CHIGWELL – January 2017

“Chigwell, my dear fellow, is the greatest place in the world.”  With these words of Charles Dickens foremost in my mind, I held high hopes for our 46th pub crawl. How much could have changed in a mere 173 years?

As my tube neared its destination, I was joined by a cohort of what the media has led me to recognise as the archetypal Essex Girl: women with hair of lustrous silver-blonde, daubed lavishly with expertly-applied makeup and wrapped in fur coats of brightest neon. I never like to employ lazy stereotypes, but I cannot deny what I saw. Such was the glare from their orange-hued skin that I began to fear for my eyesight. You get the picture.

It had begun to rain by the time I escaped the TOWIE facsimiles at Chigwell. Andy was running late, “snared in the central line noose” as he put it. So it was that I entered the first pub of the evening, the King William IV, alone. Opting for a nutritious pint of Guinness, I perched atop a high stool in the corner and set about quietly examining the pub’s decor. It was a classy place, no doubt about it – the bar was of tasteful marble, the tables of dark wood and copper, even the light bulbs were polyhedral. The ambiance was well-judged – low music and lower lighting, the latter getting increasingly crepuscular as the minutes ticked by. So far, so good.

Andy was still untangling himself from the central line, and so my attention shifted from the pub’s interior to its clientele. It was fairly quiet at this early hour but I shared the bar area with two small groups of well-dressed women, one of whom was bedecked in that sure-fire indicator of Essexness – leopard print. A young man soon came on the scene, dressed well also, but with jeans so tight that he couldn’t even fit his wallet into his redundant pocket. He held it dickishly in his hand until his girlfriend agreed for it to be deposited in her handbag.

It was all very calm and civilised – a far cry from how our pub crawl began in Buckhurst Hill, that nearby suburb which, along with Loughton & Chigwell, makes up the so-called Golden Triangle of well-to-do Essex towns. Having scoped out the fittings and the patrons, I began reading the drinks menu to help pass the time (there was a whole page of magnums) when Andy arrived. We caught up over our drinks and debated staying for another – things were getting pleasingly busier – but we thought better of it. Unknown quarters beckoned.

img_5757The nearest unknown quarter turned out to be a dark and drizzly 2.2 miles away. This nocturnal hike did give us ample time to gaze upon the local properties, a large proportion of which were preoccupied with displaying their owners’ wealth, if not their good taste. Impotent columns and even colonnades were a common theme, supporting nothing except their owners’ egos. Eventually we reached The Two Brewers, which was an ample reward. This well-appointed, slightly more traditional establishment was also very quiet, but pleasant enough with a fine selection of beers and friendly staff.

The stint to the next pub was even further, 2.8 miles, so we decided, not without due consideration, to order an Uber – a ULPC first. Our driver was a warm, talkative chap called Iftikhar, who’d been in England for 20 years. He’d travelled a lot, had a string of different jobs including restaurateur and shopkeeper, and liked exploring the UK with his kids. Which makes the following conversation all the more surprising:

Iftikhar: “Where were you for Christmas?”

Me: “Carmarthenshire.”

Iftikhar: “Carmarthenshire…is that near Plymouth?”

(It got even worse.)

Me: “Er, no…it’s in Wales.”

Iftikhar: “Wales, eh…where is that?”

Me: “…to the west of the England.”

Iftikhar: “Past Gloucestershire?”

Me: “Yes!”

Very well travelled he said. Likes exploring the UK he said.

Iftikhar dropped us off at the Crown and Crooked Billet, a markedly less elegant establishment than the King William IV – no polyhedral light bulbs here. Instead there were rowdy lads and a pervasive whiff of chlorine. But again, fairly empty. I began to wonder if most Chigwell residents were partaking in the fad of Dry January.

img_5756Our final pub of the evening, The Three Jolly Wheelers, was the emptiest of the lot. After five minutes, the only other group departed, leaving just Andy and I in its capacious interior. This was the sort of pub which has clichéd quotes on the walls such as ‘Work is the curse of the drinking classes’, which we loudly and lengthily poked fun at, much to the barmaid’s disdain.

