CANNON STREET – June 2016

Home to the famous London Stone, a rocky marker at the centre of old London, and housing innumerable financial powers, Cannon Street threatened to be nothing but another hoard of dull city boozers. But beyond the glass and steel promontories, there’s a clutch of excellent drinking spots to be found.Sign 3

Greg, ever the optimist, was certain Cannon Street would provide high jinks but I, marred by previous city crawls, feared more dull opulence. Despite our antithetical premonitions we launched forth into the pubscape in search of summer imbibing.

First Pelt Trader, a pleasant enough modern bar with a wide selection of craft and artisan beers that reverberates with a chorus of pint rim sniffs and repeated astute analytical comments such as “very hop-y”.

Heading towards the Thames we stopped in at The Banker, pleasingly filled with an eponymous clientèle, and then to The Oyster Shed – a vast, riverside bar and restaurant standing in the Shard’s shadow that falls gracefully across the surging, muddy waters of the Thames. A perfect location for a summer drink but unfortunately brimming with unpleasant stereotypes. A middle aged, synthetically orange skinned gentleman was refused entry for being too drunk, the hour barely tickling the fair-side of eight o’clock.IMAG0015

Enjoying a cold one outside, Greg and I listened in to the conversations of our fellow customers. A group of young financial types were discussing the blessings and curses of their jobs and locale.

“Ten pound lunch budget!”, one scoffed, “get a coffee and you’re fucked!”

His attention was momentarily taken by a young woman stood on the river walls, spreading her arms wide in an angel like pose.

“Hope she doesn’t swan dive – fucking concrete down there . . . great tits though.”

We dived onwards into the backstreets and happened upon our first real find of the night –The Olde Wine Shades. Built in 1663 and still featuring a beautiful archaic aesthetic, this quiet and cosy wine bar is one of the few buildings in the area to have survived the Great Fire of London. It then became one of the few buildings in the area to survive the Second World War (and even has a secret tunnel underneath connecting the north and south banks of the Thames). It then, as if it hadn’t already proved its architectural integrity over the preceding four hundred years, survived acute water damage after the upstairs boiler and water tank exploded.

WineDavid from Bordeaux was our affable barman and, between filling us in on the building’s indestructible history, pointed us in the direction of the cheapest but best wine for us two uninitiated experts of the grape. We attempted to impress and integrate by redundantly sticking our noses into our glasses, echoing the grain elite of Pelt Trader. David politely told us we had a naturally skilled nasal palate whilst simultaneously dropping the bill onto the bar and demanding swift payment.

Next The Bell, another excellent little pub erring on the side of traditional English local rather than a continental winery. Upon entering we were met by rapturous applause from Paul and Timmy, an Irish and Australian duo who had been “on a session” for most of the afternoon. They soon accepted us into their drinking gang and conversation took a turn for the predictable.

“How long have you and your husband been together?” Timmy slurred in a thick Aussie accent.TandP edit

“He’s not my husband”, I replied.

“Your partner then.”

“He’s not my boyfriend, he’s got a girlfriend in fact”

“Oh. But you’re gay right?”

“No, I’m not.”

Timmy took a step back and looked me up and down in pure aghast shock. Offended at the lacking coordinates of his own Gaydar.

“But you’re the gayest bloke I’ve ever met!”

Thus began a light-hearted dissection of mine and Greg’s physiognomy, personality and fashion sense.

“You two are like Seigfried and fucking Roy”, Timmy announced, “but more like Teapot and Horseshit!”, the latter coupling of nicknames being a charming moniker derived for my habit to stand with one hand on my hip and Greg’s taste for plaid shirts.

Last orders was called (at ten o’clock, “it’s an old pub” the barman explained) and the four of us headed across the road to rock bar London Stone – somehow losing fifty percent of the group along the way so myself and Horseshit were again a twosome.

With the city quickly closing down around us, we headed to The Core for a nightcap. The evening had somewhat altered my thoughts on city boozing, maybe I was wrong and there were good venues and people to find in the fiscal byways of central London. But my precautionary worries came surging back to the fore when I witnessed a suited city Dantype aggressively haggling with the toilet attendant in regards to what small change demanded which branded deodorant. My head hung low by tangential and vicarious embarrassment, Greg and I headed back to the tube where, in a brightening moment, we met Dan.

