Archway – the famed stop where a disillusioned Dick Whittington heard the Bow Bells calling him and returned to London to make his fortune. These streets certainly aren’t paved with gold any more.
“I’ve made a map” Greg proudly informed me, “we’ve had loads of tweets about where we should go so I thought I’d plot them out”. He produced his cartographic effort, a swish of hastily drawn roads and shapes.
“Why didn’t you use Google Maps?” I asked.
Regardless, the rules remained the same – one drink in every pub we pass, no matter what. And despite the fine illustrations by Greg, even his research couldn’t aid us. Archway is the most apparent mismatching of cultures we have experienced in London so far. At one end of the spectrum is the fervently proud, biblically patriotic Irish community, having stayed in the area since they were drafted in to aid the reconstruction of London post World War II. At the other end is the kind of yuppie, sharp collared, sales-team-target bellends who quaff unpronounceable liquors and recite Steve Jobs quotes.
Our first boozer, The Lion, fell into the former camp. A traditional, local, quiet and lonely bar with an uncomfortable male to female ratio and a distinct number of men sat in solitude staring into pints or flicking through sports pages. Across the way – The Archway Tavern, a bar and music venue which was shut at 19.00 when we approached, despite the signs of staff beavering away inside.
“It must open later, maybe it’s a club night.”
“Let’s do a loop” proposed Greg, whipping out his map without a moment’s thought, “and finish here at The Archway Tavern when it’s open”. So onwards we trudged, walking up the expanse of the A1, towards The Charlotte Despard, our first planned stop and undoubtedly the finest pub we visited in Archway. Although veering dangerously close to the latter type of Archway inhabitant, it is kept grounded by the well-meaning and welcoming staff. One bar man, who was expecting our arrival, was a warm host of the highest calibre – congratulating Greg and I on our choice of beer and cheering us on as we took full use of the free foosball (which I won).
“Where to next, boys?” asked the friendly bar man.
“The Whittington and Cat, then The New Brunswick”.
Our host winced, “I would never go to The Brunswick, for love nor money. Always trouble.” He looked down to the varnished floor and shook his head, reliving some awful episode in his mind: “Always.”
A quick drink at The Whittington and Cat fuelled us on towards the doom of The New Brunswick and at the doors of the hellhole Greg and I shared a look. A look we have already shared a number of times on our journey and one I’m sure we’ll share many times over the next quarter century. That ‘see you on the other side’ look. That ‘once more unto the breach’ look.
“Eight pints at the Whittington and Cat” slurred the Belfast born regular, adorning his throne at the head of the bar, “ten across the road, then a shift as doorman at The Archway Tavern during which I would drink 36 bottles of Budweiser. With this weak shit though”, he held up his Fosters, “with this weak shit I have only 10 or 15 a night” and with a single breath the whole pint was inhaled. Our Desperados with lime became beacons of our emasculation at the hands of this slurring titan of the Northern suburbs. There was no trouble to be had here, only pissing contests which the local always wins.
The next three bars all stood firmly in the yuppie camp. The Star, The Oak and Pastor and St John’s Tavern all comfortably provided for the insufferable professional climbers and navel gazers that tut at the crying children that dare disturb the silent carriage of their morning commute. Despite our best efforts, we could not penetrate these icy patrons and conversation was slow, to say the least and as midnight beckoned as did The Archway Tavern. It was to be our saviour. We could dance, mingle, chat and embarrass to our hearts’ content. A quick club session would save this evening.
But for reasons we still don’t understand, The Archway Tavern is closed on Fridays despite its “Dusk til Dawn” subtitle. So we desperately searched for some final frolics, finding nothing but an uninspiring bar which held court to an older London broad who was enamoured with our boy Greg from the moment we stepped through the door. We drained our beers and headed for the last tube, resenting Archway’s lack of substance and prevailing emptiness. Greg found it particularly disheartening and, fuelled by a gut full of booze, managed to make a few friends as we waited for our last trains at Waterloo.
Next stop: ARNOS GROVE