COCKFOSTERS – July 2017

With a name that provokes a puerile snigger from many of us, would Cockfosters deliver the sort of unsophisticated beer-fest that the name suggests, or would it oppose its moniker and be awash with elegant cocktail bars? We set off to find out.

The bright thwack of ball on bat greeted us as we ambled up to The Cock Inn. A local cricket match was playing out on the village green. The early evening sun was still strong and we could hear glasses clinking and the contented murmur of conversation drifting over from the beer garden. We marvelled at this quintessentially English idyll just a few minutes’ walk from a Zone 5 tube station. London felt incredibly far away.

My friend David had joined us for this month’s outing and we settled down in the beer garden to wait for Andy. David had just completed a ‘dry June’ and since this was July 1st he was allowed to imbibe once again. I felt a curious mix of emotions: pride that he’d lasted a month sans alcohol; fraternal happiness that he could drink again; and guilt that I was the one encouraging him back on the booze. Before long I let the fraternal happiness take over as we enjoyed the tranquil surroundings, the intermittent thwack of the cricket ball continuing to underscore our first pint.

Andy soon joined us, delighting in the comedic opportunities afforded by the pub’s name. I knew that it was at least a mile’s walk to the next drinking hole, so we made sure that our thirst was fully slaked before reluctantly leaving the rural paradise of The Cock Inn. On the pleasant stroll to The Prince of Wales we took in the sights of Suburbia: manicured front lawns, stone lion statues impotently guarding front doors, occasional faux Roman columns supporting nothing but the owners’ misdirected and overblown sense of status.

We drank and dined al fresco at The Prince of Wales and took in the last of the evening sun before moving onto a pub that seems committed to remain firmly in the 1990s: the Lord Kitchener. It had been a pleasant if uneventful night so far and David was determined to spice things up. With a mischievous grin he reached into his bag and pulled out…a newspaper. Deftly locating the crossword, he spread it out proudly on the sticky tabletop and we spent an intellectual five minutes tackling this most classic of word games. As our minds started to flag, we realised further mental fuel was needed, and so hastened onwards to The Railway Bell. It was here that we invented an utterly new word game, the likes of which the world had never seen before. This new game was both hilarious AND mentally rigorous and Andy quickly bestowed upon it a name, and what a glorious name it is: cockword.

The rules of cockword are simple. Take any crossword grid. Ignore all the clues. Think of rude words that fit exactly into the various spaces on the grid. If there are several of you, take it in turns. Continue fitting rude words into the grid until it is complete. As the game progresses you will find it harder and harder to find rude words to fit the remaining spaces and so a bit of lexical creativity is not only allowed but actively encouraged. However, you must be able to provide a definition for any new rude words you have deemed it necessary to coin. A few examples from the world’s inaugural game of cockword:

xenocum – the reproductive fluid of ghosts
mumbum – a mother’s posterior
iPedo – a new but highly controversial Apple device

You get the idea. Feel free to try this delightful new game with your friends – but please, remember its ULPC heritage.

Needless to say, cockword kept us occupied for quite some time. Eventually David had to head home while Andy and I had one more drink at The Railway Tavern while completing the final moves, and devilishly difficult they were too, of our debut cockword puzzle. We felt smug the whole journey home. We ended up having a bit of time to kill at King’s Cross and so celebrated our proud cockword success by posing for a few snaps at J. K. Rowling’s famous Platform 9 and three quarters.

Cockfosters will now go down in history as not only the 52nd stop on the Ultimate London Pub Crawl but also the ancestral home of cockword. Wizard.

NEXT STOP: COLINDALE

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CALEDONIAN ROAD – January 2016

In Caledonian Road we explored the disparity between local boozers and chic bars, raged against the upswing of “posh coffee”, and played Tekken.

It had taken two entire years but finally, as 2016 opened its doors, we were visiting a tube station beginning with C. The letter B was old news. 24 stations of B, from Baker Street to Burnt Oak, were behind us – banished forever to the Archive. The sense of forward momentum, of progress along our lengthy challenge, was palpable. The letter C – how novel it was! We left the tube station with a spring in our step, eager to explore the alphabetically-advanced environs of Caledonian Road.

