Once gifted away by Henry VIII to a favoured Earl, Covent Garden is now a haven for tourists, suits and 30-something bloggers with delusions of grandeur.
Greg waited patiently while I enthusiastically captured a picture of every Covent Garden Station sign in sight. The nervous excitement of being back at the helm after just shy of two years lead me to giddy overcompensation – a trait I fear is carried through most aspects of my existence.
The moment harked back to those initial awkward fumblings around Acton, Alperton and Amersham when we would naively venture to the unknown sprawls of outer London with our notebooks in pocket, our floppy fringes bouncing over our eyes and Greg’s soon-to-be pilfered DSLR swinging pendulously from his neck in its bespoke leather pouch. But that was six years ago. We’re now in our 30’s, our hair is shorter, one of us married and our documentation done solely on smartphones and touchscreens. We’ve made our mistakes and we’ve learnt from them. We’re now the elder statesmen of London’s pubscape. The Great Gatsbys of the capital’s many taverns and taprooms. The word ‘debonair’ hasn’t often been used to describe us, but I’m certain it’s constantly on the tip of the masses’ collective tongue.
Once my full mapping of the tube station’s signage was complete, we set off on our fifty-fifth crawl and, this being one of the busier and boozier parts of London, simply set our compasses for beer and marched towards the crowds.
The Nag’s Head, The White Lion and The Punch & Judy all provided pleasing if uninspiring bevvies and surroundings (plus some questionably coloured bacon and shoe-sole tough chicken at The Punch & Judy) but we yearned for some refined imbibing to match our now mature and cultivated tastes. The foppish Greg and Andy of 2013 may have gulped down such banality with wide-eyed wonder, but not the fully grown, big-boy-pants Gregory and Andrew of 2019. Thus, we drank alfresco on the piazza adjacent to Vini Italiani and, back dropped by the flaming pink of a balmy Friday dusk, spoke around important philosophical subjects like proper adults. I think.
Searching for indoor refreshment, the temperature dipping to a prickly 20 degrees, we headed, naturally, to renowned watering hole of the upper echelons, The Ivy (Market Grill, I admit) – casually strolling in as if it were an everyday occurrence of the most pedestrian nature. Unlike Kelly’s in Brent Cross four years previous, The Ivy had no issue with Greg showing off his defined calves in characteristic short-shorts – the famed diner under no illusion that just having us in their establishment was akin to a marketing campaign spend of untold millions. They did fear for our fast turning inebriation, however.
“You can only have a drink if you have food as well”, the maître-d informed us.
“Can we just have some peanuts then?” Greg offered.
“It has to be cooked food.”
After some gentlemanly negotiation, we were allowed to booze in return for the purchasing of one dessert each. Our favourite cocktails were ordered, Greg’s being so rarely requested the waiter very nearly wrote down the ingredients direct from the menu, and theatrical, Wimbledon themed puddings brought out for our enjoyment and entertainment.
From here we managed swifties at The Maple Leaf and The Marquis and, not for the first time, subsequently found ourselves being slowly locked out by the city that never sleeps as it prepared to slumber. The hour seemed embarrassingly early, our tanks certainly weren’t full of finest hops and grapes, and yet we were turned away, again and again, by exhausted staff wiping down tables after long shifts.
With few options ahead of us, our thirsts not yet quenched and the drinks at The Ivy adding to our already inflated sense of self, we decided to knock back a few and take a punt at Lola’s Underground Casino, a cabaret bar deep in the bowels of The Hippodrome at Leicester Square.
Although Greg is, without hyperbole, one of the most morally upstanding people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting, he is easily tempted by the lure of a roulette table. Greg never fails to call out unsavoury comments from even the roughest patron of any bar we’ve visited – a trait of his I have unending admiration for – and our conversations seem to run almost continuously, but once the wheel spins and the ball is flung you may very well be drinking alone as his world is now nothing but baize and his loved ones only croupiers.
Greg tempted me to the table with a spontaneous birthday gift of ten pounds in chips and gave me some cheery insider tips. Drawn in by his optimism I put everything on even. It came up odd. There ended the dramatic and sweeping expanse of my career as a highflying gambler.
Over our final beer in Lola’s, the last train beckoning, we discussed how often we’ll be able to crawl now our lives are taking us away from this most diverse of cities. Four a year? Two a year? One a year? With 212 tube stations left to visit, the task seems even greater than it did 50 stops ago.
We agreed, with misty, bloodshot eyes, that even completing a meagre twenty percent has been a great pleasure and that the remaining majority may have to be eked out over the coming decades. But as long as we are friends, and there are pubs, and one of us can remember the WordPress login details, we will continue to beat on, drinkers against the bars, borne back ceaselessly into the blog.
NEXT STOP: CROXLEY (arrival tbc)