RedWillow from Macclesfield. Probably my favourite beer at the Shirker's so far.
AG: Apart from Deserter IPA.
VR: Apart from Deserter IPA.
Judging by your 'Crisp News' wall, you also take snacks seriously. Who is your crisp sommelier?
AG: We've all chipped in with the ordering ideas but a lot of it comes from our podcast, called, presciently, Deserter Pubcast. That's certainly where the Slabs came from.
VR: Our crisp correspondent — or one of them — Ned, sent us a packet with a pithy review: "Size of a baked potato, thick as a pound coin" and everyone went mad for them. The greatest step forward in crisps since the introduction of flavours in the 1970s, in my view, and superb in a sandwich with a slice of cheddar and some Jaipur hot sauce, which I have been known to create on the bar.
What's your advice to fellow Londoners who want to open their own pub (but don't want to work very hard)?
VR: My advice would be to go for it. It's really no effort at all.
AG: Or jack it in and come to the Shirker’s.
Describe the Shirker's Rest in three words.
AG: Shirk, rest, play - which coincidentally, is the name of our new book.
VR: Available now from all good bookshops. And Amazon.
Shirk, Rest and Play — The Ultimate Slacker's Bible is available for pre-order.
The Shirker's Rest in New Cross is open Tuesday-Sunday.