We were joined by Danny, an old friend of Andy’s who was in town for a few days. Andy had recently returned from a month-long road-trip around the US and filled us in on his escapades over a cold beer in The Cally. When one ‘brief anecdote’ threatened to grow to Wagnerian proportions we hustled Andy out of the door and proceeded on. As we passed a few posh coffeehouses, Danny began a tirade against the gentrification of such establishments, the gist of his point being something like this:

“Coffee shops aren’t what they used to be. Who the hell wants a skinny soya macchiato brewed in laboratory conditions served in a fucking cocktail glass anyway? Where can a lad get a simple black coffee?”

Although secretly a fan of complex caffeinated beverages I nodded in deference to Danny’s passionate argument; Andy, braver than I, lampooned it mercilessly and repeatedly. Thankfully, we soon happened upon the wonderfully-named Doyle’s Tavern. My heartfelt impression of Father Ted’s faithful housekeeper fell rather flat. Danny must have still been sore over Andy’s cruel but accurate parody.

Doyle’s Tavern was a back-to-basics kind of place; no frills, no exposed beams or literary quotes emblazoned on the walls. The barmaid looked us up and down, stating with utter certainty, “You’re new here, aren’t you.” We settled down, feeling conspicuous and vaguely ridiculous in our matching plaid shirts, as Andy returned to his American anecdotes.

The evening continued in seesaw motion between trendy hipster bars and earthy local haunts. The former advised against visiting the latter, on fear of grievous bodily harm, and the latter scoffed at the “rich twats” in the former. This all-too-human fear of ‘the other’ is repeated across the globe and throughout history, and it exists in miniature across the pubscape of London. Andy and I, in our role as wandering nomads, often bypass this fear, and are usually treated – at worst – with curious ambivalence and – at best – as honoured guests from another land. Will these varying tribes of London drinkers still exhibit hostility towards each other in 20 years time? We shall see.

The ivy-clad, bibelot-hoarding Hemmingford Arms was next. We passed a pleasant half-hour there in the claret mood lighting, among a crowd of affluent thirty-somethings, nice enough if somewhat cliquish. Our next pub, Kennedy’s, was of the Doyle’s Tavern variety, much quieter, more spacious, home to an older, local clientele. Andy and Danny showed off their considerable pool skills, while I watched sagaciously from the sidelines, offering convincing noises of support or commiseration honed over many years as a pub-games spectator.

IMG_3716Next came the wildcard of the night – Meltdown. This was London’s only “gamer bar” with manifold screens on every wall, tables rammed with MacBooks, pints and takeaway pizza boxes, and a tournament area complete with racecar-style seats for the lords and ladies of the realm. We hovered uncertainly, unsure of what to do. Andy valiantly asked a surly, long-haired chap for advice, who murmured a few words of gamer-speak and slunk back to his electronic war-games. Thankfully the barmaids eventually took us under their wing and provided a run-down of the etiquette and hierarchies of this unique London subculture. Only half listening, I had the perverse but persistent urge to press the off-button of the nearest MacBook, just to see what would happen. With huge strength of will, I refrained. Meanwhile, Andy and Danny were indulging in some Tekken, once again leaving me to observe. They were maddeningly well-matched and my increasingly unsubtle pleas did nothing to speed up their tournament.

IMG_3723The Meltdown barmaids had strongly advised against the next pub, The Tarmon, as apparently a fistfight was almost guaranteed. Impervious to fear, we waltzed in and soon struck up a conversation with Janice, a middle-aged woman who seemed quite fond of us all, but of one of us in particular, offering me the flirtatious if colour-blind statement: “you’re a handsome young man…for a ginger.” The Tarmon was full of loud, passionate conversations, played out over a pulsing backdrop of 90s pop hits. Janice claimed that here, “everyone knows everyone”. We believed her, and truly warmed to the place.

IMG_3733Sad to leave, we necked a quick bottle at the Thornhill Arms, followed by an invigorating shot of tequila in Be At One and finally made it to Simmons in time for an ardent boogie before sprinting for the last tube.

As we’ve come to learn, almost as much fun can be had on the journey home as over the night itself. On the tube we met a fine young Scotsman, out celebrating Burns Night, and wearing a sporran made out of the corpse of a beaver. Bertie, for that was the beaver’s name, was over 100 years old, as our Scotsman proudly pointed out. Feeling rather underdressed we headed for the last Surbiton train. I suggested a bit of quiz action to enliven the journey and Andy gamely began regaling the carriage with general knowledge questions. Most of these sleepy drunken Londoners failed to respond, but Tom and Kyle were game, taking on Danny and I for a heroic batch of quizzing. We soon lost count of the score but I got the sense that Andy’s stentorian quizmaster voice was enjoyed by all, especially those travellers with furrowed brows and pale faces attempting not to vomit.

