The popular Market Porter’s fame among real ale aficionados predates Borough Market’s current ascendancy as a specialist foodie haven but it’s still holding its own among the increasingly beer-aware pubs and bars of Southwark.
This traditionally styled pub, often draped in attractive hanging baskets in season, stands on a street corner site right opposite the market buildings, and retains its special early market licence. Indoors a vast collection of pump clips decorates the dark red and polished wood decor. The space around the horseshoe bar is optimised for vertical drinking, with a few old barrels around the walls, while a small and slightly brighter extension at the back offers tables and chairs. A small restaurant area occupies the first floor. There’s no outdoor seating but you can drink on the street outside.
The reason the main bar is so sparsely furnished becomes immediately obvious if you visit at peak time: the place is frequently packed to the gills with people spilling out onto the streets. The quietest time is perhaps mid-afternoon on a day the market is shut. It’s a really mixed crowd: local workers and residents, market stallholders and customers, those meeting up before a meal in one of the nearby eateries and a good proportion of dedicated real ale fans attracted by the dazzling range (see below). Those wanting to sit down and eat can escape to the contrasting peace and quiet upstairs.
Although not especially known for its food, and with plenty of local competition, the pub offers reasonable daytime pub grub. Pies, sandwiches, pasta, scampi and the like can be ordered at the bar with prices for main dishes around £7-£9, while upstairs some more elaborate options like mixed grill, pork belly, smoked salmon and steak and ale pie can be had for £8-£15 with table service.
Twelve cask ale handpumps line up on the bar: one of them dispenses Harvey’s Sussex Best, but for the rest the policy is to rotate through as wide a range of different beers as possible, with around 50 different brands on sale over the course of a week. The pub favours small and obscure breweries over the better known brands and they’re drawn from all over the UK, with a good proportion of special and seasonal beers. There’s a few craft kegs from BrewDog and Meantime, plus Belgian strawberry wheat beer Früli, and a few wines and other drinks too, though they’re a little beside the point.
There’s always something of interest and the rapid turnover ensures freshness, but there are disadvantages to the incessant pursuit of novelty – you’re left wondering quite what it is you tasted last and great beers you might want to resample rarely return. Staff are rarely relaxed enough to give advice and information, and making your choice usually involves attempting to peer over several sets of shoulders at the pump clips – a board displaying the current ale selection in a prominent place would be a quick win.
The Last Word
The pub doesn’t offer the most comfortable and relaxed of pub experiences in the area: for a more limited choice of real ales in less frenzied surroundings you’re often better off in the Southwark Tavern or the Wheatsheaf nearby. But the Porter remains unique, an essential call both for real ale hunters and those seeking out London’s most remarkable and characterful pubs.