My loudest experience in any pub was at the Half Moon, premier boozer of Herne Hill, south London. It was the final performance by Boy on the Roof, a school band in which my godson Max played the drums. Following in the footsteps of U2, Jeff Beck, Dr Feelgood and hundreds of less celebrated outfits, they brought the house down. Unable to hear properly for a week afterwards, I reflected that school bands have got a bit noisier since my day (1966). Max concluded proceedings by bodysurfing through the ecstatic audience.
Soon after came the great Herne Hill Flood of 2013 (a burst water main) and the Half Moon closed its doors. Purchased by Fuller’s brewery and glossily refurbished, the Half Moon recently reopened. Due to its Grade II listing, the exterior is unchanged, an exuberant agglomeration of balconies, pinnacles, gables, bay windows and marble pillars succinctly described by Pevsner as ‘cheerful’. The stained glass sign for ‘Wines & Spirits’ may have lured Dylan Thomas, an ardent patron of the Half Moon.
Inside, the pub’s former grunge has been replaced by polished floorboards and potted palms in the two massive bars. An antique glass screen bearing an advert for Ringer’s A1 Shag is an unpersuasive addition. The pitch-black performance space at the back has become a large, glass-walled dining room with open kitchen.
On a sunny Friday afternoon, the clientele consisted of yummy mummies from Brockwell Park, lycra-clad cyclists from the velodrome, hip young commuters with backpacks and a few bemused ancients gingerly exploring their transmogrified local. From four pints on tap, I plumped for Fuller’s Southern Star Australia Hopped Ale, appropriately refreshing at 4 per cent. Dining on the patio with two friends, we were able to sample the entire offering of the severely truncated outdoor menu: hamburger (fine), fish and chips (average), spice roasted cauliflower with chickpeas (oddly deficient in cauliflower).
The only sign of the pub’s great pop heritage is a slightly random display of LP sleeves including U2, who played three early gigs there, and Bob Dylan, who as far as I know, never played the Half Moon. ‘No, we don’t have music any more,’ events manager Charin told me. ‘We’ve got to think of nearby neighbours. But most people like it. We’ve been overwhelmed by the response from the community.’ There is, however, at least one exception. Dismayed at the embourgeoisement of his erstwhile watering hole, my godson refuses to enter. Christopher Hirst
The Half Moon, 10 Half Moon Lane, Herne Hill, London SE24, bars, dining room and 12 bedrooms, halfmoonhernehill.co.uk