Next stop: CAMDEN TOWN

BOUNDS GREEN – June 2015

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.

Sign

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 FullSizeRender 4cowboy 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 FullSizeRender 9The 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.FullSizeRender 7EDIT

“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.

IMG_20150620_001706Next stop: BOW ROAD

BOSTON MANOR – May 2015

The votes had been counted. The Tories had won a majority. We could only hope that on this dark day – Friday 8th May 2015 – Boston Manor would somehow soothe the numbing news.

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Boston Manor station, akin to Arnos Grove, was designed in the Art Deco style and, like Alexandra Palace and the Almeida Theatre, is a Grade II listed building. It even appeared on British postage stamps in 2013. As you may recall, diligent and loyal reader, our views on the architectural value of such highfalutin stations are less than complimentary. (See the opening paragraph of our Arnos Grove blog to jog your memory.) The “modern European style” of Boston Manor’s ticket hall is, in my humble opinion, a dismal and tragic collision of art and utility. I shook my head and stared at the awkward edifice blighting the skyline and each brick stared back in blind embarrassment. Never should a tube stop try to rise so far above its station.

I sat nursing a bottle in The Brogue, awaiting Andy’s arrival and slowly recovering from the Medusa-like effects of viewing such an eyesore. Two phone calls and twenty minutes later he turned up, having struggled to find this nearest-to-the-station pub. Easily done – I’d almost missed the inconspicuous Brogue, hiding shyly as it does behind a gloomy façade. We bonded over our mutual revulsion towards Charles Holden’s misguided approach to tube station design in the 1930s, along with our despair over the election results. We did our best to converse over the din of multiple TVs broadcasting multiple sports channels simultaneously and, despite the cacophony, the Brogue was a welcoming place offering cool beers and comfortable anonymity to two out-of-towners.

A brief stroll led us to The Royal, an affordable Harvester pub-restaurant. We left the throng indoors to enjoy a drink in the spacious beer garden, which a group of semi-feral children occasionally invaded to play their imaginary war games. To depart we had to negotiate the pub’s interior, packed with dead-eyed diners. They all shared a certain look of resignation, a hopeless acceptance of the evening’s bland predictability – a result of the Conservative’s victory, perhaps? Their malaise looked more hardwired than that. As we passed another deflated couple heading for the entrance, Andy requested, “If I ever end up like that, shoot me.” I solemnly agreed.

The evening air was fresh and revitalising as we strode down Boston Manor Road. The last few crawls (Bond Street and Blackfriars especially) had begun to feel staid and formulaic and I’d begun to worry that the ULPC magic was wearing off. But tonight’s tour, although modest so far, was beginning to exude the thrill of our early explorations.

With a spring in our step we crossed the threshold of The Village Inn to find a semicircle of men watching Middlesbrough v Brentford. We almost perched at the quiet bar but decided to bravely imitate football fans and joined the gang, shouting sports-talk such as “ref!”, “penalty!” and “boot it, son!” when appropriate. We fitted in like pros. (See this excellent article by David McCandless for sage advice on being a football faker.)

IMG_2719At half-time we slipped away to the surprisingly empty but charmingly named Inn on the Green. Its emptiness became its virtue as the proprietress Magela devoted herself to us, telling tales of her upbringing in Ireland, later adventures in New York and eventual settlement in West London. Her escapades were, I’m sure, uproarious but her substantial accent combined with an auctioneer’s speed of delivery made most anecdotes indecipherable. Nevertheless, we laughed and raised eyebrows at opportune moments and she declared us – slowly and clearly – “two sweet lads”. We departed smitten, with a genuine wish to return.

IMG_2721Boston Manor’s uplifting atmosphere remained as we entered the Kings Arms to the sweet sound of karaoke mingling with yet more Irish declamations ringing loud and unclear from the bar. We soon got chatting to Tony, the source of the declamations, and – with heroic levels of concentration – began to understand his profound utterings, punctuated with his go-to phrase: “I’m mad as fuck, I don’t give a fuck!” Tony’s foulmouthed tales were tolerated by the barmaids who appeared to know them word for word. His pet topics were women and weight loss. While he remained a large man, he had remarkably lost half of his body weight by a diet he outlined in scientific detail for us:

Breakfast: 14 tsp. rice crispies
Lunch: half a pitta bread and ham
Dinner: 40g of chicken

He balanced his monkish diet with a Pan-like appetite for carnality. His eyes sparkled as he recalled a recent trip to Thailand where he employed the services of six young prostitutes for a lengthy game of hide the salami. His staunch attitude to food returned, however, when they requested a post-coital breakfast the following morning. “Go fuck yourselves” was Tony’s resolute response. On his next trip he wanted to try a ladyboy, he said, grinning demonically.

