What’s it named after? The Furze Wren is another name for the Dartford warbler, first described by naturalist Thomas Pennant in 1773 after two specimens were shot on Bexley Heath. It’s more typically found in warmer parts of Europe or north west Africa.
What’s the carpet like?
We approached the Furze Wren with a little trepidation. A decade ago, this place was legendary – for all the wrong reasons.
On Christmas Eve 2006, police tried to remove a customer and came under a hail of glasses and bottles. Reinforcements were called from across south-east London, with police dogs coming from Croydon.
The same month saw three other violent incidents, while during the whole of 2006, the Lloyds bar accounted for more than half of incidents in pubs in Bexley borough.
That Christmas Eve was curtains for Lloyds. One senior police officer called it a “riot”. The council demanded a clampdown. Shocked Wetherspoons bosses ordered a swift revamp, threw out the displays of shot glasses and renamed it the Furze Wren.
Ten years on, we’re in on a Monday night. And it’s busy. It feels quite blokey – older men dominate the centre of the pub, with couples dotted around the outside and the lone male drinkers in between.
Right at the far end, there’s something we’ve never seen in a pub before – a baby shower. The TV had even been switched to CBeebies. (Congratulations, Monika.) And look, EastEnders is on the other tellies. With subtitles.
We never visited back in the Lloyds days, but you can make out where the dancefloor surely must have been – it’s now covered in those little square tables aimed at diners. There’s even a raised bit with red lampshades that look straight out of a 90s bar (Po Na Na, anyone?). And those snugs look like they were installed in a hurry.
It’s dark in the Furze Wren – a long line of fruit machines breaks the gloom, but makes the pub feel like a particularly grim amusement arcade. It just feels tired in here, and in need of a proper revamp.
But you can see why the men who post on pub review sites love this place – there are loads of ales, and home-made ads for the London Beer Festival. (The Enefeld Pacific Pale Ale is fantastic.) The keg lines are being cleaned tonight, so there are fewer lagers on.
Unlike The Wrong ‘Un – where everybody seemed to know each other – this feels like an anonymous town centre bar. There’s nothing welcoming you to the pub, and we spy the manager in the kitchen slurping on a McDonald’s Coke. Every few minutes, one of the younger staff members pushes a trolley full of glasses and cutlery the length of the bar, clattering as she goes.
The crowd thins out at around 9pm, and – what’s that whiff? – we’re joined by men with overpowering aftershave, discussing their work woes. Then there’s an unshaven guy in his tracksuit bottoms, pacing up and down with a pint of San Miguel. He doesn’t stay long. Someone else walks out of the emergency doors to smoke a fag. You can see why the snugs are well-used.
The gents’ toilet still looks like a nightclub loo, while there’s graffiti in the ladies’ with two cubicles out of order. The weirdest feature is a board boasting of positive TripAdvisor reviews – our favourite is one claiming that the breakfasts are cheaper and better than McDonald’s.
By 9.30pm, the recent arrivals have all gone on elsewhere, but the hardcore of older men by the front door remains. A younger couple come in, and are joined by a man on his own watching the world go by. Half-an-hour later, the old dancefloor part of the pub is roped off – the night is turning up its toes already.
We’ve two more pubs on our crawl to go, and all our visits can only be snapshots of what a single pub is like on any given night. This is probably very different on a Saturday night, while we passed here once on a Wednesday afternoon and found it full of old ladies lunching. Depending on the day and time, many Spoons take on different guises.
But the gloomy Furze Wren still feels like it has a cloud hanging over it. It’s probably a perfectly pleasant place to while away a weekday afternoon with a pint, in a town centre that’s proved remarkably resilient over the years.
But ten years after the pub nearly closed, it badly needs a revamp. Then maybe the memories of Christmas past can finally fade away, and the Furze Wren can sing again.
Address: 6 Market Place DA6 7DY
Buses: 89, 96, 99, 132, 229, 269, 401, 422, 486, 492, B11, B12, B13, B14, B15, B16
Trains: Bexleyheath or Barnehurst (Zone 5 – Southeastern, both quite a distance away)
Social media: The Furze Wren is on Twitter.