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.

Finish

Next stop: CANNING TOWN

BROMLEY-BY-BOW – October 2015

The pubscape of Bromley-By-Bow is nothing if not unremarkable. But what it lacks in attractive boozers it makes up for with finest folk – a swelling roster of big characters and big hearts.

Bromley-By-Bow sign

“Are you gay?!”

Greg and I had barely toasted to Bromley-By-Bow in Galvanisers, an A12 roadside residing pub, when the familiar, borough spanning Ultimate London Pub Crawl inquisition resumed.

This was the first time, however, that an intrusion into mine and Greg’s sexual habits had been used as a conversation opener. Normally fellow barflies engage us in some light and colloquial chitchat before jabbing a finger into our chests and demanding we reveal just where our cocks go after lights out. Danny Dodds, known locally as Doddsy – a self-proclaimed “East End Legend” whose preferred form of communication was shouting – had no time for such formalities.

Greg was fixed in Doddsy’s swaying but steely glare.

“Well?” Doddsy demanded.

“No.”

He lurched his head across the table towards me, “And you?”IMG_3382

“No.”

These clearly weren’t the answers Doddsy was expecting and thusly a short but awkward silence followed.

“Are you gay?” Greg chirped.

“Me?! Fark orrrrrrfffff!”

Doddsy was a broad shouldered middle-aged gent who had left his flat two weeks earlier for a pint and not returned at all during the interim fortnight. He muttered, slurred and gesticulated his way through a series of impossible to follow anecdotes from his trailblazing youth. The only decipherable line being the climatic “[something something something] squirt them in the face with a water pistol!”

Doddsy asked how we had ended up in Bromley-By-Bow and we, of course, obliged and explained.

“You boys,” he fog-horned before slipping into an impersonation of the two of us, “’We just want versatility and originality’. Fuck off. You just want a load of sluts.”

“Just one slut will do.” Greg offered with a wry smile.

Doddsy, incandescent with lust for the as yet unknown maiden, flung his head back and hollered, “JUST ONE SLUUUUUUUUUUUUT!” his arms reaching out toward the spectral singular slut he bawled for.

“Any trouble call me and remember,” Doddsy lowered his voice to offer a final, paternal and sincere affirmation before our departure, “smash it while you can.”

It was hard to imagine how any bar or patron would ever entertain us again Anno Doddsy.

The Widow’s Son was next, followed by The Royal Charlie – a carpeted and archetypal local London boozer with an uninspiring selection of beers but a comfortable and charming veneer.

IMG_3387Greg and I positioned ourselves at a central table and it wasn’t long until another Bromley-By-Bow local introduced themselves.

“Excuse me?” a strong but lilting East London accent called from the next table, “but what are you doing here?”

The voice belonged to Jenni, a twenty-something local girl who was out with her friends, Elsa and Rachael, and her boyfriend Jack – all four of whom were working, or training to work in, the educational sector.

The quartet, led by Jenni – a girl who can’t move further than three feet in Bromley-By-Bow without running into someone she knows – accepted Greg and I quicker than we have ever known over the past 30 crawls. Elsa and Rachael, although pleasant company, soon cited domestic commitments the following morning and made haste for the train. But Jack and Jenni, a couple so affable it’s hard to imagine anyone not falling into easy conversation with them, took our invitation to follow us to the next pub.

“This way boys!” Jenni ordered as we strode out of The Charlie into the night and towards The Festival Inn – “the only other pub in Bromley-By-Bow”.IMAG0008

Jenni, characteristically, was on first name terms with the entire staff and after a brief round of hellos waved us through to an adjacent, private room for a pool tournament.

Round after round of drinks and pool followed. An hour and revels had passed by the time Greg and I submitted to the inescapable trill of the crawl. We exchanged details with our new chums, said our farewells and headed onwards unaccompanied.

We were now on East India Dock Road and a quick stop in the pleasingly named Bum Daddy’s Manor Arms launched us into Canary Wharf in search of terminal lubrication. Brodie’s Bar was the only offering and, with the joyful spirits our new friends still in our minds, IMG_3401we took the empty dancefloor as an invitation and grooved away, a giddy duo, whilst the business tie clad elite looked on. An air of desperation fuelled their reserve and they smiled uneasily at us, wriggled their shoulders to the beat but dared not venture further than the comfort zone of their own seats. Despite their geographical proximity these people are galaxies apart from the Doddsy’s, Jenni’s and Jack’s of this world.

We staggered homewards, stopping only to clamber on a nearby inner-city sculpture, and praised Bromley-By-Bow and its fair citizens for cementing our faith in the high spirits and good nature of our capital dwelling neighbours.

IMG_3394Next stop: BUCKHURST HILL