Bounds Green was once a popular, final overnight stop for travellers heading for the golden streets of London. Now, though, it is a one-horse town people merely pass through at high speed. But away from the mindless, trudging commuter traffic a swathe of idiosyncratic pubs and patrons are waiting to be discovered.
Imagine, if you will, a saloon from a John Ford western. Two out of towners, one carrying a battered old guitar case under his arm, stride in, their spurs clinking with every step, and stand confidently in the doorway, backlit by the dying embers of a hot summers day. The saloon pianist stops dead mid-tune. The wiry poker players and chiselled gun men turn slowly where they sit to see the strangers. The two wayward travellers coolly doff their hats in response to the incredulous and suspicious crowd and after a lengthy silence the bar man barks “where y’from, boys?”. Our arrival at Nicosia, the third pub on our Bounds Green crawl, played out with startling parallels to this archetypal cowboy scene. Simply replace the pianist for a rolling news channel, the poker players and chiselled gunmen for fat, ageing Greeks clutching bottles of Ouzo and the out of towners for two bumptious, floppy haired morons, one of which is holding a Ukulele, who instead of coolly doffing their hats announce “Hello!” a little too loudly and excitedly to try and compensate for the silence.
“Age verification”, the Greek proprietor of Nicosia rasped as Greg and I sidled up to the stools at his bar. We dutifully showed him our identification. “You Polish?” he asked over the rim of his sellotaped specs. We shook our heads. “You’re fucking foreigners!” he snarled before nodding to the barmaid to serve us and heading back to his card game. Our welcoming was questionable and the atmosphere tense but at £2 a beer (including a free bowl of nuts) we agreed we’d certainly return if we ever found ourselves in town again.
Bounds Green was proving to be a touch dry on the pub-front. We had started with drinks at The Springfield and The Ranelagh before our Man With No Name episode at Nicosia and then headed on for swifties in The Step and The Occasional Half. The evening was already dying so we marched on until Bar N22 in the Grand Palace – an art deco cinema from days of old which from the outside appears to be a gentleman’s club what with the blacked out windows, burly doorman and a sign in the window enticing pervs everywhere with “Polska Impreza w Kazda Sobote” – loomed into view. It was nearing ten o’clock and the doorman gave our bags a thorough rummaging and our pockets a intrusive foraging to ensure us two, our bandit reputation surely having been wired down from Nicosia, weren’t in the business of causing trouble. With stamps on our hands we entered to find not a strip bar but a vast and completely empty nightclub. Despite making up 50% of the people currently drinking in there, the other two being a loved up couple in a shadowy corner, the barman insisted we drink out of plastic cups and the DJ refused to play anything other than the hardest of Hard House. Another time, another place and a few more punters and this club is probably sticky, guilty fun. That night, though, it was a depressing void.
The vacuous Grand Palace had given Greg a second wind and he demanded we find somewhere to dance. The Lord Nelson and Monoghan’s Tavern both displayed the same philosophy as Bar N22’s DJ – play it and they will come. Sadly, both were equally bare and despite an interesting chat about four stringed instruments with a swaying Irish builder in Monoghan’s, the rhythm pulsing through Greg’s veins stilled needed to be exhumed.
We finished at The Goose, having walked all the way down to Wood Green, and managed to find a spot on the tiny dance floor to get some moves in before the last tube home. A young woman approached Greg and I and predictably asked if we were gay. After answering in the negative she placed a hand on my shoulder and pointed to a fellow dancer.
“He said he is gay.”
“What’s wrong with that?” asked Greg.
“I don’t like being touched by gay people” she told us. We made her aware after this that we didn’t like dancing with homophobes and she slunk off to hustle a drink out of some other unsuspecting lads.
Bounds Green had been a mixed bag of a night out and our final interaction had left us feeling dour as we collapsed onto the last tube.
“Is that a Ukulele?” a chirpy voice asked from across the way. The voice belonged to Margaux who, at one in the morning, was heading to Brixton to start a night out with her boyfriend Jasper. After a brief round of introductions and small talk the four of us launched into a musical exploration that saw us all the way to Vauxhall. Other midnight commuters soon joined in and Greg’s Ukulele was passed from player to player in a never ending round of jams and sing-a-longs. Margaux and Jasper were talented and eternally affable company and if Brixton is filled with people like them we can’t wait for September.
Next stop: BOW ROAD