The Moon Under Water represented George Orwell’s musings on the perfect boozer. Apt, then, that the first stop on our crawl through the superb Balham shares the same name as his fabled drinking hole.
“1.The architecture and fittings must be uncompromisingly Victorian”. Balham’s Moon Under Water does itself a disservice by framing Orwell’s public house ideals next to the bar. From the first ruling onward, Balham’s premier Wetherspoons starts to sink. Faux wood panelling does pertain a certain, if not cheap, Dickensian air. But “uncompromisingly Victorian” is a stretch.
As Greg and I discussed where we may find a bar that could meet such standards a local, as always, stepped in to help.
“And The Bedford?” I enquired.
“Yeah, mate. It’s cracking.”
And so our route was set. One hopes that over the next two decades London’s dedicated drinkers will continue to recognise and assist fellow imbibers in need. A posthumous addition to Orwell’s list should certainly be “friendly fellow drinkers keen to show you the way to a good time”.
The Regent started us off well. A large and lively bar winding down from the recent end of a football game. And then onto the Hagen and Hyde, a stylised and well kempt relic from an old Steptoe and Son episode – thoughtfully placed detritus abound and an old plonky piano for the musically versed.
A quick drink at bland cocktail bar Be At One and then into The Balham Bowls Club. The BBC, as it is affectionately known, stands out as the first venue that is utterly unique compared to all 63 bars that have proceeded it on the Ultimate London Pub Crawl. Residing in, as the name suggests, an old bowls club it is charming and characterful and worth of a night by its own rights. Gone are the pseudo local pub stylings that seem to adorn most bars, and in is an idiosyncratic, unashamed and genuine oddness that is immensely appealing.
Three quick stops at The Grove, The Clarence and The Devonshire followed, punctuated with a quick face stuffing of pizza as none of the bars fulfilled Orwell’s sixth requirement of “a snack counter where you can get liver sandwiches”. Then into the Lost and Found, swinging to the rhythms of an 80’s disco. Grooving away to Journey and Whitney Huston, Greg attracted unwanted mano-a-mano attention.
“He’s your boyfriend, I take it?”, Sean, a well preened gent, asked me (taking the mistaken relationship score to: Brothers – 2, Lovers -1).
“No, just a friend.”
“Great. My mate Ian really fancies him. We should get them together.”
“Yes”, I agreed, thoughts of Greg’s long term cohabitation with his girlfriend a paled memory, “yes we should”.
Ian was keen, the taste of a lonely Valentine’s Day still tangible, and took every opportunity to sidle up to Greg and throw an arm around his waist whenever the camera was pulled out. Sean informed us of another room downstairs where the four of us could dance. Greg, for reasons beyond me, insisted we leave immediately.
Finally to The Bedford where Greg and I, fuelled by the previous nine stops, grew impatient with the lack of dance commitment from the numerous fellow groovers and attempted, in vain, to rile up a party. We found a friendly couple of girls willing to throw abandon to the wind and jive unapologetically but the majority of The Bedford’s clientèle preferred a cool and calculated swagger. And thus we stumbled from The Bedford and headed for Clapham Junction to catch the night bus home. The Moon Under Water never really existed as a single entity, but Balham proved to be the first stop in just shy of a year that I would whole heartedly recommend for a grand night out.
Next Stop: BANK