After such conversational treats we felt brave enough to try the karaoke and engaged Shauna and Stevie, the long-suffering barmaids, to join us in a unique rendition of Summer Nights, prompting deafening applause from all three audience members (Tony declined to clap). We’d now had two beers at the Kings Arms and faced a difficult dilemma: should we stay for the guaranteed fun of Tony and karaoke or exit, placing our trust in the thrill of the unknown? We chose the latter and spent a thirsty half-hour wandering backstreets, taunted by the cruel Grosvenor who had just called last orders, before having a final drink in the anticlimactic Forester.

This last pub aside, Boston Manor had rekindled the joy of the crawl through its honest, unpretentious pubs and its idiosyncratic, welcoming locals. London’s spirit remains alive and well in this surprise paragon of Zone 4 hospitality.

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Next stop: BOUNDS GREEN

BARONS COURT – July 2014

Despots, crackpots, dance moves and Sky Sports – Barons Court has it all.

It was a balmy summer’s eve as we loafed leisurely away from Barons Court station in search of liquid refreshment. After much wandering we found The Curtain’s Up and supped on delicious hoppy beverages outside as we traded quips and anecdotes. Inside, sports fans gawked hypnotically at monstrous plasma screens showing the latest kick-about between the reds and blues.

Moving on, we sauntered down leafy, affluent streets and found The Colton Arms. Crossing the threshold, we travelled back in time to an era of rich, dark woods and burnished brass –tradition oozed out of every rustic bibelot and foaming tankard. But – alas! Here too the patrons worshipped at the altar of Sky Sports, staring blankly at those ubiquitous reds and blues, doomed to chase their spherical quarry for eternity. The illusion of tradition was shattered and with every passing second we ran the risk of being mesmerised ourselves. Onwards!

Rylston friendsFurther pleasant trudging led us to The Rylston, which to our utmost delight had a beer garden…a completely full beer garden. Andy, for whom the phrase ‘stranger danger’ is a non sequitur, approached the nearest drinkers and asked if we could share their table. They smiling accepted and thus began a 90-minute debate on Middle Eastern politics. I say debate, it was more of a lecture, really, delivered by the alpha-male of the trio, Andreas. Next to him sat his wife in passive silence, then Minas, a quiet engineer, recently retired. Andreas held forth with vigour, as we interjected the best we could. As the conversation – or should I say, tirade – wore on, it became increasingly obvious that Andreas had some quite worrying views about dictatorship. It was all starting to get rather uncomfortable and tiresome when Andreas bounded off returning with a round of drinks, including pints for us. All dodgy personality traits were swiftly forgotten as we jovially accepted the free and therefore oh-so-sweet-tasting nectar, already feeling a North Korean devotion towards Andreas – our Benevolent Bringer of Beer.

MorrisAfter this lengthy sojourn at The Rylston we moved quickly, wanting to make up ground. We headed towards Fulham, stopping at several forgettable pubs on the way before discovering The Harwood Arms. Here we met another trio – thankfully without an Andreas-like admiration for autocrats. Morris, David and John welcomed our jocular company with open arms. Morris, as I soon discovered, was a strange and infuriating man who spoke exclusively in stale jokes. He had no ear or mind for conversation, ignoring all attempts at two-way dialogue, instead preferring to spew forth a deluge of tired one-liners followed by hollow laughter – his own. However, Andy seemed to enjoy humouring him, so I fobbed Morris off on him and turned to John, a gregarious cockney in his early-sixties who seemed to be the father figure of the group. Slightly sozzled as he was – as we all were by this point – John treated me to a glut of fatherly advice that was genuinely moving. I almost welled up.

My ears full of John’s inspiring counsel, and Andy having picked up several new jokes to add to his oeuvre, we strode bright-eyed to the Elk Bar. Now – finally, conversation could take a back seat and we could unleash our impeccable, if somewhat avant-garde, dance moves. Our fluid shapes communicated far more than words ever could. We knew the other dancers were impressed: their backs were envious, their frowns jealous, their eyes rolled in sensual appreciation. But the merry dance couldn’t last forever. As the club emptied, Andy pointed out how close we were to my abode in Putney and one of us (moi?) suggested running home. Before I knew it we were hightailing it down Fulham Road as I provided thoughtful, if slightly overbearing, running advice the whole way. Andy put in an impressive performance and we jogged into Putney with an easy elegance. Bidding farewell to my fellow athlete at the 85 bus stop, I carried on homeward, reflecting on yet another unpredictable and unique Ultimate London Pub Crawl.

