London’s beer bar scene has not really kept pace with the breweries (85+ within the M25 on Beer Guide London’s latest count). Aside from a few standout pubs and bars (Mother Kelly’s, Stormbird, Earl of Essex, King’s Arms, Mason & Company) and the increasingly uninspiring chains (Craft, Draft House, Brewdog), you have to delve a little deeper to find smaller operations with a great selection. Many of these are superb bottle shop bar hybrids in the suburbs (We Brought Beer, The Beer Boutique, Hop, Burns & Black, Kill The Cat, Ghost Whale), but there’s one outfit standing tall right in the heart of Waterloo’s Southbank – The Hop Locker.
Beer geek Joel and his cheerful troupe (some of whom started out as customers) have 10 taps and 70+ bottles and cans to call upon from their flagship stall in the Southbank Centre Market behind the Royal Festival Hall. The shelf selection (to drink in or takeaway) is ever changing and wide ranging, and the taps rotate as thirsty punters drink their way through the kegs. From pilsners to bourbon barrel aged imperial stouts, there’s always something for everyone. Neighbouring street food stalls galore offer sustenance, but winter warmth is up to you – a beer jacket probably won’t be enough, and the Hop Locker’s fabled tent “zip-ins” are only allowed in extreme weather conditions.
The one negative is that The Hop Locker can only open when the market is running (from Friday to Sunday usually), but I’ve got good news! For the next month or so, they have expanded to a second space underneath Hungerford Bridge. This means another load of great beer of course, but more importantly, The Hop Locker #2 is open seven days a week. It’s in the same container as The Hop Locker #3 underneath Hungerford Bridge, and has Parm Star for company on the food front, plus board games, pub quizzes, and more. The Hop Locker #2 really is just for Christmas though, so make the most of it!
N.B. The photos above are from The Hop Locker #2 in 2016. The 2017 Winter version (The Hop Locker #4? #UnderTheBridge?) is open underneath Hungerford Bridge and looks more like The Hop Locker #3! Still with me?