As we trudged back to the tube station (0.9 miles this time) we wished we’d stayed in the trendy King William IV. The rules of the crawl would have allowed it. But our curiosity got the better of us, and I imagine it always will. On the tube home we met a couple on their way to the clubs of Tottenham Court Road. I didn’t catch their names but let’s call them Charlene and Darren. Charlene correctly guessed Andy’s age of 27, but my youthful looks belied my slightly older vintage and she guessed I was a spritely 26. Darren was a critical young man and when we told him of our challenge to visit all 270 tube stations, he raised a wry eyebrow and whipped his phone out. A few seconds later he looked up. “270 stations. They’re right.” With today’s proliferation of fake news, we could all do with having as questioning a mind as our boy Darren.

I’m sure Chigwell has changed considerably since Dickens knew it in 1844. On this quiet evening I feel it didn’t show its best side, but I’m guessing that on a good night in the King William IV, Dickens would have approved.


CHARING CROSS – November 2016

The notional centre of London, Charing Cross is not short of pubs, nor – as we discovered – of licentious Norwegians.

“I own around 50 motors. I have a nice home.”

Such is the language of the modest folk one is likely to meet around Charing Cross, that most central of London districts from which all distances to the capital are measured. We met John, the humble speaker of the above phrases, in our sixth pub of the night, The Nell Gwynne. By this point we were in an expansive mood, seeking interaction with persons hitherto unknown. We were a group of four, Andy and I being joined by pub crawl stalwart Oli (his fourth outing with us) and eager new initiate Helen. We formed a formidably jovial quartet, sharing anecdotes with warm competitiveness. Before we met man-of-the-people John in the Nell Gywnne, we spent happy hours in The Harp, The Marquis, and The Lemon Tree, all traditional-style pubs fitted out with wood panelling and framed portraits. We discussed our favourite palindromes (Madam in Eden, I’m Adam) and dabbled in other conversational topics befitting the hip young Londoners that we are.

Pub number four, the cavernous Porterhouse, was our one let-down of the evening. Its titanic size was exciting for all of two minutes but its lack of character soon became abundantly clear. For oversized things to be a success, their spirit also needs to be larger-than-life: see Brian Blessed. The Porterhouse failed this simple litmus test, yet somehow it was heaving. They provided live music to try to mask the inherent inadequacies of the venue, but even the band were devastatingly lacklustre. They were here purely to get paid, that was obvious. The music elicited no fun for them; their passion for performing had dried up long ago. It was depressing to watch. Oli described them aptly as “the Kronenbourg of pub bands”. I need say no more.

After the elephantine disappointment of The Porterhouse we came across the smaller, chicer Mabel’s where we were seated in front of a large gilt mirror, giving us ample chance for some light narcissism. After a round of Vedet our convivial mood – momentarily subdued by those vapid musicians – returned stronger than ever.

We could barely contain our merrymaking. As we wandered out of Mabel’s we made a pact to each make a new friend in the next pub. The Nell Gywnne was that hallowed place. It is here that salt-of-the-earth John re-enters our story, befriended by the intrepid Oli. Helen meanwhile had met John’s partner, Vicky, a lady of modest means who owns a small portfolio of 43 properties. These properties are in Nottingham, mind you, not London – a source of eternal chagrin to the landlady herself. She nearly snapped one up in Ealing recently, but it got away. Poor woman.

I knew none of this at the time of course because I was locked in discussion with Del, a middle-aged man who has the distinction of being so dull I immediately forgot everything he told me about himself the very moment it left his lips. He had a warm and friendly demeanour but his conversation was as hard to catch hold of as a greased eel. I think it was his tone of voice – a monotonous dirge, low and soft, hesitant yet with the uncanny impression it could, and maybe will, go on forever. His voice felt somehow part of the pub’s furnishings. Something that you’re aware is there but that holds no focus for you whatsoever. I’m astounded I can recall even the three letters of his name.