Elk Bar

Next stop: BAYSWATER

ARSENAL – December 2013

Clap. Clap. Clap-clap-clap. Clap-clap-clap-clap. Arsenal! Clap. Clap. Clap-clap-clap. Clap-clap-clap-clap. Christmas!Arsenal tube sign

“Fucking Christmas” I protested on the tube after a bearded, elderly man dressed in full Santa garb left the train. His arrival had promoted a swarm of eager photographers to have their picture taken with the convincing look-a-like and left me unable to think of anything else but my bitter festive cynicism.

Faffing about, buying pointless trinkets, what’s the point?”. Little did I know Greg had bought me a Christmas present which he was to give to me during our crawl. He nodded politely as I ranted.

Due to Greg’s busy schedule playing piano for a number of choirs in the run up to Christmas our crawl of Arsenal had to be completed on a Sunday. I felt this would probably be a blessing in disguise as I had been told by a reliable source that Tottenham were playing Liverpool that day and, apparently, the Spurs are Arsenal’s most fierce rivals. We got to the famed Gillespie Road and headed towards the nearest boozer, The Arsenal Tavern, expecting gangs of fiery eyed, beer swilling, lead fisted Arsenal supporters to be crammed in the bar, screaming insults at the wide screen. Instead, there was a light scattering of locals conversing jovially that the score had made their day. Tottenham were beaten 5-0. Another reliable source tells me this is, apparently, quite a thrashing.

Next we moved onto The Woodbine, a laid back bar with a turntable playing hits of old. I am myself an avid record collector and the cheery barmaid flicked through the vinyls on my behalf and allowed me to choose which 12 inch was spun next (in case you’re interested, I chose The Band‘s Greatest Hits). Spurred on by the tones of the late great Levon Helm we headed across the road to The Gunners, a huge venue themed completely around the local team. Framed shirts and signed pictures adorning everyGreg pool inch of wall space and bar stools numbered as if they are players so, one assumes, Gooners can sit on Theo Walcott to either passively congratulate or punish him post match.

The next two pubs, The Bank of Friendship and The Highbury Barn, continued the sparsity of patrons in Arsenal and we worried that our evening may soon be forced to a premature end – neither pubs revealing anything other than Greg’s propensity for potting the white with every shot when playing pool.

We finally happened upon Drayton Park, named after the football ground, and managed to take a stand at the bar just in time for last orders. Here we got chatting to three local gents who had all spent the majority of their lives in the East End. They were crude, jolly, anecdote filled company. There was Bill, who claimed that the only thing that changes as you get older is sex. Kalvin, who as a boy worked in a garage frequented by famed betting tipster Prince Monolulu who would gift him six pence with every visit. And Del Boy, a Devonshire born gent who was “79 and feeling fine”, claimed that German POWs were the best to look after and that he was given Group of old gentsthe moniker Del Boy long before John Sullivan came along. The trio, overseen and supervised by the maternal yet stern landlady Theresa, took empathy in our plight for further pubs and pointed us down the road towards Phibbers – a late night bar in Holloway. We asked if they would like to accompany us for one final drink but they all gracefully declined, citing work and spouse related commitments as brakes on any further escapades.

But we were met outside, under the towering letters of Arsenal’s football ground, by our trusty friends Wayne and Lucy, who had skipped over for a couple of bevies before bedtime. You may have noticed an ejection of any Christmas references in this blog. This is not due to my disdain, but due to a lacking of any noticeably festive themed watering holes on our journey. Phibbers, however, had embraced the spirit with unabashed pride – tree, tinsel, that fake snow stuff people spray on their windows, an open fire awaiting chestnuts and a general “good will to all men” vibe pervaded throughout. Here, with three good friends in situ, we drank and laughed, knowingly missing the last tube and boozing until they told us we had to leave. We bid our farewells, me heading for a spot on the floor at Wayne and Lucy’s nearby flat and Greg, characteristically, tightening his satchel and preparing for a early morning winter run back to Putney.

