★★☆☆☆

Two Stars

Arriving at Merton’s lodge, we were halted by a locked door and a porter who insisted that we needed to be meeting someone in college to get through. We started sheepishly listing off the few Mertonians we knew, only to be told that they had to come and pick us up from the lodge. We sat in the corner and texted them all, but about five minutes into waiting for a response the porter decided we probably weren’t bluffing and let us in anyway. This shocked our Merton friends, who told us we got the nice porter. Despite his directions we ended up lost in a garden that, while very tranquil, did not have any ales on tap.

After doubling back we discovered this was entirely our fault; the bar is right by the lodge and clearly indicated. As we were wandering, my phone buzzed with the belated arrival of my Merton friends’ responses and I realised that I hadn’t had signal in the lodge. When I entered the bar, having found my friends, I immediately lost it again.

Despite being underground and devoid of windows, and the dated wood panelling, the bar was somehow not pubby. The smallroom was depressingly well-lit and cheerily coloured, which confused my body clock’s sense of time immensely, and the lack of signal prevented Facebook notifications functioning as reminders of the outside world. Similar to the Gladstone link, one can spend hours in there only to emerge surprised by the dusk. On your left when entering, you find a dozen or so annual “wacky” JCR photos, reminiscent of the back page of a high school yearbook. I told the Mertonians that I was shocked at how small the JCR was, and they explained that the photo just always had poor turnout. I was less shocked. They identified the star feature of the bar as the free jukebox, but we were unable to take advantage of it due to the crowd of six people watching Eurovision on the one small corner TV. They insisted that the bar is normally buzzing, but as it failed to break double digits (excluding our group) on the biggest televisual night of the year, I remain sceptical.

When we approached the bar, we met a Merton icon: Dave, bartender of 29 years. From speaking to students, I got a mixed review of his patter. Some said he was hilarious and friendly, others identified him as the king of grumpy curmudgeonly banter. I was told he was once witness to a near-assassination attempt on Bill Clinton in Christ Church Meadows. I was sceptical. My conversation with him mostly surrounded the modest drink choice, which had recently upgraded to boast more than one type of fruit cider. I tried one of these on his recommendation, but I’m pretty sure he was just trying to clear stock. Later, I found myself more impressed by the fact that all spirits are equally priced, and deeply enjoyed the bargain sloe gin.

The bar’s cheap, but easily beaten by any of the high street pubs.