Andy meanwhile was having a rather different experience with his new companions. Christine and Tuva were from Norway, visiting London in order to “go shopping and have sex with English men”. They were both in their mid-50s and Christine had a fiancé back home. “He’s a Viking!” she said proudly. “What do you mean, a Viking?” asked Andy. “A Viking! You know – big arms, big cock!”

img_5414It was hard to say goodbye to our diverse new friends: humble John and Vicky with their 50 cars and 43 properties, utterly unmemorable Del and the salacious Norwegians, but the call of the crawl sang beckoningly in the night air. We just made it in time for last orders at The Coal Hole, and what a last order it was. They were selling off bottles of Prosecco at bargain prices – how could we possible say no? The bottle had to be finished quite rapidly but we rose to the occasion. Spurred on by the emboldening fizz, we just had time to grace the dance floor at the Charing Cross Theatre Players Bar before the last train.

And so – thanks Helen, thanks Oli, thanks John, Vicky, Del and Tuva. But most of all, thanks Christine for further defining my mental image of a Viking.

Next stop: CHESHAM

CHANCERY LANE – October 2016

Chancery Lane, the western boundary of the City of London, has been a legal epicentre for just shy of a thousand years and pertains all the traits one may expect when pining for a post-trial pint. But amongst the bar puns and big wigs, there is one special London novelty which never fails to entertain.


On a blustery and busy October night, Greg and I met beneath the shadow of legal equity’s past and headed out in search of refreshing beverage. Joining us on our 43rd stop were Helen, Oli, Chloe and Dave who all assembled in the charming, if somewhat predictable, word play heavy The Inn of Court. Gone is the upstairs seating area, but you may find a chair in The Dock where you can peruse the many artefacts of law enforcement history.img_5247

On other occasions Greg and I may have felt the need to spin yarns of our legal grandeur. Much like Marshall and Colin from Bank, Greg could be Perry Mason to my Della Street. An acerbic, capricious legal genius and me – his loyal, quick witted secretary. But tonight we decided to tread the boards in our usual late 20’s garb.

We made flying visits to the Sir Christopher Hatton, a surprisingly dour place considering its namesake, The Argyle, with an excellent heated balcony, and the pleasingly Byronic The Bleeding Heart. From here we stopped in The Sir John Oldcastle, a Weatherspoony sort of Weatherspoons, and finally onto our favourite and final bar of the evening – Bounce.

Tucked unassumingly in amongst a multi-functional modern build, a blue plaque by the entrance claims Bounce to be the home of Ping Pong and descending into its cavernous heart the seemingly misguided but excellent collaboration of Ping Pong club, swanky bar and disco comes to the fore.

img_5265With blaring, bass heavy music and every table tennis player clothed in finest city worker garb, Ping Pong balls fly endlessly in every direction from the dozens of tables. Half the tables appeared to be holding court to fledgling office romances – the girls, in their pencil skirts, playfully hitting the ball across the table to enjoy a polite and jovial rally only to have the boys, ties off and top three buttons undone, return with unmerited power and minimal aim. The ball usually flying away at a forty five degree angle and landing somewhere behind the bar. It was a hypnotic display – an infinite rally of one. As the balls flew to the heavens I’d watch the players celebrate (what they had achieved I do not know) by using the paddle as a phallic addition. Leaning back, scrunching up their face and waving around their new, hard, oddly shaped penis at the room. Something of a ritual, it would appear, to prove that one cares not for sport, only for show . . . and cocks.img_5272

Soon the central tables were cleared away and the newly introduced dancefloor beckoned us. A group of men parallel to our group’s number stood in a line and watched us sway around (apart from one who had taken a seat on the floor and, green faced, was desperately holding onto the spinning room). Once eye contact was made their leader raised his arm, his troops on pure reflex formed behind him, and they launched into a near faultless routine as the DJ spun Flo Rida’s Good Feeling. They surged to the front one at a time to have their moment as we tried to take in their routine and skills. I am no dancer, and I was certainly drunk, but I remember being oddly impressed by the dancing panache of the city boys.

We returned and played into this dance-off as best we could but our shapes were similar to the males’ Ping Pong. We were greeted with a welcoming, playful competition of sorts and responded with a wild, uncoordinated flailing of limbs. Our rivals did not mind, however, and an evening of dancing and clinked glasses stretched on until past midnight and the final train.