Dan, for reasons unknown, was carrying a leather clad bench. This allowed us a final tube ride as needlessly decadent as the district from which we were retreating.

Bench

Next stop: CANONS PARK

BLACKFRIARS – January 2015

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.

Anne Marie 1“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.

G & A club roomOnwards 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.

Gang at JamiesNext stop: BLACKHORSE ROAD

BARBICAN – April 2014

Happy Birthday to us. On our first anniversary tour of Barbican we discovered doctors, jokers and, unfortunately, the premier of London’s negative stereotypes.

Barbican

A year has passed since that inauspicious night when Greg and I, fuelled by a brazen foolishness that would characterise and punctuate the coming months, shook hands and agreed to visit a new tube stop once a month for the next 23 years. To celebrate, we found ourselves in Barbican with two friends, Kate and Olivia, in tow to aid our celebration.

The first stop, Erebuni, was an odd and bland bar/restaurant complete with circular booths, a mid nineties soundtrack and a selection of unpronounceable, barely affordable bottled beers. It was here that I presented Greg with a gift to mark our first anniversary – a postcard of the Queen and Prince Philip – which I had picked up at Liverpool Street station en route. Greg managed a half smile andStripbar and steak squeezed out some platitudes but, despite my best intentions, was not as impressed as I might have hoped.

A quick two-for-one mojitos with the archetypal city boy crowd at Neo preceded stops at The Sutton Arms and Stripbar and Steak which, disappointingly, does not pertain the former in the capacity one would expect. Despite our best efforts to find some scantily clad females within, all we found was another hang out for the young and wealthy of Barbican.

After a hasty necking at Tart, a speedy ale and pork pie in the Fox and Anchor, where Greg impressed the locals with his ability to spin a full pint over his head without spilling a drop, and a lager in the Be At One we had our first casualty. Kate, dismayed by the myriad of banker-types and lack of strippers, sloped off into the night for the tube. In The Charterhouse, Olivia, similarly underwhelmed by the DJ, glitter ball and ceaseless chorus of “Yeah boi” coming from an adjacent table, decided the best way was home ways and departed. Leaving Greg and I alone. And a year older.

Undeterred, we continued onto The Smithfield Tavern where our similar shirts, by coincidence not design, attracted the attention of a group of friends.

“Are you two related?”, asked the girl, taking our matching garb to be a sign of biological fraternity.The Smithfield Tavern

“No, just friends”, I responded.

“We thought you were brothers”, interjected her male companion (bringing the score of mistaken relationship status to brothers – 3, lovers – 1).

With that we were ushered over to their table where we learnt that the entire group, five in total, were oncologists having a Friday booze-up and were also immensely charming and affable folk. A welcome change from the strutting shirts of the previous Barbican bars.

Our gangs parted ways and mid-trek, whilst Greg was refuelling on a pasta salad, we were approached by two 30-something ladies.

“What’s that smell?!”, they enquired. Greg and I shrugged at each other, stuck our noses into our armpits and shrugged at them.

“It’s your food!”

“I don’t think so”, protested Greg.

“It is!”

“I don’t think it is”, I concurred (bros before hos) and moved in to smell Greg’s repast in order to pacify the fly-by nasal commentators. As I hovered my face above the dish a hand pushed the underside, forcing the pasta into my sweet boat and a harmony of laughter from the anonymous perps and Greg, their unwitting accomplice, followed. The femme-fatales quickly scarpered and Greg was unable to hide his reeling pleasure. I wiped the tomato sauce off my nose and attempted to use my drama GCSE to feign an ambivalence to the entire scene.

White BearAfter a quick Irish dance with a stranger next to rat infested pile of rubbish, we finished off the night with a drink at trendy be-seen-here bar The Longroom and caught last orders at The White Bear before heading for the underground.

Greg departed the tube after entertaining the carriage with a bracing recital of The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe and, whilst checking the timetable at a bus stop, had his bag stolen. Contents including, but not limited to due to holes in Greg’s pockets, camera (hence the stock photos), phone, wallet, keys and the fucking card I spent so long picking out. A frantic search of the streets and alleyways of Earls Court ensued followed by a long, miserable trek back to Putney.