And so, with a quiet but nonetheless cheery jaunt through Arsenal, we leave the A’s of London’s tube network and start 2014 afresh with the beguiling B’s.

Thanks for reading and, dare I say, Merry Christmas. From Greg and Andy (and Wayne and Lucy).
Christmas pints with Wayne and LucyNext Stop: BAKER STREET

ARNOS GROVE – November 2013

Gesamtkunstwerk. This lofty term, usually reserved for Wagnerian opera, has been used to describe Arnos Grove tube station. It means “a total and entire work of art”. Such high praise seemed to us utterly misplaced on this brick and glass banality. Perhaps the critic responsible had learnt it from his word-of-the-day loo roll. We needed a drink just pronouncing it.

Arnos Grove sign“You can’t be serious” I said to an ashen-faced Andy. “We’ve actually managed to gatecrash a memorial service?” This did indeed seem to be the state of affairs at The Cavalier, our fourth pub of the evening. After brazenly intruding upon a wedding party in Amersham back in August, perhaps this was the conclusion of some twisted universal symmetry.

We had arrived at Arnos Grove without much in the way of expectation. Our modest but knowledgeable gang of Twitter followers had provided precisely zero clues for the area’s pubscape, and the friendly barman in our first pub, The Arnos Arms, claimed of only one other nearby establishment: “Molly’s Bar, and that’s a dive”. We headed there regardless and found it not without a certain parochial charm, thanks to the loyal clutch of locals, found swaying on their stools and immortalised in hundreds of photos tacked above the bar and on most other surfaces of the pub. One of these faithful patrons advised us on how to continue our evening:

“Get tanked up at The York Arms, then head to The Cavalier. You’ll be able to get your end away, there’s a disco night on.”

G & A with signInspired by this insider knowledge, we left the quaint Irish boozer for the mile-long trek to The York. There was a disco on here too, celebrating Teresa’s “10 years above the door”. After grooving awkwardly in our seats for a while, flipping beer mats and chatting to the DJ-cum-iPod operative, the sound of feral grunting drew our attention to an arm-wrestling competition that had just started up. We would have loved to partake in this historic pub-sport, but beating local drinkers at their own game (especially those of the tattooed brick shithouse variety) just isn’t good sportsmanship. So we contented ourselves to be spectators. After the second bout, the winner rose manfully, bellowing “English and proud”. This jingoistic outburst motivated our hasty departure.

The Cavalier gleamed brightly from within, enticing us with the promise of warmth, company, and conversation. We entered to find a booming but empty disco to our right, and a welcoming, well-dressed crowd of drinkers to our left. Naturally, we joined the gathering and ordered a couple of tall cold ones. The crowd included a strange mix of children and pensioners but we thought nothing of it. A hardly-touched buffet kept catching my eye, but Andy sagely advised me it was not the ‘done thing’ to help yourself to the food of others. I grudgingly agreed. It wasn’t until the bottom of our pints that a barmaid informed us that this was a private function: a memorial service for a local lad. Pale-faced, Andy and I shared a solemn look and swiftly got our coats, silently cursing the doddering local of Molly’s who sent us here to “get our end away”. Never have I been more glad of resisting a buffet.

Stepping out into the cold night air, we stalked along the empty streets, benumbed by the bitter temperature and our inadvertent wake-crashing. We recovered somewhat in The Osidge Arms, diverted by warming bowls of chips and a selection of international beers that would intrigue all but the most well-traveled drinker.

Haunted HouseWe were now in the vicinity of Southgate, Arnos Grove having ran out of pubs long ago. Heading onwards along Chase Side we stopped in our tracks beside a seemingly abandoned property, complete with smashed windows, mouldering masonry and triffid-like vegetation. It begged to be explored, but as pub closing time was fast approaching we childishly promised to return with a band of friends next Halloween to investigate this deserted House of Usher.

Our final drink was in The New Crown, a Wetherspoon’s near Southgate station. This impersonal and unappealing space seemed designed for the sole purpose of serving and seating as many patrons as physically possible. We drank quickly and jumped on the last tube home. Anthony Head, or Giles from Buffy as he is perhaps better known, joined our carriage a few stops later. We considered inviting him along to explore the haunted house, but thought better of it. Instead we tried out our impeccable French on a new tube-friend, Yaourou, who spoke five languages. After much discussion of bibliothèques, baguettes and grandes maisons à la campagne, our new copine asked us how our night in Arnos Grove had been? There was only one response.

Bof. Très bof.

A, G and YouYou

Next stop: ARSENAL