What’s it named after? Pommelers worked in the leather trade; pommeling, also known as boarding, is one of the stages of preparing and finishing leather. Bermondsey was well-known for its tanners, but the last firm – Barrow, Hepburn & Gale, which makes ministerial boxes – moved out in 1985. If you fancy a little Wetherspoons crawl, there’s a sister pub near the north side of Tower Bridge, The Liberty Bounds.
What’s the carpet like?
The Pommeler’s Rest is our most central pub. It’s on the corner of the approach to Tower Bridge, while London Bridge station and the Shard are a 10-minute walk away. City Hall’s just across the road; we’re not sure whether teetotal mayor Sadiq Khan has ever popped in for a lemonade, although we know that staffers there tend to prefer the pricier outlets on Tooley Street.
But at half-past ten on the last Friday of the month, The Pommeler’s Rest doesn’t feel very central. Perhaps the after-work crowd has drifted off (or have gone to places like The Draft House, the very decent craft beer bar up the road). It’s mainly locals in here, with a couple of groups of thrifty tourists – this is the closest pub to the budget hotels further down Tower Bridge Road.
This pub opened in August 1998 and was formerly the Tower Bridge Hotel. The pub’s origins may well explain its odd layout – it’s effectively two rooms divided by a big walled-off staircase, with a bar area connecting the two. It actually feels like two separate pubs, almost a throwback to the days when pubs had saloon and lounge bars. There’s bouncers on both doors, and even a velvet rope by one of them.
The side closer to Tower Bridge doesn’t feel like anywhere you’d want to linger, with blue walls and a slightly dingy feel. It’s dominated by a group of women laughing loudly – we thought they might be a hen party, but they look more like a family group, well oiled and having a whale of a time (“you taking the fuckin’ piss? Hahahahaha!”)
By the bar, there’s a group of Bermondsey geezers sat in a little corner next to a board marked “Made in Bermondsey”, alerting us to locally-made Southwark Brewery beers and Jensen gin, merrily swapping gags and stories. Later on, they start singing.
Next to them is a board advertising craft beers, but with little paper descriptions of each bottle on sale. We would investigate, but there’s a couple snogging hungrily in front of it. Best leave them be, and check out the price list of “craft beer’s and cider’s” on the other side of the pub instead. The dodgy punctuation is repeated on the front of the pub, which declares it to be THE POMMELERS REST. Grammar pedants, don’t come here with a red pen, you’ll be too tempted.
The staff look tired – come on, it’s Friday, and payday too, you’d be dead on your feet doing their job – but still give us a cheery welcome. The ales on offer aren’t up to much, so we go for the Hop Stuff Unfiltered Pils, which must be Wetherspoons’ priciest-ever pint at £4.49. It’s lovely, if served with a huge head (we’re only charged £4.29 for it, so we aren’t complaining).
Craft beer ads aside, it feels like we’ve been propelled back 20 years, to an inner London that normal people could afford to live in. We almost feel young again. But there’s no cosy alcoves here to get up to any funny business in – and seeing a bouncer wander through, hands behind his back, feels a little disconcerting, even if it puts off bag thieves. So we move to the other side of the pub.
This side feels remarkably sumptuous for an inner-London Spoons – deep red walls, photos of the docks, even gilt-edged mirrors. And three tellies, all showing BBC News. There’s some of that awful modern art that Wetherspoons seem to go in for, too.
It’s mainly younger groups in here – Kelly’s 10-strong 21st birthday pub crawl comes in (belated happy birthday, Kelly), while two men are listening to music through headphones in the other corner. One of them starts singing a song.
The Pommeler’s Rest is our last stop of the night, after a few drinks elsewhere. We can hear a man behind us. “Goodnight, ladies and gentlemen.” An older chap with a stick turns and salutes a younger group. They bid him a good night in return, and he ambles off. It’s time for us to go, too.
One of the themes we’re noticing on our pub tour is how Wetherspoons often represent continuity in a London that’s changing almost by the week. We can’t think of anywhere that represents this better than The Pommeler’s Rest, sat on land that’s now probably worth an eye-popping sum of money.
If you know someone who’s visiting and staying nearby, suggest they drop in for a slice of real London life. And you should pop in too. Because the way things are going, it might not be around the next time they come.
Address: 196-198 Tower Bridge Road, SE1 2UN
Tube/train: London Bridge (Zone 1 – Jubilee, Northern; Southeastern, Southern, Thameslink); also Tower Hill (District, Circle) and Tower Gateway (DLR)
Buses: 42, 47, 78, 188, 343, RV1; also 15, 100 to north side of Tower Bridge
Social media: The Pommeler’s Rest is on Twitter and Facebook