CHORLEYWOOD – March 2017

In a green haven just outside the M25 sits Chorleywood. In a 2004 survey it was found to have the highest quality of life of any neighbourhood in England, beating 32,481 other districts to the top spot. A lot can change in 13 years…IMG_6081

I’d printed a map again. I occasionally do this when we’re visiting a distant land and may benefit from a little cartographic guidance. I therefore knew in advance that Chorleywood boasted seven pubs, five of which are arranged around a 200-acre Common, with the remaining two being relegated further off to the southwest. You may ask, bold reader, why I bothered printing a map when my iPhone could easily fulfil all possible navigational needs? The answer is surely obvious: to feel like an olde worlde explorer, staring diligently map-wards every now and then whilst stroking my chin and narrowing my eyes. And so it was, like Lewis and Clark, that Andy and I set off to explore the badlands of Chorleywood.

We skirted the Common, fighting our way through the thick grass that brushed against our ankles relentlessly, and after a trek of some minutes we arrived at The Rose & Crown. My map had won its first victory. Our next task was to penetrate the thicket of automobiles clustered around the entrance, but penetrate it we did and indeed forged our way into the pub itself. Inside, we found a gathering so dense, so pre-eminently overcrowded, that it brought to mind the atomic structure of graphene. Holding a brief strategic tête-à-tête, we decided on a plan beloved by horror movie screenwriters – to split up. Andy set a course for the far corner of the bar where he espied a tiny spit of land as yet unsullied by human occupation, whereas I locked eyes with the frenzied barman and set about procuring something to quench our thirst. I almost lost my map in the ensuing trip through the throng, but somehow I pioneered a route to Andy.

You can see, from our earliest explorations, that Chorleywood put up a formidable fight to begin with. But after The Rose & Crown a strange calm descended as we trekked northeast to firstly The Gate and then The White Horse, where no individual incident is worth relating, even in this anecdote-rich corner of the blogosphere. My map was earning its keep but we craved fresh adventure.

Moving south along the edge of the Common, The Black Horse proved a more fertile source of exploits. We were regaling the bar staff about our quest to explore all 270 London tube stations when a bystander sauntered over:

“I used to do a similar thing, but on the national rail network,” he boasted nonchalantly.

We made noises of the noncommittal variety, half impressed and half mistrustful.

“Yeah, me and the lads would stick a pin in the rail map on a Friday night and go out boozing all weekend. Glasgow was a great one – I had to buy myself some new clothes there mind you.”

Before we could ask him whether he arrived in Glasgow sartorially bereft, or just got a hankering for a new wardrobe mid-booze-up, he’d walked away, preventing us from questioning the veracity of his tall tales.

We were on the cusp of leaving when the karaoke started up. (As a side note, it seems to me that the more far-flung the location, the more often the locals profess a love for karaoke. This is also proportional to their singing ability, which decreases the further you get from Zone 1.) Tempted by the limelight, we were perusing the songbook when the landlady chirped up:

“Sing any song you like, apart from Gay Bar!”

IMG_6083This half-joke immediately highlighted two of her personal views, both of which were wrong – the first factually and the second morally. First, that she assumed we were gay (no proof of that as yet but with 19 years of the crawl still to go all bets are off) and second, that it might be unwise to sing a song such as ‘Gay Bar’ in her pub. The smiling face of small-town homophobia. We declined the offer of karaoke and departed.

Caught off guard by the landlady’s bigotry, we almost got lost crossing the Common, now in darkness, as we headed towards The Old Shepherd, where we were greeted by a young man with an impressive beard and an eye patch.

“Are you over 21 and can I see some ID?”

IMG_6082We passed his abrupt entry procedure and discovered a scene which was the polar opposite of that at The Rose & Crown. It was like a museum after closing time – quiet, dusty and absolutely devoid of life. Andy discovered with a grimace a well-worn copy of the Daily Mail and looked up his horoscope to lighten the mood. Those erudite astrologists do seem to have a certain obsession with Uranus. It was at this point we realised, with sudden pangs of hunger, that we hadn’t eaten, and so ordered an explorer’s feast: mini cheddars AND salted peanuts.

Having survived the dangers of the Common, we proceeded southwest through the gloomy, precipitous streets, towards the final two pubs. We hadn’t gone far before a hideous vision leered out of the darkness:

“41 Hubbards Road!”, it barked in a gravelly contralto.

We were momentarily stunned into silence.

“41 Hubbards Road!”