12 months. 89 pubs. One theft won’t stop us. And if you happen to be a bag thief of any kind – you’re a real shit.

cake

Next stop: BARKING

BAKER STREET – January 2014

The Adventure of the Takimo Ten
– A Sherlock Holmes Story

Baker Street sign

It was a strange note: “Meet me in The Volunteer at 19:00”

Holmes had never been one for frequenting the local taverns, so I naturally assumed that there was some clue or other to investigate. But on arrival he seemed remarkably relaxed and – I shudder at the memory – proceeded to indulge in what can only be described as idle chit-chat. My first thought was that this was the unhappy result of a dalliance with some new mind-bending narcotic solution, so I resolved to accompany my friend until his worryingly convivial trip came to an end.

The inn was cramped with well-dressed imbibers; the tables awash with empty glasses. After a swift libation of our own, Holmes tilted his head towards the door and strode off decisively down Baker Street. A short session – thank goodness, I thought. But alas, it wasn’t to be. Holmes eagerly entered the very next public house we came across, a certain Metropolitan Bar. In this establishment the patrons were in full evening garb, whereas Holmes, in another off-character move, had opted for a dazzlingly orange raincoat made of the queerest modern fabric. A disguise, perhaps? No, his mind was far too befogged for that.

The evening deteriorated in a structured sort of way. Holmes would order us a couple of ales and no sooner had the empty tankards kissed the tabletops we would race out to the next house of debauchery. He insisted I match him drink for drink so I am ashamed to say that my memory of the evening dims slightly towards midnight. However, the final climactic event on the Jubilee line remains as clear as a Scottish loch in my mind.

Our tavern trawl took in The Globe, The Beehive and The Barley Mow, via a rather well-to-do venue that I could have sworn bore the name The Sherlock Holmes Hotel. At this point I began to wonder if I was the one under the influence of some evil vegetable alkaloid. My distinguished friend may be well known in these parts, but to have a hotel named after him? Preposterous. It was here that Holmes took up a crazed but virtuosic discourse on the art of cryptography that was so enthralling that for a moment I forgot the evening’s strange circumstances. The exorbitant bill for our brace of beers arrived and recalled to me Holmes’ exquisite knowledge of London alcohol prices, which had proved so profitable in locating Mr. Moulton in The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor. But soon we were outside again, barrelling ever onwards down Baker Street, a heavy mist descending upon my brain.

VerityIt was in the Barley Mow that I began to doubt my initial assumption that Holmes had taken too large a dose of opiates. A youngish woman – Verity, as she coquettishly disclosed – offered both of us a drink. It became clear that we had intruded upon her birthday celebrations when she brazenly invited us to guess her age. Though drunk, I assumed the usual form, and, judging her age to be thirty-one, I subtracted five, offering a bashful twenty-six. Holmes followed suit with twenty-seven. A look of frozen anguish transfigured her face as she murmured, utterly crestfallen: “twenty-two”. Now, forgetting for a moment this painful faux pas, how or why did Holmes, master of deduction, commit such an error? Unless something was seriously afoot, he would never miss a chance to show off his unmatched reasoning skills. I shot him a penetrating stare which, for a moment, seemed to sharpen his senses. But a second later he emptied his glass and hastened out of the door, leaving me to offer a weak smile of apology to the deflated Verity.

HairStumbling into the mysteriously named Bok Bar, we met a most exotic-haired woman who, according to a local, had never let the hand of any man sully her beauteous locks with its touch. Alighting on a way to impress this local, and Holmes, I cautiously approached the sylph and told her that I was a travelling puppet-maker, looking for the best hair in the land to inspire my next creation. Merely seconds later my hands were wrist-deep in her lustrous mane, flattery having won the day. For a second I thought I saw a spark of envy in Holmes’ eyes.

ElaIt was in the last ale-house of the evening, The Marlborough Head, that we met the unfortunate Polish bargirl Ela, who had been abandoned at Heathrow airport a few years previously by a flighty lover. Holmes denied her heartfelt request to track down this deserter – “Frankly, it’s beneath me, Watson. Though I think my jacket made quite the impression on her.” Meanwhile, I was now convinced that Holmes wasn’t, after all, on a drug-fuelled binge; he was acting the part of a drunk – albeit very methodically – but he had a larger plan in hand, one which he couldn’t divulge to me at present. I decided, not for the first time, to see the hair-brained scheme to its conclusion.

