With a recent long, late summer's weekend stretching out in front of us it seemed the perfect chance to completely the final piece of the beer puzzle on the Bermondsey Mile - as well as the chance to pop in to some old haunts alongside trying some trendy new cocktails in what has become one of my favourite corners of town.
Before the last IPA was imbibed at Brew by Numbers, we stopped at St John’s new Bakery Room (on the other side of the arches that churn out their famed bread and pastries) for some cop-like breakfast fortification in the form of coffee and their famed doughnuts.
Those prefering to start the day with the strong stuff can take advantage of the short French wine list, or enjoy seed cake and Maderia for elevenses. They also serve a selection of St John greatest hits - think pig's ears, tripe and cod's roe - for lunch.
Here we lunched very well, as always, on a selection of green olives, Los Pedroches Bellota jamon, padron peppers, manchego flavoured with rosemary and pan con tomate; all washed down with a half bottle of icy cold, slightly salty, Manzanilla sherry. If you can get a seat near the front, you’ll also be treated to a ham show as the fat-flecked pink slices are artfully carved to order.
Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red - an installation marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins - will see 888,246 ceramic poppies, the first laid on the centenary of the Great War and the last due to be planted on 11th November this year, that will progressively fill the Tower’s famous moat.
It's a pretty a pretty sobering sight, as well as a moving piece of art in its own right, and is well worth making time to go and see; you can even volunteer to help 'plant' the poppies. Every evening, the Last Post will be played at sunset and the public are asked to nominate a member of the Commonwealth forces who was killed in the First World War to have their name read out in the nightly ceremony. The ceramic poppies are also available to buy after the installation ends for £25, with proceeds going to a range of service charities in the UK.
Final stop was for cocktails at Bump Caves, the new bar in the basement of a favourite old haunt, the Draft House on Tower Bridge road. We couldn't go down stairs without enjoying at least one beer in the sunshine, alongside some of their famed foot-long pork scratchings - the 'deliciousest' around, and who am I to argue - and a must order whenever I visit.
Accessed by a door to the left of the Draft House, or down their stairs by the, shared, loos, Bump Caves is a Sixties inspired underground bar that, in the words of owner, Charlie McVeigh, is 'inspired by the late-Sixties psychedelic movement, Tom Wolfe’s The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, light shows, freedom, the destruction of phoney Fifties morality, ear-melting music and hallucinogenic drugs.'
It sounds, frankly, a tiny bit rubbish. Thankfully in real life Bump Caves is far more understated and laid-back than its raison d'être would suggest. While touches of neon give it a kinda groovy vibe there’s also plenty of modern tiling and shiny leather rather than tie dyes and sheepskin. Sadly there are no hallucinogenic drugs, but luckily – for those of a rapidly advancing age such as ourselves - there’s no ear-melting music either.
Max Chater, barman or “Chemist, Distiller and Rectifier” was there to greet us on our visit and remains sweetly enthusiastic despite the appearance of a bedraggled Stealth - who has arrived to join us for a quick G’n’T and remains a hard nut to crack at the best of times (these are not the best of times).
As the Ewing is on their mailing list, the first round of drinks, a house ‘bumped’ Gin and Tonic - with hop infused gin and house made tonic - is provided gratis in return for some emailed feedback later. It’s served in a flute, something which Stealth is immediately dubious about, but I rather like it. The flavours are mellow – there’s no rasp of juniper of throat tickle from the quinine, but it’s fragrant and the gentle carbonation means it slips down easily as a salve from the hot fuggy streets of the city above us.
Stealth downs hers pretty quickly and without (much) complaint, but after Max comes to talk to us about what we thought, she remains resolutely stubborn in her request for something ‘fizzy and with lime’; Heathen. Luckily he hits the jackpot with a large measure of the strong stuff, plenty of citrus fruit and a bottle of Fever tree. Job’s a good ‘un.
The whole thing is pretty fun though; the powder (citric acid) gives the drink a little welcome fizz, and while I may have given up battery licking years ago (since the good old days of my Tomy Lights Alive) there is something childishly addictive about the fizz you get from putting it on your tongue. Not a drink for everyone perhaps, but strangely addictive.
I'll be honest, the name of the Ewing's second drink has been lost to the excitement of the evening. I do know that it was served with a 'bump' of white chocolate, and both beverage and confectionery were dispatched before I could taste them. The surest sign of success.
Her night was rounded off with a Schiz-A-Colada, a mixture of white rum, pineapple and creme anglaise (custard for plebs like me), served with a coconut vapour filled e-cigarette. A pina colada gone mad, as the tile suggests, and good fun if you miss a crafty puff indoors.
My final drink was a beer and a 'bump' pairing of a To Øl Blossom wheat beer from Denmark - flavoured with three hops and six dried flowers -served with a bump of any icy cold distillate infused with a dill and some other magical (aka, I can't remember) things. A pleasingly Scandi combination and surprisingly both refreshing and fortifying.
While I think I still prefer the beers and pork products served above ground at the Draft House, Bump Caves is a great subterranean spot with charming service. Perfect for an interesting drink, or even a sniff, a lick or a dab outside the long arm of the law.
The evening ended with the perfect drunken train sandwich, a remarkably well preserved ham and tomato bocadillo from Bar Tozino, a salty, crunchy, juicy masterpiece and proving, after a evening of fancy new experiences, that often the simplest things are still the best.