George cheers travellers while they wait for the tram

ANDREW LENG’s Croydon pub crawl takes a pause, as indeed does he, while waiting for a tram in George Street

It’s Wednesday afternoon, I’ve just finished work and before I hop on the tram home, I nip in to The George for a quick pint. Business is brisk, even midweek. Inside, the pub is decorated with different national flags to indicate that Wetherpoons, who run the George Street pub, is part way through their “International Beer Festival”.

The George, CroydonThe JD Wetherspoon chain, or “posh pub company” according to its literature, opened its first pub in 1979. The chain now has more than 800 pubs, seemingly with one on every high street in the country, employing around 23,000, and as well as owning the Lloyds No 1 bars, the company has also successfully branched out into the hotel business.

Until recently, there were three Wetherspoons in Croydon: The George, The Skylark in South Croydon and the Ship of Fools opposite West Croydon station. The Ship bit the dust in 2013 and was turned into a small Sainsbury’s.

In a previous life, The George was a furniture store. It opened as a large pub in 1993 and has two bars, positioned at the front and back of the pub. Several years ago it was the place where a small number of colleagues and I used to spend our Friday lunchtimes. Happy days, but you wouldn’t get away with that now. My colleagues have all moved on but, being Croydon-based, I visit the pub every now and again, usually when the trams in George Street are up the spout.

Wetherspoons are a reliable old friend to the real ale drinker. As an exiled Rotherham United supporter, I try to get to as many games in London and the south-east as I can. When you follow your team to small provincial towns like Stevenage, there is often a dearth of decent places to drink in the local area, so a Wetherspoons is a handy and reliable default option.

And The George is the best Wetherspoons that I have had the pleasure of visiting. According to CAMRA, the Campaign for Real Ale, it is one of the company’s most successful pubs. It has seen off the challenge across the road from the erstwhile Brief rival pub, and it has always had a good and varied range of real ales. Wetherspoons’ pricing policy is helpful: Green King IPA was £1.99 a pint the other day.

The George has improved immeasurably over the last 18 months. It has a policy of sourcing beers from local breweries and, of the five hand-pulled beers available from the back bar, you will usually find at least three varieties from Sussex’s Dark Star Brewery. Dark Star’s American Pale Ale is very popular with the regulars. On my recent visit I tried a pint of Portobello WPA, from another south-east-based brewery, and it was an excellent, thirst-quenching beer and one of the best pints I’ve drunk for a while.

The George is a good place to wait when there's a delay on the the trams

The George is a good place to wait when there’s a delay on the the trams

There were 11 real ales available from the front bar and all were priced at £2.49, with the exception of the IPA. Although the bar was busy the service was swift and polite and I was served very quickly. From this bar I tried the Lancaster Brewery’s Raspberry Rose, being quite partial to fruit based beers. This was another excellent pint and it seemed churlish not to have another before I left.

As well as being an excellent place to drink real ale, lager and cider drinkers are also well looked after. The George has a good selection of bottled beers and lagers, as well as a couple of foreign lagers on tap along with the usual suspects, such as Kronenbourg and Carlsberg, all reasonably priced. Beer festivals also feature regularly.

The pub is family-friendly, admitting children up to 6pm. Indeed, there were a few families enjoying the food when I was there. Food theme nights are a weekly event and I recommend Thursday, when you can buy a very nice curry for £5.99. The price also includes a drink from a set list. The pub has an extensive food menu, in common with most Wetherspoons, and most main dishes come in at under £8.

The George is in the running for the Croydon and Sutton CAMRA Pub of the Year, having previously won the title in 2011. It has regularly featured in the Good Beer Guide and with the beer quality as good as this, at prices that can’t be beaten in Croydon, another CAMRA title is surely not that far away.

Previous pub reviews by Andrew Leng:

Coming to Croydon

Inside Croydon: Croydon’s only independent news source, based in the heart of the borough: 72,342 average monthly page views (Jan-Mar 2014)

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