This pub sits opposite the former site of the world-famous Ring boxing arena, but people now go to the present-day Ring pub for less frenzied enjoyment. They are attracted by a goodly range of ales and lagers, decent pub food and a convivial atmosphere.
The Ring is testimony to vibrant periods in the social and sporting history of London and of Southwark in particular. It is close to the site of Southwark Fair boxing meadow at which James Figg, the Father of Boxing, famously and frequently appeared in the early 18th century. It is, more significantly, opposite where the once world-famous Ring boxing arena was. Several times a week between 1910 and 1942 hundreds of spectators crowded there as boxing ranked only behind football in public appeal. It nurtured, moreover, the careers of many south Londoners who achieved pugilistic glory. Among these are three World Champions – Sid Smith, Bill Ladbury, and Matt Wells. The boxing arena was flattened by the Luftwaffe but so strongly was it cherished locally that the pub was named as a reminder of its cherished role. A print of the arena building in its heyday hangs inside the pub.
Externally, the building occupies a terrace junction between Blackfriars Road and the Cut and has a pleasantly unpretentious, three-level brown brick frontage. Attractive features are a grey-painted lower level, rows of square-shaped sash windows, awnings and a collection of picnic tables at the front. Internally, it’s one large room with decorative and engraved wooden features and grey-painted walls and ceilings – but not in fifty shocking shades! Noticeable is the amount of upholstery in the wall settles, chairs and stools, which accompany mid-brown wooden tables.
Appropriately, the walls of the Ring are festooned with monochrome prints and photographs of boxers and boxing, mainly relating to the former Ring. There’s also a prominent photograph of south Londoner Sir Henry Cooper, the British Heavyweight Champion who once famously floored Muhammad Ali. Pairs of boxing gloves hang from decorative antlers.
The customers are particularly drawn from the innumerable surrounding offices, which have burgeoned since the opening in 1999 of the close-by Southwark Jubilee line station. Consequently, lunchtimes and early evenings are especially popular. Another source of custom is guests at the cluster of the area’s hotels. Often these are from overseas, as the Ring’s interesting social history intrigues them.
This is predominantly a drinker’s venue but there’s a decent pub food menu prepared by a full-time chef with a sous-chef assistant, and fresh ingredients are always used. Starters include homemade Scotch egg, spicy chorizo bites and mini sausages with a tangy and enjoyable honey mustard glaze. Vegetarian options are hummus with flatbread, nachos and – for a touch of the Korean exotic – fritto misto of calamari and whitebait with kimchee mayo. Diners appreciate how Seoul has come to Southwark. All of these dishes are also available as bar snacks.
Mains feature burgers and these are a house speciality. Supplemented with a cheese or bacon addition they make a substantial dish and the chips are crisp and even. Steak and ale pie is equally good and has a suitable beery flavour. Other mains include chicken escalope and beer battered fish and chips. Care is taken to provide different accompaniments to the mains - the burgers have a salad, the pie has mash and peas and the escalope has Jersey Royal potatoes and salad. The dessert is simple but popular – pancake with vanilla ice cream, fresh fruit and maple syrup. A Sunday roast offering of beef or chicken is much-patronised.
Ales and lagers are the dominant choice and there are always four Real Ales on handpull. Among those favoured are Brakspear Oxford Gold, Ringwood Best Bitter, Hobgoblin and the recently and happily resurrected Worthington Red Shield from Burton. Heavy demand given the current Real Ale renaissance means that the ales can always be kept fresh and in good condition. Draught lagers are plentiful and include Amstel, Blue Moon, Foster’s, Grolsch, Heineken, Kronenbourg 1664 and Pilsner Urquell, and this choice is an indication of the serious quaffing that takes place. The wine list is small but appropriate. Whites include a Chenin Blanc from the Cape and an interesting Semillon/Chardonnay blend from Australia. House red is a worthwhile Italian Sangiovese and there’s a distinctive Carmenere from Chile. There’s the usual range of spirits and liqueurs, but beer is firmly first and foremost. Keen pricing keeps this so – ales are usually £3.60 a pint and lagers £3.70 a pint, which is good for a business-heavy area.
The Last Word
The Ring deserves a visit in order to explore the boxing experience that was so central to the life of Southwark and London. It also provides excellent ales, many different lagers and honest pub food. Southwark Station is only yards away – pop along!