Nestled on the summit of the rolling green expanse of southeast London's Blackheath is the Blackheath Tea Hut.
Stood in the same spot since 1924, it's been here far longer than the nearby Cutty Sark has been dry-docked in Greenwich.
The tea hut hit the news in January 2020, when it was destroyed in a car accident that also badly injured three people. The casualties have fully recovered and the iconic hut has now reopened its shutters — thanks in part to a Crowdfunder — much to the joy (and relief) of its patrons.
Serving up tea, cake and sandwiches at the side of the roaring B210, the pastel blue hut is a beacon calling all weary travellers to its counter. As well as taxi drivers, NHS workers and errant joggers, the hut is a favourite with east London bikers, demonstrated by the row of shiny motorbikes parked up behind it.
Jo Hayes, 46, has been working at the tea hut for over 20 years and is delighted that many of the regulars are returning to the institution: "The best thing about working here is the people you meet," says Hayes, "I've made so many friends here, every day is different.
"We kept in touch while it was shut, over Facebook and things, but it's brilliant to be back and seeing everyone again."
Previously open 24 hours, the temporary replacement is currently open 7am to 11pm, and is reliant on gas cylinders and water carboys until Lewisham Council approves plans for a permanent hut.
But it retains its menu of traditional roadside fare. While vegan milk is available — and there's a card machine — you won't find a crushed avocado in sight. Instead, Jo whisks up bacon baps, sugary tea and fried eggs for customers. Our conversation is littered with asides of "Did you want onions with that?" as Jo dishes up a tea hut favourite, quarter pounders with pineapple.
The hearty menu is popular with the regulars, as Conner, 24, explains: "There’s not many places you can go to for a cup of tea round here, it's all fancy coffee.
"You can come here, get a drink and see other people."
This is echoed by fellow biker Yoon, 30, who says the hut is a good place to meet up: "I usually just get a tea and sometimes a muffin, but this is a place that all the bikers know and can meet up."
Blackheath Tea Hut is perfectly tailored to its clientele; accessible, affordable — there are even specially drilled cup holders in the table to stop cuppas from blowing away.
But the most striking feature is the strong sense of community, an immediate sense of welcome between the visitors, as Dan, 24, who's been parking up on the lay-by for eight years explains: "It used to be every Thursday and Friday you'd see 50 or 60 bikes parked up here. It's a great place to meet new people and there's usually a new bike to check out."
Shaun, who's been biking for six years says: "I'm an all-weather rider, it doesn't matter how cold it is, I'll still come here on my bike and catch up with people."
Painter and decorator Guy, 57, stops by to drop off a birthday card for tea hut employee Sharon and kindly offers to buy Londonist a drink as he picks up a sausage bap: "It's always here, I drop in whenever I'm in the area. Great stuff."
Set at the junction of the A2 and Goffers Road, the convenience of the hut attracts plenty of first-timers, including a lost driver who missed his turning and a family visiting from Hungary on their return from Ranger's House where Bridgerton is filmed.
The warm welcome and instant camaraderie keeps people coming back, such as tea hut veteran Chris, 60, who has been pulling up on the heath for 43 years: "I bought my first bike for £180, passed my test on my 17th birthday and this was the first place I came. I've met so many people over the years, it's just good to catch up with friends after work."
Another tea hut fixture is Leonie, 52, who's been visiting the tea hut for over a decade: "The appeal is, throughout the bike community we all know it. It's the conversation, the atmosphere, and the location of being on the heath."
Leonie was at the hut on the night of the crash and helped rescue Jackie Blackwell from the crushed building: "I was with a friend, when I suddenly heard an explosion and then I was looking up at the sky. My friend asked if I was OK, I said 'Yes. We've got to get Jackie out.'"
Such a reaction to the tragedy — as well as the determination to rebuild it so quickly — sums up the tea hut atmosphere; everyone looking out for each other and coming together. Tea, sympathy and burgers are once again on the menu. Make ours a double cheeseburger with pineapple.
All images by Gillian Fisher/Londonist