The Victoria is a hidden gem in a Bermondsey backstreet, but will be familiar to many having made numerous TV appearances, we take a trip down memory lane with it’s owners of nearly 40 years.
Pat and Mike McKenna were brothers who got things done, which could be because of their Coldstream Guard father, Jack, or their Bermondsey upbringing in the Guinness Buildings in Snowsfields, and a Catholic schooling that began at Our Lady of La Salette in Melior Street and ended with them running The Victoria in Pages Walk.
Mike was born in an army hospital in Germany while dad was based in the Rhine, and Pat in Shepherds Bush, but their lives have been firmly set in SE1.
After primary school, the boys and their little sister Siobhan all moved on to good schools: “Pat went onto St Michael’s, I went to Clapham College and Siobhan to Notre Dame,” remembers Mike.
It was after school that Mike had his first taste of pub life when he would ‘bottle-up’ for his aunt and uncle, Alice and Fred Bamber, who had The Woolpack on Bermondsey Street. “I did that from the mid-60s to the early 80s,” he says.
On leaving education, Pat began working in the City and Mike was a clerk at a publishing company before moving to an advertising agency.
Not happy with being a mere clerk pushing the post trolley around, Mike put a folio together and became a copywriter. From this, he went on to work at other advertising agencies, eventually getting on the board of the prestigious Saatchi & Saatchi.
In between times, Mike’s mum, Anne, asked if he could help run The Victoria while the present owners looked for a pub further out of London.
“When they sold The Vic to John and Gilly Routledge,” begins Mike, “I came with the furniture and worked with them as they’d never run a bar in their lives!”
‘We applied for the pub without telling anyone’
By 1984, the Routledges also had Gilly’s in Wilds Rents and found having two pubs too much so put The Vic on the market. Mike takes up the story again: “We applied for the pub (without telling anyone) and – to my utter astonishment – Truman’s agreed. But once we had it, I dragged Pat out of the City to run it!”
And now, as the legendary pub comes up to its 40th anniversary in the hands of Pat and Trish, you can see that very little has changed in its appearance outside.
“That’s why it has been used in so many TV dramas and adverts,” Mike explains before listing some of its TV highlights: “It was in the recent series of The Gold, ‘burnt down’ in the second version of Minder, and seen in London’s Burning, Ashes to Ashes, Waking the Dead, Life on Mars and numerous music videos.”
Mike was now on a name-dropping roll: “We’ve served Gordon Jackson, The Chemical Brothers, Liam Gallagher, Craig Charles, Brian Glover, Jim Carter, John Cooper Clarke and Keeley Hawes.”
“That’s an impressive list,” I said.
“We also hosted a Gavin Turk art piece and have been the location for many independent films,” he added without a hint of a boast because Pat and Mike are all about the people who have been with them all the way rather than film shoots and celebrities: “We’ve been very lucky in that people still use the pub who were here on our opening night.”
‘We’ve been very lucky in that people still use the pub who were here on our opening night’
But there have been some changes. “Many of the locals we’d grown up with moved away in the 90s and in their place came a more mixed group, a lot of younger people especially, as Bermondsey became gentrified.
“They discovered us and our old chums, and we’ve all got on swimmingly ever since.”
Pat says, “We’ve done well here because we create an environment where people can forget about work and all the day-to-day pressures, and just have a few drinks… Plus, I stock over 90 different gins!”
Over the decades, that friendly atmosphere has been exported on beanos to “Ascot, Epsom, Lingfield, Margate, as well as trips to Calais, Tenerife and Cyprus.
Plus, innumerable charabancs up and down the country following Millwall”.
Fundraising is also a regular feature of The Vic, and something they are very proud of. In 2022, a reunion was organised where over £1,200 was collected for Breast Cancer Now. It was deemed so successful that another is scheduled for summer 2023.
“But after so many years,” Mike reveals, “I’ve hung up my drying cloth and Pat and Trish run the pub now,” which doesn’t stop him from being found on the other side of the bar drinking with friends these days.
“The customers, both new and old, wouldn’t have it any other way.
- This article is brought to you by our sister publication The Bermondsey Biscuit & Rotherhithe Docker click to see digital editions