Midnight was almost upon us when Holmes rose for the final time, his eyes gleaming. Grabbing his futuristic orange cape, he ran for the door. I could barely keep up as he descended the stairs of Bond Street station and I just made it into the carriage behind him as the doors to the last train snapped shut. As I attempted to catch my breath, my eyes took in the fellow occupants of the carriage and breathing suddenly became all but impossible. Holmes had sat down with a strange expression on his face: half drunk, half self-satisfied. The occupants of the carriage were none other than the feared Takimo Ten, out of their minds with drink, who had been terrorising Westminster over the last three months. Holmes grinned moronically.

Another case solved by a chain of events too baffling for I to even comprehend. Holmes promised to elucidate the matter after he had slept off the night’s excesses. I am still awaiting the explanation.

Takimo Ten

Next stop: BALHAM

ALDGATE – May 2013

Nestled between the financial district and trendy East London, Aldgate could mirror both, but ends up reflecting neither.Aldgate tube sign

As we emerged from the station rather late on a bank holiday evening, the empty grey streets greeted us with indifference. Exchanging grimaces, we set off at a brisk, optimistic pace and soon spied The Chamberlain, a pleasant if unexceptional Fuller’s. We ordered two ales and sat gratefully in our first Aldgate pub. The decor was comfortingly faux – an opulent wall of gilt mirrors stood opposite a bookcase of military histories. (This sort of impotent ostentation can be found in many a chain establishment, presumably designed to convince the beer-swilling patrons that they are in far more superior surroundings than their choice of lager would otherwise indicate.) The bar staff were friendly but strangely sluggish, asking for IDs midway through our pints. I put this down to weighty bank holiday hangovers, the remnants of which Andy and I still felt, having spent a Bacchanalian weekend performing with By Moonlight Theatre at the vibrant Meadowlands Festival in deepest Sussex.

Greg with SteinMoving on, we wandered through side streets peppered with closed pubs, until the welcoming glow of a Bavarian Beerhouse drew us in. This incongruent continental import came complete with table service from traditionally attired waitresses, so we manfully ordered a stein each. Andy, rather conservatively, chose Germany’s number one premium beer, Krombacher Pils, while I fearlessly plumped for the “rich, dark and complex” Krombacher Dunkel. By 10:30 we were the only ones left and the manager hovered nearby, eager to lock up and honour his homeland’s legendary time-keeping skills. We dutifully acquiesced, drank up, and departed.

Our mistake in venturing out on a bank holiday evening now became woefully apparent. Every pub we discovered was closed, and as 11pm drew ever closer we grew ever more desperate.  Heading home after only two drinks seemed a crime – the blog deserved better than that.  Our frenzied wanderings soon left Aldgate in the dust. As we strode up Bishopsgate we crossed the threshold of several pubs only to be cruelly turned away by stony-faced barmen, shutting far too punctually for thirsty young bloggers such as ourselves. The situation was getting desperate. Andy struck out ahead, drawing upon his Northern ability to divine booze at great distance. As we finally stumbled onto Commercial Road, his aim was proven true, as the Ten Bells appeared from the gloom.

Greg and AndyIt is a sad fact that the first pub we found with real atmosphere and more than half-a-dozen drinkers was this far from Aldgate. The historic Ten Bells has a grisly claim: it was here that Mary Kelly, the last known victim of Jack the Ripper, had her final drink (gin, of course) before being found mutilated in a nearby flat several days later. Scenes from Jack the Ripper film From Hell were filmed here, and the original Victorian tiling still remains. In dark homage, we ordered two G&Ts and sat contentedly under the gaze of two inseparable East Londoners, Gilbert and George, who take pride of place in a mural by Ian Harper which adorned the wall above us.  In the late 1880s Mary Kelly would have been slugging back straight gins while tugging lustily at crotches and purse-strings, whereas here in 2013 us two fops cut our gin with tonic and sat discussing modern art.  How times change.

Aldgate’s pubs may bustle on work nights but during our self-inflicted bank holiday outing it really did seem to be a bland no man’s land, squatting between thriving neighbours and losing in the struggle for a character of its own. It was only by escaping the dreary gravity of Aldgate that the evening was resurrected, ironically in a pub more famous for dealing death than enhancing life.

Next stop: ALDGATE EAST