CHALK FARM – September 2016

Would this blue plaque bedecked district provide pubs enough to slake our thirst for liquid and social nourishment, or would we be tempted to the nearby pleasure inns of Camden?

If you depart Chalk Farm tube and head south (turning right out of the station and then left, over the railway bridge) you will discover five delightful pubs before reaching the watery barrier of Regent’s Canal. They are, in the order we visited them: The Pembroke, The Queen’s, The Princess of Wales, The Lansdowne and The Engineer. This quintet of hostelries share several praiseworthy attributes – adventurous beers, friendly staff, abundant seating – and all have the sort of convivial atmosphere that puts you entirely at ease.

img_4966It was a balmy Monday evening. The pubs were restful; our fellow drinkers placid and content. As we strolled the affluent streets we spotted blue plaques on a regular basis: Plath, Engels, Yeats. We caught the start of a quiz at The Queen’s (“which US state shares its name with a country?”*), I learnt the meaning of FUBAR in The Princess of Wales, and Andy treated himself to a pizza in The Lansdowne. A more pleasant Monday evening you could not wish for.

img_4970Five drinks down and we had no choice but to cross Regent’s Canal and visit Chalk Farm’s rebellious son, Camden. It was here that things started to get out of hand. First off, we were at a loss where to sit in the vast beer garden of The Edinboro Castle. Feeling bold, we opted to join a large table of merrymakers and did our best to integrate. Unfortunately, on this occasion our best ended up being taking a photo of us ‘integrating’ while they steadfastly ignored us.

img_4971Moving swiftly on, we came to The Spread Eagle where it really kicked off. Andy spotted two cosy chairs and a pile of boardgames, whereupon I had a violent flashback to the time he beat me at Trivial Pursuit in Brent Cross. Blinking away that bitter memory, I picked up the first game that came to hand: some sort of fiendishly difficult IQ challenge. After scant minutes it became apparent that, by witchcraft or deception, Andy was beating me once again, quite comprehensively. The game was clearly defective, so we switched to Connect Four. What visceral pleasure, to send those red and yellow counters hurtling into their plastic prison! This was more like it. Andy, intellectually worn out by the IQ challenge, soon began to fade and I seized my chance. Game after game I successfully lined up four yellow discs, while Andy’s red ones hovered impotently at the periphery, like introverts at a house party. This couldn’t go on for ever and so we packed away that finest of games and made a beeline for the The Dublin Castle. We accompanied our final drink of the evening with a spot of air drumming to the Foo Fighters (or I did at least) before catching the last tube homewards.

Chalk Farm provided us with a quietly congenial evening and its vicinity to Camden is perfect if you’re in a slightly more riotous mood and/or have a hankering for some Connect Four.

*It’s Georgia.



CANONS PARK – July 2016

The far-flung district of Canons Park is the least-visited stop on the Jubilee Line. It turns out there might be a reason for this.


Such was the welcome that greeted us at Moranos, a bar which boldly eschews any apostrophe in its name, a la Canons Park itself. We were several years over the age-limit and mercifully hatless. But our dress was on the casual side of smart. I mentally prepared myself for the shame of being turned away at pub number one. Coyly breaching the threshold, we made it across to the bar, ordered some coronas and continued our way out back to the al fresco drinking area, unmolested. We’d successfully violated the hitherto iron dress code of Moranos! Toasting our success, we relaxed in the fully-paved beer ‘garden’.

We had a guest with us. Faye, a fine conversationalist and drinking partner, had been lured out on the crawl by the promise of good times in unknown and exciting lands. The pressure was on. Leaving Moranos behind, we began the first of several gruelling hikes to find the next pub. It turns out that Canons Park is a veritable menagerie of suburban housing, and not a lot else. But, just as Faye began to voice doubts about the area’s nightlife, we discovered Doolan’s.

