Orpington is one of those suburbs that nearly every Londoner has heard of but none of them have visited, and with good reason. The high street is mainly made up of coffee shops, cafes and charity shops and while it is somewhat nice to see so many independent businesses as a whole the shopping experience is lacklustre. It doesn't have any big anchor stores such as Marks & Spencer or even a Primark which makes it a bit useless for shopping, especially when there are better shopping options nearby such as nearby Bromley. The only reason anybody local may want to visit Orpington, or "Orps" as it is known by absolutely nobody, is that it has a gigantic Tesco, a sprawling shrine to commerce spread over two floors and selling just about everything you can imagine. Perhaps it's the cause of the death of Orpington's high street.
Orps is also lacking entertainment wise, with precious few pubs and no cinema or theatre. There used to be an Odeon but it closed - maybe the local chav population destroyed the place. Pub wise there isn't anywhere particulary good. Most are filled with "undesirables" - although I am a wuss so anybody wearing tracksuit bottoms and looking slightly shifty is considered undesirable to me. Even the pokey Wetherspoons, usually a good bet in scruffy shopping towns like this is a bit too shabby to spend much time in.
Luckily there is one place in Oprington for the real ale drinker, but you have to be a member to enjoy it. In an unassuming house across the road from the Tescos is the Orpington Liberal Club. I'd been meaning to visit this place for ages as I'd heard good things, and it has received plenty of positive recognition from CAMRA. Last week they had a beer festival on which non members could attend, so I took the opportunity to stop by for a visit.
The cosy little club has a comfortable lounge room and small bar, featuring six handpumps. For the beer festival an adjacent room was set up with around 30 casks - mainly local beers but also some from further afield, including Marble Beers from Manchester. I tried a fair few, and highlights included Clarence and Fredericks Single Hop Amarillo, a crisp and deceptively easy drinking pale ale from one of my favourite new breweries. Who knew something good could come from Croydon? The Tonbridge Union Pale Ale was another favourite, a rich, malty and slightly fruity treat. Outside there was a barbecue, although what appeared to be a logistics mess up meant there was no food served until 1:30pm. I was absolutely ravenous and a wee bit tipsy by that point so I purchased a burger as soon as they were off the grill, and munched it down while listening to folk and blues music played by an enthusiastic and very good local troupe.
All in attendance were invited to vote for their beer of the festival, and the eventual winner was Toujours from Gyle 59. I had a taste and I could see why it won - it was an accessible, easy drinking saison, a lovely introduction to the style. Overall I had a great time at this friendly little club - there was a lovely community spirit to the whole thing and the beer, food, music and atmosphere all came together very nicely indeed. I had a brief chat with the owner who clearly cares about the beer and his club. Well worth a visit if you do somehow end up in Orpington - perhaps you really like visiting gigantic branches of Tesco.