This short phrase seemed to be its only mode of communication. It dawned on me that this creature must be in search of that particular destination and – raising my map confidently – I identified that we were in fact already on Hubbards Road. A swift glance to my left told me that number 41 was but a few doors away. I communicated with the beast as best I could, by a mixture of hand signals and frantic eyebrow raising, and retrieved Andy who had withdrawn, terrified, into nearby shrubbery.

The fearsome she-devil now but a memory, we pushed on to a pleasant drink in The Stag and finally to the intriguingly named The Land of Liberty, Peace & Plenty. This final pub was incredibly male, the only exception being Gill, the landlady. It was a haven for ale drinkers, the sign above the door claiming that they’d had 3,415 guest beers on tap. I don’t know when they started counting, but it’s an impressive figure whatever the start date. Alas we couldn’t stay to sample all their guest beers – the last tube back into London was calling. We had survived Chorleywood. My trusty map had done its job.

Something tells me we won’t need a map in Clapham next month. Shame.

IMG_6448NEXT STOP: CLAPHAM COMMON

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. 

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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.

Sleepy

Next stop: BRIXTON

BOND STREET – March 2015

Pubs and nuts and a desperate search for fun.

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I ushered in the evening by ordering an alcohol-free beer. Andy caught my mistake just in time and the barman recommended two bottles of Cubanisto, a rum-flavoured lager with a cloying, perfumed taste. We stood shivering outside the Spread Eagle, downing the soapy swill as fast as our stomaches would allow. Not exactly our finest hour. But I didn’t worry. I knew the evening would soon blossom into a Mardi Gras of new friendships and surprise festivities. It always did.

We moved onwards through a series of underwhelming pubs: The Duke of York, Bonds, The Loop, Coach and Horses, The Guinea Grill, The Barley Mow, Henry Holland, The Lamb and Flag. Where were the eccentric characters, welcoming us into their world and buying us drinks? Where were the hilarious anecdotes, heartwarming stories and cautionary tales? Where were the wedding parties, drunken ageing flirts, young hoodlums, magicians, pathological liars and genuinely friendly souls that we usually encounter at every turn? It is my sad duty, dear reader, to report that even the most eventful moments of our Bond Street crawl were, alas, suicidally boring. I could mention the nuts we ordered in the Coach and Horses. They were satisfactory. Or the more exotic ‘Thai nuts’ we bravely sampled at the Barley Mow. Boy, what a zing! We crunched the evening away in salty disappointment.

IMG_2555The only establishment to rise above the parapet of mediocrity was The Loop, our third stop of the night. The Loop is a subterranean club in which thirty-somethings engage in curious mating rituals, bringing to mind our experience of Patch in Blackfriars. We amused ourselves watching a besuited trio edge ever closer to a pair of dancing girls who, unimpressed, attempted to hide behind our broad, muscular frames, and then – finding this hiding place inadequate – retreated deeper into the dark bowels of the building, still followed by the smart-dressed lechers. This, ladies and gentlemen, was the high point of our evening – witnessing the eternal, tragicomic waltz of Misplaced Dancefloor Libidinousness.

Perturbed by the utter non-event of Bond Street, we began hypothesising why this area delivered such an insipid night out. Mentally recalling our previous 23 crawls, it seemed to us that the nearer to London’s epicentre one travelled, the more consistently banal the drinkers became. Why should this be? We theorised that in Central London people generally work for large, corporate institutions and their careers demand constant ingratiation to their superiors and peers, leading to the formation of tight-knit circles of influence, at every level. This environment breeds the sort of safe, homogenous, uninteresting, inoffensive groups we found drinking in every Bond Street pub. Human potpourri, if you will. Whereas, those living further out are less money-driven and more individualistic, fearing no repercussions for expressing their true, glorious, weird, unique natures. It is in these outlying lands – Amersham, Acton Town, Becontree – that we have met the most memorable individuals and had the most bizarrely entertaining experiences.

But – perhaps we were just unlucky. Perhaps we hit Bond Street on a bad night. Perhaps it was us who were in bad humour and failed to spot the charm deftly hidden in the all-pervading blandness. But, if not, to the drinkers of Bond Street I say this: cast off the shackles of corporate conformity and live a little! Celebrate the diverse aspects of your personality, sing your own song, and make Bond Street (and your own lives) the more exciting and dynamic for it.

Don’t be potpourri, man. Be yourself.