IMG_4810The apostrophe was a good sign. The stereo was playing Less Than Jake, transporting Andy and I back to our teenage wonder-years. We ordered some beers and then, a first for the crawl: darts. We attempted to prick the circular target by hurling the traditional tiny winged spears towards it, with varying results. After a few minutes of unregulated spiky chaos we set ourselves a competition: who could score the highest with three darts? Faye and I made valiant attempts but it was Andy’s steady arm and steely eye that won the day with a colossal total of 46. Having impressed the locals with our lithe athleticism we moved on to crash a busy 50th birthday bash at Buckley’s Bar. We wished good health to the birthday girl, Marie, and reminisced wistfully about our sporting achievements back at Doolan’s, before returning to the road and staying on it for quite some time.

IMG_4812All this wandering gave Faye a chance to extemporise on her time working as a director in Siberia. When that particular cup of conversation runneth dry, we moved onto more serious discussion:

“Would you rather always have to wear the most outlandish, gaudy clothes, or be naked for fifteen minutes every day but you’d never know when?”

These, and other similarly philosophic questions were hurled back and forth willy-nilly until we found the Boulevard Club, an Indian restaurant and bar. Here we received a warm welcome and enjoyed the synth-heavy live Asian music on offer, continuing our quick-fire interrogations of each other.

IMG_4815We almost walked past the Cinnamon Place – it seemed more curry house than boozer – but Sanjay, the owner, spotted us and insisted that we patronise his establishment, clinching the deal by buying us a round of drinks. We stayed here for quite some time, enjoying Sanjay’s hospitality along with more live Asian music, once again complete with an impressive synth setup. Sanjay compelled us to make use of the modest dance floor, which we dutifully did, providing world-class entertainment for the diners who eyed us with a mixture of envy and admiration. When not dancing Faye was engaged in sending progressively weirder snapchats to her friend Laura, culminating in a beatific shot of Andy and I which I later realised bore a startling resemblance to Botticelli’s 1480 work, The Madonna of the Book (see below). We could happily have stayed until the early hours but, with the spirit of the crawl beckoning, we bade a fond farewell to Sanjay and his son Kengo (who was rather enamoured with Faye) and promised to return one day.

IMG_4817We had time for one more pub. Funky Brownz turned us down because I was wearing shorts (prompting a brief yet traumatic flashback to a similar episode in Brent Cross) so we ended up in the nearby Badger Kelly’s. Andy and I were soon befriended by a sozzled middle-aged lady who militantly demanded we demonstrate the dance moves to YMCA, whereas Faye found a dancing partner in the form of a bald and randy casanova at least twice her age. Exhausted, we eventually caught a bus to Harrow & Wealdstone just in time to board the last tube to Waterloo. Faye, alas, had missed her last train home from Waterloo East, and so had the rare and highly-coveted pleasure of staying over at Chez Andy.

Canons Park doesn’t have a lot to offer in terms of an evening out but, as always, the right crowd can generate a jamboree anywhere. Cinnamon Place deserves a particularly special mention for its hospitality and sheer goodnatured fun. If you ever visit, tell Sanjay we say hi.



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.


Next stop: CANONS PARK

CANARY WHARF – April 2016

Our third anniversary crawl saw us head to the eternal glow of Canary Wharf’s glass and steel towers. Our usual duet now swelling to a gang of 14, we explored London’s primary financial district in search of high jinks amongst its 100,000 peak time inhabitants.

Canary Wharf sign

Over the past three years Greg and I have always found the business and financial sectors of London to be somewhat lacking. Lacking in warmth. Lacking in personality. Lacking in colour. Despite the abundance of cash monies surging through Hedge Funds and Off Shore accounts straight into the tills of nearby wine bars, the wealth of these areas is rarely translated into anything other than varying hues of grey and the occasional loosened striped tie.

This isn’t to say these areas aren’t filled with laughter – thrown back heads and hysterics can be found within every city Startboozer. But on occasion enough to mention, the laughter is more akin to a tenor whine. An unfulfilled and exhausted tremolo covering some sort of existential crisis. The panicked chortle of a struggling decorator who lifts his head to find he has literally painted himself into a corner.

We have tried to combat this when the crawl has thrust us into these boroughs. Greg once used a break-dancing banker’s discarded shoe as a phone. But, alas, no one answered.

