“Conformity kills all dreams and pushes its victims into peripheral hibernation.” So proclaimed a message emblazoned on the wall of popular restaurant Fish, Wings & Tings. If any London district defies conformity, it’s Brixton. But does non-conformity automatically result in an entertaining pub crawl? We set off to find out.
Waiting for Andy outside the station, I felt sixteen again. I used to travel from rural Norfolk to Brixton once or twice a year to see the likes of the Mars Volta or Audioslave at the hallowed Academy. Brixton was my Mecca, my Lourdes. As I stood, buffeted by the crowds and the ticket touts – “Wolf Alice! Buy or sell!” – I noticed a distinct lack of the dead eyes and broken spirits that are often a hallmark of commuting Londoners. The people of Brixton, it seemed, don’t play by the rules.
Andy arrived and snapped me out of my reverie with a brisk handshake. We turned right, Academy-wards, and soon found The Beehive, a busy Wetherspoons, made even busier than usual thanks to the Rugby World Cup. Tonight was England v Wales and the pub was packed out. Andy proudly showed off a new app called Untappd, in which users rate beers and check into pubs. He then spent many minutes attempting to create a profile, without success. But, just as monkeys given enough time will eventually type out the complete works of Shakespeare, he got there in the end.
Squeezing out of The Beehive, it wasn’t long before we came across The Craft Beer Co. Their cornucopia of beverages was impressive to the point of fatigue. I settled eventually upon a Liquid Mistress and chose a Pale Fire for Andy, in homage to the dazzling Nabokov novel. Brow furrowed, Andy was still mashing his fingers into his phone, now trying to link his new Untappd profile to the ULPC Twitter account. I supped my craft beer and coaxed a few low murmurs out of Andy every now and then. Our one meaningful exchange was to place a bet on the rugby result. Andy, in a moment of patriotic zeal, chose England. The loser would buy the winner a drink.
Swapping craft beer for bottles of Sagres (£1.75 a pop, a ULPC record), we crossed the street to the thrifty Max Snack Bar. We drank al fresco, enjoying the Brixton nightlife as it stumbled by. Ekcovision then came and went along with a cool Modelo and we proceeded to follow the sound of distant bass through Brixton Market to an impromptu DJ set outside Fish, Wings & Tings. Here we ordered Mohitos from a pop-up bar and enjoyed some light conversation with two members of the band Kings Mews before strutting down the road to Dogstar.
We jostled sardine-like through the hordes of rugby fans to reach the bar. From a gargantuan screen we deduced that the game had ten minutes to go. The score was 25 apiece. Being diehard sports fans we gaped in tortuous suspense at the dramatic closing minutes. The final whistle was blown and Wales had won, prompting anger and dejection from the Dogstar audience. I directed my joy inwards and sent a disgruntled Andy off to the bar to purchase my alcoholic prize.
The Lounge came next – an anticlimactic purgatorial nonentity – followed by The Wine Parlour. This upmarket establishment at least had plenty of beer mats to keep our vast intellects satisfied. Andy was on world-beating form and flipped at least twenty at once. But, alas, we weren’t in Bethnal Green anymore, where the prize for flipping even fifteen beer mats in The Marquis of Cornwallis was rapturous applause and a free round of shots. Beer mats fell like leaves during my bungled attempts to outdo Andy but I regained some pride by constructing a gloriously precarious three-tiered tower of bottles and glasses. Turner Prize judges, take note.
The Effra Hall was pleasantly buzzy, as was the Prince of Wales, but after waiting 15 minutes at the bar of the latter it was time to leave and catch the 37 bus to Clapham for our last train home. Fate, predictably, had other plans. The bus – without rhyme or reason – terminated early, forcing us firstly to grab a soul-destroying but necessary KFC and secondly to catch a grim series of night buses home.
Brixton, while a fun evening, hadn’t quite provided the uproarious, comradely, nonconformist knees-up I’d been imagining. The only people we’d had a decent chat with were the boys from the band. Perhaps the rugby result dampened spirits somewhat. Perhaps we missed the best bars. Perhaps nothing was ever going to match being seventeen and having my mind blown by the Mars Volta at the Academy. Who knows.
The evening was not quite over. As our final bus neared Surbiton, a young woman joined us on the upper deck and struck up conversation. Beatrice was her name, which Andy donnishly linked to Dante’s heavenly guide, drawing blank looks from our new friend. She had a penchant for pitching forward onto Andy as the bus took the slightest corner but, since she failed Andy’s litmus test of 14th century literature, he spurned her gravity-induced advances and soon alighted, leaving me to dodge Beatrice’s exaggerated falls until Chessington.
Next stop: BROMLEY-BY-BOW