This one’s a bit close to home – Hardys Free House on Trafalgar Road has been my regular drinking den for eight or nine years now. Until fairly recently, it was where you’d go to find me if you wanted to see me, and you’d have a pretty good chance of catching me in there. Despite its slightly forbidding exterior, it was quite simply one of the best pubs in London, serving up fantastic Guinness and good company.
Couples met there and friendships were formed behind those stained glass windows. It was run by the same couple for nearly a quarter of a century, and when I went to Ireland earlier this year, I made a special trip west to Sligo to catch up with their old bar manager, who also had a share in the pub.
But Hardys changed hands a few years ago and some of its sheen has gone as it’s been passed from manager to manager – that loss of continuity has taken its toll on the place, and the Guinness. For live music the Pelton Arms has become a better bet. But you’ll find me in Hardys at least once each week, since it’s where a great big bunch of my mates drink, and the chance of Thursday quiz night glory is often too great to pass up.
I found out about the owners’ plans to build a hotel on it about two years ago. Not by talking to the owners, but by noticing a drawing outside an architects’ practice in Greenwich Market. “What the…?” A fairly modest proposal was thrown out by Greenwich Council, and I assumed the plans had died. Relations between Hardys and its neighbours are strained – the next door block of flats had a slightly convoluted birth (they sit on the site of a long-closed cinema which became a frozen food store, which duly collapsed during redevelopment). The neighbours object to the pub noise; the pub objects to the neighbours’ windows, contending that they shouldn’t be overlooking its tiny beer garden in the first place.
But the hotel plans are back – if you’re lucky enough to get a copy of the Mercury delivered to you, you’ll have read about the plans for to plonk eight storeys of hotel on top of the two-storey pub. According to the planning application, Greenwich Council actually encouraged them to come up with this lump.
Owners London Taverns Ltd claim they were advised of an “urgent need for [a] high quality hotel… high ‘iconic’ landmark building encouraged, no need to keep to scale of surrounding buildings”. Which I imagine will come as a shock to most locals – in all the conversations I’ve had in Hardys, nobody’s ever said that Trafalgar Road needs a 10-storey high lump which looks vaguely like a Nintendo Wii. Once again, it’s an example of the council seemingly operating in a different universe to most other people.
Increased beer taxes and the smoking ban mean pubs have to work harder to get a crowd in now – I don’t think I’m going to be barred for saying that Hardys’ attempts at broadening its base of punters have stuttered a bit. But I fear for the future of the pub if this is what’s up their sleeve. One tale I’ve heard is that Sunderland and Republic of Ireland midfielder Andy Reid wanted to buy the pub after adopting it as his local when he played for Charlton Athletic – at the time, he was involved in a music bar in Nottingham. I can’t help wishing he’d offered just that little bit more money now…
So far 17 people have objected to the planning application, and Peninsula councillor Mary Mills wants to know what people think of the scheme.