For our third anniversary crawl we continued our campaign to brighten the fiscal shores of London and our open invite was sent with only one instruction – you must wear your most outlandish clothes. We were determined to bring to Canary Wharf, that infamous gleaming promontory of dull opulence, some warmth, some personality and some Jarekcolour.

At first a merry septet, we poured out of Canary Wharf station and into Smollensky’s where, after squeezing to the bar to order cocktails, we examined each other’s gaudy garbs. Greg and I had managed a vibrant palette of floral designs and 80’s colour schemes. Amongst the rest of the group there was the occasional red top here or purple scarf there. Our office memo entitled “Fun Fashion Friday!!!!!” had not been taken seriously by the rest of the team.

We drank through the Slug and Lettuce and headed to All Bar One. Now a band of 14, we were certain our buoyant and carefree spirits would promote some sort of crazed party. But with professional monthly goals still far off, All Bar One and its patrons were decidedly sullen. A musical trio of glasswind instruments was quickly assembled to elevate the sombre mood but sadly to no avail – despite the band’s obvious magnificence.Glasswind

From here we led our party to Obicá, a bar that stands in the middle of a vast, vacuous glass cube. Its Italian stylings and redundant indoor parasols do nothing to lift it above the sorry truth – its utter and uncompromising unattractive lifelessness. A pub designed by committee, it is reminiscent of the solitary pub in an airport departures lounge but without the thrilling promise of a foreign jaunt only a few hours away. It is Ron Burgundy’s purgatory – a void, titanic and perpetual glass case of emotion.

We hastened out and indulged at Hazev and Goodman, two bars sitting alongside South Dock. The hour was only half ten, but the heaving bars were now a thing of the past and the torch of the city was fading to dying embers. Either the affirmation “work hard play hard” is but a flimsy marketing slogan regurgitated in false promise by tired employees, or the local worker types play elsewhere. The latter being a likely truism considering the quality of the local pubscape.

BDUndeterred, we ventured onwards and raced into the young night in search of final imbibing. In and out of transparent towers and through empty hallways and shopping pavilions, we were turned away again and again by the perplexed door staff. Constant suggestions of short bus rides to thrilling destinations did nothing but energise our search for the elusive final pint hidden within the gangways and avenues of Canary Wharf.

We finally fumbled our way to Fine Line, another waterside bar and the last we found with its doors still open and taps still running. Although completely empty, a dedicated DJ continued to reel out hit after hit to the empty room. We filled it as best we could, employing walking dance moves so to enhance the illusion of a swelling patronage.Sleepy

As the final bell rung at midnight we marched back to Canary Wharf station through the now deserted streets – joy still ringing through our unaccompanied group. In the 12 hour stretch between 8am and 8pm Canary Wharf is a swirling, hectic, chaotic mass of motivated workers. A place where sums of money too wild to imagine are spent, lost and recouped with a shrug and the whimsical flick of a director’s hand. Of an evening it is a bizarre, deserted dystopia with only the occasional light shining from an office on the 28th floor. A hunched silhouette desperately punching numbers into multiple screens and not even the promise of a late night local boozer to console their hard work.

Our outlandish clothes and inviting smiles, although genuine and well-meaning, did little to invigorate or alter the deep-seated traditions of Canary Wharf’s crammed institutions. But hopefully one late-night lone trader, looking down through the window from their cluttered, paper filled desk, saw a dozen people being led through the streets, Piper-esque, by two men in kaleidoscopic shirts and forgot, just for a moment, about the impending doom of Monday morning.



BRIXTON – September 2015

“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

Crowd selfieWe 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. 

Beer towerThe 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. 

Sad Andy KFCThe 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.



BRENT CROSS – August 2015

A night of biblical journeys, titanic tournaments and finest folk is what’s in store for those brave enough to traverse the scarce but rewarding pubscape of Brent Cross. 


It’s a rare and exalting experience beating one’s friend at the 1995 special edition of Trivial Pursuit whilst relaxing in a leather wing back and sipping finest ale. If you haven’t experienced such highs I suggest you manufacture a scenario in which you can as soon as possible. Luckily for me, my blind guess that Prime Minister of New Zealand David Lange compared Margaret Thatcher’s speaking style to that of Hitler at the Nuremberg rallies had seen me seize the allusive yet decisive final slice in my multi-coloured knowledge cake and gifted me with the ecstasy which only such episodes can provide. Even rarer still, yet similarly exalting, is to find oneself celebrating such victories soon after by performing the Oops Upside Your Head dance with a local lady on the dance IMG_3119floor of a sports-bar-come-nightclub-come-Indian-restaurant.

