Pop down the road to visit another world called Little Nan’s
Take a seat and make yourself at home.
The first time I went to Little Nan’s I was meeting a friend and after a quick peek inside, decided to wait for them outside. As I waited (by the bunch of balloons tied to a handy chair with a menu also provided) I watched as a woman passed by, paused, turned around and walked past again.
‘Are you sure?’ she asks into her phone. ‘Are you sure it’s here?’
‘Are you looking for Little Nan’s? Yeah, it’s here!’ I chirp up — reassuringly I hope — and she breathes a slight sigh of relief before cautiously going inside, and down the corridor leading to the bar at the end, and I assume finds her friend at the end. I suppose it’s too easy a cliché to mention Alice in Wonderland, or the wardrobe leading to Narnia, but heck, I’ve just done both; it’s just too accurate a description to ignore.
This element of Little Nan’s being a secret, hidden, and possibly magical place has been present every time I’ve visited the bar, and is perhaps no surprise given its history, as the owner Tristan explains. ‘It used to be the unused storeroom for the Bunker Club since the early 90s, but the room was originally built as a family’s private Victorian rum distillery (they can’t have made much!), which then became a secret members club during the 1920s. We even found an old newspaper when renovating!’ Some people use the term “speakeasy” to describe the bar, which seems to nod to its past, but Tristan confesses that he prefers “cocktail boozer” as a more down-to-earth description.
What awaits for the intrepid explorer on entering down the corridor of Little Nan’s is something akin to entering a genie’s lamp, if the genie also happened to be a grandmother with an eye for vintage decor. So how did this theme come about, I ask. ‘I’m fortunate enough to be very good mates with local designer and pro-draper Matt Sargent who helped with the design and decorating. He turned my daydreams into my wonderland! I wanted to create a room that looked like my nan’s living room, but was functional as a fun bar too. My nan never had beaten up furniture or paint peeling from the walls in her little bungalow, so you won’t get that sort of behaviour round Little Nan’s Bar! Most of the furniture is from my nan’s house and mates have donated other pieces that they have inherited from their grandparents’.
Since graduating with an MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths in 2006, Tristan became a live music promoter in various south London venues, co-managing two of them for over four years, whilst involving himself in local festivals and the emerging New Cross & Deptford music scene. ‘In 2008 I found myself co-launching a fashion and arts boutique in New Cross which was a fun venture till its closure in 2010. During this time, I also worked brief stints as an events and branding consultant for various venues and a record label in south London. I then ran the Cavendish Arms — a comedy, burlesque & events venue in Stockwell — for three years till July 2013. I learned so much at the Cavendish Arms and I was sad to leave, but I’ve been raving in the Bunker Club for over 12 years, and running nights there for six, so it feels great to be back working in Deptford!’
So how did it come about? ‘Me and my mates were fed up with going to the same two pubs in the area and wanted a different bar where everyone was friendly and the bar staff weren’t “too cool for school”. I waited for years for someone to open something new, and then decided to do it myself! I wanted to create a bar where everyone feels at home. I didn’t want a fridge full of beers that only the elite know, or a cocktail menu with names of spirits you are too embarrassed to ask what they are. I think opening any business is a risk, but if you believe in your craft, and are willing to put every hour you have into it, then it can certainly pay off in the end! I have the added bonus of my little nan looking down on me! Love you Nan!’
If visitors come for the spectacle, they stay for the cosy mix of soft furnishings and alcohol, and the cocktail menu (enclosed in vintage recipe books) is a real crowd pleaser. ‘Everyone’s a lord or lady at Little Nan’s! If it’s your birthday then we name a special bespoke cocktail after you. Most of our cocktails are named after members of the Royal Family, TV legends and celebs my nan adored. Someone the other day asked me if Anneka Rice was a lady like it says in the menu. I told her that she was a lady in my nan’s eyes, so yes she is!’ Tristan giggles with affection.
Is there a personal favourite? ‘I have a few, but most recently the Sexy Scottish Santa has been so popular with our guests that I have had to put it on the permanent menu! It includes Big Peat whiskey, fig jam, fig syrup, fresh lemon juice and zest, garnished with a big sprig of fresh rosemary. My new fave is one we have just launched on the new specials menu called Duke of Deptford. It has chilled gold tequila, watermelon liquor, agave syrup, Manderine Napoléon and fresh lime juice. It’s like an instant energy boost I tell you!’
It’s not all about the cocktails though. ‘It was also really important for me to have draft lager, to make it a place where a group of mates can come to and there will be something that each of them likes. A bar ain’t a bar without a pint right?’
So, if the interior of the bar is anything to go by, I assume Tristan (like me) must be a lover of vintage furniture. I ask him if he ever goes to the flea market in Deptford, and worry I cause some offence as his response comes before I finish the question. ‘Do I go to the market?! I’m there when it opens! I have so much stuff from the market that I have to ban myself from going. Most of it goes in my flat though as I want people to actually fit into Little Nan’s. I think I am more into “extreme kitsch” than kitsch, and I hate minimal. Minimal is just so depressing! Alan at Abstracticus a few doors down from Little Nan’s is my main point of call. I’ve been shopping at his for years. I bought the large frames which frame the bar at Little Nan’s from him over eight years ago as I thought I would need them some day… That day came! From living and working in the area I know the sense of community around here is so tight, and I feel honoured to be part of it.’