The haunt of many a young professional, Blackfriars boasts a plethora of pubs but lacks any discernible soul of its own.
It felt like an age since Bethnal Green. The ULPC Christmas Party was going to take some beating and, as I met Andy outside the station, I sensed that Blackfriars could not but pale in comparison.
We began in the historic Blackfriar pub where I washed down my pessimism with the first refreshing beer of the night. A svelte corporate crowd packed the joint and we claimed a square foot of floor upon which Andy regaled me with his recent adventures in Colombia (which, by the way, are worthy of any Jules Verne novel).
My mind awash with treacherous river journeys and perilous jungle treks, I felt disoriented as we exited into Blackfriars’ warren of backstreets. Within seconds we stumbled upon the Latin-themed Camino bar, a pleasing bridge between London and South America. Here, pulsating rhythms moved a younger crowd, still unmistakably corporate but clearly with a penchant for the pleasures of a smooth groove.
After another beer and many head nods in agreement with the insistent Latin beats we braved the warren once more. The winding streets led us to Patch where, after briefly disrupting a private party on the ground floor, we descended into the basement and travelled back in time to a seething, frothing, pre-Millennial club night. 1990s R&B thickened the air. It was only 8.30pm yet the dance floor was overrun with writhing, groping, wide-eyed, slack-jawed creatures. Young drunk females – all fluttering lashes and empty glasses – eyed up the smartly dressed men, strutting and posturing with shameless vanity. It seemed like an elaborate parody.
I made a brief escape to the gents, abandoning Andy to the indelicate mob, whereupon I discovered that the urinal had – inconceivably, preposterously – been fitted with a video game. Two LCD screens hovered over the latrine, left and right arrows were affixed low down on the metal trough, willing the user to direct their steaming beery piss towards them, hence manoeuvring the racing car on screen. Any comment on this unique marriage between excreta and gaming would distort this blog into a lengthy diatribe on the current state of society, so let me just say I zipped up and escorted Andy swiftly off the premises.
“A video game in the gents, awesome!” Andy confirmed my worst fears about London’s collective male psyche as we traipsed towards a busy road. Feeling distinctly Ludditic, I was glad when we sat down in The Albion to relative peace and quiet and discussed Will Self’s The Book of Dave for a few calm minutes. All was right with the world again. But normalcy couldn’t last. What was I thinking? I didn’t want it to last! As if on cue, a larger than life lady called Anne Marie instantly befriended us, bearing her soul with startling speed, grabbing our hips lasciviously and somehow cajoling a rousing rendition of The Lumberjack Song out of us. After referring to herself as a fag hag it became obvious that she’d taken our running tally to: Brothers – 3; Lovers – 2.
As we were about to part from Anne Marie’s jovial company, a fruity aroma filled the air, my eyes began to water and she coyly confessed, “my bottom gave a little tingle”. The flirt.
Onwards we ventured to Chi Noodle and Wine Bar where we attempted karaoke but were fobbed off by an aggressively territorial glee club, then onto the drearily empty Punch Tavern. We’d missed last orders in all the nearby pubs so we made a beeline for a group of drinkers walking with intent, ending up at Jamies Wine Bar and Restaurant. Forgiving the inexplicable lack of apostrophe, we went in and settled down at the bar. On a trip to the loo – sans video games I was relieved to see – I passed a door labelled ‘Function Room’. Slyly peeking inside I discovered a plush hideaway complete with pool table. Fetching Andy, we soon made this room our own private club, enjoying a clandestine game or two. This is how secret agents must hang out, I thought. A quartet of lads joined us after a while, before a barmaid eventually entered and chastised us like only a mother can. We withstood her dressing-down in pious silence and, perhaps a little charmed by our boyish rule breaking, she allowed us to remain. However, the hour had gotten late, so Andy and I bade our chums farewell and left for the train.
My earlier prediction was correct. Blackfriars is undoubtedly tamer than Bethnal Green. It confirms a growing suspicion of ours, that corporate areas beget homogenous, lifeless pubs. Money does not equate to good times. Real people, like Anne Marie, are the life and soul of a district. Blackfriars is in dire need of more Anne Maries.
Next stop: BLACKHORSE ROAD