Before we made it to The Greyhound, where my guesswork trounced Greg into a moronic submission due to his lacking knowledge of current affairs around the time of his seventh birthday, we had walked miles from Brent Cross station in search of a suitable boozer. We headed out the station towards the red dots denoting pubs on our Google Maps and found nearly all shut down. Their charming façades remain but they are now home to health and safety companies or simply boarded up in lieu of corporate development. As we crossed the pulsing vein of the North Circular, our mouths still bone dry, we took to discussing the area’s famed religious community and more precisely, our thoughts addled by dehydration, what a Jewish themed pub might be called. The winner being Greg’s offering of ‘Bar Mitzvah’. What he lacks in mid-nineties trivia he makes up for with excellent punning.

IMG_20150808_193614We finally enjoyed our first pint in the student friendly The Claddagh Ring, some 45 minutes after meeting at Brent Cross station, followed by a drink in The Chequers and finally The Greyhound. The evening was drawing in and our only option was to continue down towards Hendon in search of further refreshment. It was here, tucked away unassumingly next to the station, that we found our way down into The Arena Sports Bar and Club and met Naomi – the kind of woman who happily receives two strangers into her local with unwavering aplomb and charisma. First she glanced at us across the tiny dance floor, which lies at the opposite end of the long room to the families tucking into Saag Paneer, then she made her way over to bestow us with the virtues of her local and, before the tired DJ sat behind a plethora of lasers and lights could click to the next track, had us sitting and slapping on the sticky laminate floor in time to a favoured discotheque tune. As Greg noted, one can be as confident and outgoing as possible but it takes the Naomis of the world, welcoming without thought or worry, to really make a night out.IMG_3132

Reluctantly we left Naomi, the crawl beckoning as always, and headed to Kelly’s where we were refused entry due to Greg displaying his ghostly pale pins. Greg hopelessly scanned a nearby pile of rubbish, praying for some suitable and unsullied garms that may suit the bouncers’ fashion requirements. Sadly, however, no one had found themselves disposing of a pair of prime condition and clean 32-34’s in the hours before our arrival. There was some chat of using one of our coats or passing the one pair of trousers we had between us through the pub’s toilet window so we could both enter but the logistical reality of these plans soon put end to any such endeavours.

IMG_3140Instead we headed into The Hendon where we met Robert and Artou, two Eastern Europeans who shared our penchant for lager and pub sports. A lengthy tournament spanning both air hockey and table football soon ensued with Greg and I displaying a skill and dexterity beyond our years at air hockey but a skill at table football reminiscent of our skills on an actual pitch. We shook hands with our foreign counterparts and headed on into The Bodhran and finally, longing for more hip swaying, headed back to The Arena for a last turn with Naomi before the final tube. She was distracted by other punters on our second innings and only gave us a genial but brief wave. We waved back and vowed to catch up with her when the crawl sends us back to Hendon Central in November 2021.

The unexpected revelries, and the blatant lies of the TFL app (so misleading Greg sent them an angry, drunken tweet), led to us yet again missing our last tube home and a lengthy relay of night buses was our only option. Greg and I took to slumbering in shifts whilst the other made good with selfies. Reaching Ealing at 2am we passed Crispin’s Wine Bar on the short walk between night buses and, rules being rules, stopped in for a final, bleary eyed night cap before the final hour trudge back to leafy South West London. Brent Cross had been a night of trekking from start to finish and one we won’t be quick to forget.


Next stop: BRIXTON

BOW ROAD – July 2015

A stone’s throw from the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, would Bow Road make or break the dreams of two eager young hopefuls embarking on the 28th leg of the ultimate test in pub crawl endurance?

