Mr Lawrence’s: a quietly inspiring wine merchant in southeast London

Sitting down, I ask Mr Lawrence to describe what Brockley was like when he first opened his wine shop and bar. He knows what I’m getting at. Leaning in, he smiles and quietly states “we have very little trouble here”. Looking up at him, it’s not hard to see why – you wouldn’t want to challenge him to an arm wrestle. Nonetheless, you still need to be buzzed in through the inner metal gate to access the old wooden shelves inside the shop.

There are very few wine bars in this part of London. If you’re after a drink, you’re much more likely to come across a traditional boozer. “They were queuing up to tell me I was mad… that I would last about three weeks.” That was in 1992.

Born up the road in Dulwich, Graham Lawrence is the son of a greengrocer. But he always wanted to own a bar. “I tried to open one in 1979, but I couldn’t get a licence”. It was easier to get a restaurant licence back then, so he opened Flashman’s, a licensed hamburger joint in the meantime. Getting a licence for a bar was measured on local need. If it was deemed that there were sufficient places to drink already, the council wouldn’t issue any more.

Although the licensing laws of the time delayed his plans, Lawrence considers the old system more dependable than today’s. He sees one function of a licensee as being “the responsible person in the room”, and his sense of duty towards his customers is still very much in evidence. They come from “all walks of life, all ages, all professions” to enjoy the wines and the communal atmosphere. “No rules; just respect”.

That the bar continues to be proprietor-run is one of its most valuable benefits, says Lawrence. Bars where the owner knows his or her customers offer familiarity and local knowledge. His sister, Linda, helps runs the shop next door, which they opened in 2000. They manage the business between the two of them. The shop and bar are open every day of the week. Unsurprisingly, they have little time for promotional activity. They don’t advertise. They don’t have e-commerce. They don’t do wine dinners or formal tastings. They don’t even have a wine list. They just rely on word of mouth.

Another reason that Mr Lawrence’s doesn’t offer discounts is down to what he describes as respect to his customers. Prices are calculated using a simple formula, so bottles are priced to the nearest penny. They aim to offer a fair price, all year round. When a shop offers a 50% discount on a wine, he says he wouldn’t trust them: “if they can give you 50% off on this wine, how much are they making on the others?” This kind of price promotion is just one reason why he believes selling wine is something more suited to independent businesses rather than supermarkets. He is freer to concentrate on quality and service above the constant push for increased profits. And whereas supermarkets must insist on uniformity of product, he is free to embrace variety and stock the occasional more peculiar bottle.

They sell a range of wines from small estates and good quality larger producers, mostly on the shelves for between £6 and £30. Their average spend per bottle is £9. It is a reasonably classic split of mostly Old World with an emphasis on France, but with the principal New World countries also featuring. It is not a huge shop, so the range is not extensive, but it does contain some interesting wines, not to mention Trappist and craft beers and cigars. Most are sourced from small specialist suppliers. There are several idiosyncratic touches, such as a wide range of Osborne ports and sherries; a number of German Spätburgunders (Pinot Noirs); and no fewer than fourteen vintages of Château Musar from Lebanon. They import a number of estates directly that you won’t find elsewhere, mostly from France, including Gaillac, Roussillon, Languedoc, Loire, Champagne and Cognac; also Rioja, and cider from Normandy.

Over the past few years we have seen a new crop of independent merchants springing up across the UK. This is great news for drinkers of course, as it means a better, broader range of wines to explore. Well-established independent merchants provide even more than this however. They strengthen and nourish local communities; they offer steady, continuous support to small winemakers. Mr Lawrence Wine Merchant doesn’t necessarily have the biggest or the best range of wines in London. But this local specialist has been proudly serving local people in this corner of London for two decades.


Mr Lawrence Wine Merchant
391 Brockley Road
London SE4 2PH

020 8692 1550


Château Lafforgue, ‘Quatre Vents’, 2008
A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Carignan grapes from Roussillon, Southern France
£10.45 available at Mr Lawrence Wine Merchant

First encountered by Mr Lawrence on a market stall in Saint Cyprien, he now imports this estate directly. Deep dark and inky in appearance. Blackberry, menthol, tar, with a resinous herbal tinge. Full-bodied. Dense, lots of ripe soft tannin. Enough acidity to balance the touch of sweetness. Medium length fruity finish with integrated rich oak flavours. Punchy and potent. Would make a nice change for lovers of Argentinean Malbec. 87 points, fair value.