Only time would tell…

IMG_3029Bow Road had two possible identities in my mind – I imagined it as either a cockney stronghold or a hotbed for hipsters, spilling over from nearby Hackney. In fact, we didn’t find a great deal near Bow Road itself. Mindful of not impinging on Mile End (to the west) or Bromley-by-Bow (to the east) we turned right along Bow Road, planning to then meander north along the River Lea towards Hackney Wick.

The two pubs Bow Road did deliver – The Little Driver and The Bow Bells – were agreeably traditional establishments with a great beer garden and possibly the comfiest sofa in the East End respectively. Andy and I sank into easy conversation, discovering neither cockneys nor hipsters, just friendly Londoners enjoying a lazy Friday evening drink.

IMG_3041In a relaxed mood, we set off towards the River Lea. The Olympic Stadium swam into view and our endurance was tested as it took almost 30 minutes to find another pub. No matter – we enjoyed the evening air, sporting sights and multifarious graffiti along the river’s edge until The Plough at Swan Wharf appeared, along with the promise of a cool craft beer. I let the barmaid advise my choice of beverage, ending up with a Mokko Milk Stout, a hearty and sweet concoction bringing to mind the Korova Milk Bar where Alex and his droogs supped on drug-laced milk in A Clockwork Orange. Andy received a German wheat beer and we felt quite cosmopolitan sitting on the high outdoor terrace. Shame the bar was only sparsely attended, the burly doorman’s presence surely redundant for such a well-behaved and modest gathering.

IMG_3040Winding through the warehouse-lined backstreets we came across Formans, a rather well-to-do eatery where we imbibed Shoreditch Blondes and munched on olives in the sterile bar area. The sliding doors to the restaurant were decorated with an HD image of smoked salmon, blown up to such monstrous proportions that it made me feel vaguely nauseous just looking at it.

Moving swiftly on, we soon arrived at Crate Bar and Pizzeria. On the banks of the River Lee Navigation Canal, it boasted a huge outdoor drinking area, ample space to dance indoors, a trendy but unpretentious crowd and its very own barge complete with onboard bar. This was a real find, one of the best of the crawl so far. We wandered around, soaking up the atmosphere and settled gleefully on the barge, grinning like schoolboys.

IMG_3051Reluctant to move on but pulled by the restless spirit of the crawl, we took a few steps along from Crate and discovered Howling Hops, the UK’s first “tank bar”, opened only recently but already building up an impressive clientele from Crate’s passing trade and their own enviable beers and impeccable service. Kat, one of the bar staff, let us sample from several tanks and provided gentle suggestions when we seemed indecisive. Andy fell in love within seconds but her dedication to the job was such that he found no appropriate moment in which to woo her with love sonnets. A quick photo had to suffice. We could have stayed all evening, sauntering between Howling Hops and Crate, but the road lured us on. If you ever find yourself in the vicinity, do pay a visit to these two glorious pubs – you won’t be disappointed. And say hi to Kat for Andy.

The Yard Theatre was just a few yards away from Howling Hops and upon entering their bar we found a near perfect vacuum containing just three bar staff and ourselves. Attempting to break our record for the shortest time spent in an establishment we opted for tequilas and were back on the crawl in seconds.

IMG_3104Kat had recommended a venue called Number 90 and we were determined to honour her proposal. Alas, we first came across Turntable and were greeted by a hostile doorman who was deeply offended by Andy’s attempt to enter the venue in the normal manner – by the door. Biting our tongues, we withstood his irksome tirade and eventually managed to gain entry, only to find the bar closed. Number 90 was thankfully next door and, while quiet, it provided some entertainment by way of a pop-up art exhibition. The artist in question was the monstrously talented Stefano Ronchi, better known as RONCH, whose minutely detailed creations kept us diverted until the last tube beckoned. Indeed, it is RONCH who I blame for missing the final train and being forced to splash out on an Uber to Waterloo. (RONCH, if you’re reading this, if you provide an original artwork each as compensation for our disrupted travel plans we’ll call it quits.)

And so we found neither cockneys nor hipsters, but an easy-going, arty district and two genuinely outstanding venues. Crate and Howling Hops, we salute you.
IMG_20150731_233124Next stop: BRENT CROSS