Postscript: Providence wouldn’t allow us to end the night utterly crestfallen; we stumbled across our good friends Pip and Thom who restored our faith in humanity and treated us to a thoroughly diverting train journey home.

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Next stop: BOROUGH

BLACKFRIARS – January 2015

The haunt of many a young professional, Blackfriars boasts a plethora of pubs but lacks any discernible soul of its own.

It felt like an age since Bethnal Green. The ULPC Christmas Party was going to take some beating and, as I met Andy outside the station, I sensed that Blackfriars could not but pale in comparison.

We began in the historic Blackfriar pub where I washed down my pessimism with the first refreshing beer of the night. A svelte corporate crowd packed the joint and we claimed a square foot of floor upon which Andy regaled me with his recent adventures in Colombia (which, by the way, are worthy of any Jules Verne novel). 

My mind awash with treacherous river journeys and perilous jungle treks, I felt disoriented as we exited into Blackfriars’ warren of backstreets. Within seconds we stumbled upon the Latin-themed Camino bar, a pleasing bridge between London and South America. Here, pulsating rhythms moved a younger crowd, still unmistakably corporate but clearly with a penchant for the pleasures of a smooth groove.

After another beer and many head nods in agreement with the insistent Latin beats we braved the warren once more. The winding streets led us to Patch where, after briefly disrupting a private party on the ground floor, we descended into the basement and travelled back in time to a seething, frothing, pre-Millennial club night. 1990s R&B thickened the air. It was only 8.30pm yet the dance floor was overrun with writhing, groping, wide-eyed, slack-jawed creatures. Young drunk females – all fluttering lashes and empty glasses – eyed up the smartly dressed men, strutting and posturing with shameless vanity. It seemed like an elaborate parody.

I made a brief escape to the gents, abandoning Andy to the indelicate mob, whereupon I discovered that the urinal had – inconceivably, preposterously – been fitted with a video game. Two LCD screens hovered over the latrine, left and right arrows were affixed low down on the metal trough, willing the user to direct their steaming beery piss towards them, hence manoeuvring the racing car on screen. Any comment on this unique marriage between excreta and gaming would distort this blog into a lengthy diatribe on the current state of society, so let me just say I zipped up and escorted Andy swiftly off the premises.

Anne Marie 1“A video game in the gents, awesome!” Andy confirmed my worst fears about London’s collective male psyche as we traipsed towards a busy road. Feeling distinctly Ludditic, I was glad when we sat down in The Albion to relative peace and quiet and discussed Will Self’s The Book of Dave for a few calm minutes. All was right with the world again. But normalcy couldn’t last. What was I thinking? I didn’t want it to last! As if on cue, a larger than life lady called Anne Marie instantly befriended us, bearing her soul with startling speed, grabbing our hips lasciviously and somehow cajoling a rousing rendition of The Lumberjack Song out of us. After referring to herself as a fag hag it became obvious that she’d taken our running tally to: Brothers – 3; Lovers – 2.

As we were about to part from Anne Marie’s jovial company, a fruity aroma filled the air, my eyes began to water and she coyly confessed, “my bottom gave a little tingle”. The flirt.

G & A club roomOnwards we ventured to Chi Noodle and Wine Bar where we attempted karaoke but were fobbed off by an aggressively territorial glee club, then onto the drearily empty Punch Tavern. We’d missed last orders in all the nearby pubs so we made a beeline for a group of drinkers walking with intent, ending up at Jamies Wine Bar and Restaurant. Forgiving the inexplicable lack of apostrophe, we went in and settled down at the bar. On a trip to the loo – sans video games I was relieved to see – I passed a door labelled ‘Function Room’. Slyly peeking inside I discovered a plush hideaway complete with pool table. Fetching Andy, we soon made this room our own private club, enjoying a clandestine game or two. This is how secret agents must hang out, I thought. A quartet of lads joined us after a while, before a barmaid eventually entered and chastised us like only a mother can. We withstood her dressing-down in pious silence and, perhaps a little charmed by our boyish rule breaking, she allowed us to remain. However, the hour had gotten late, so Andy and I bade our chums farewell and left for the train.

My earlier prediction was correct. Blackfriars is undoubtedly tamer than Bethnal Green. It confirms a growing suspicion of ours, that corporate areas beget homogenous, lifeless pubs. Money does not equate to good times. Real people, like Anne Marie, are the life and soul of a district. Blackfriars is in dire need of more Anne Maries.

Gang at JamiesNext stop: BLACKHORSE ROAD

BERMONDSEY – November 2014

Bermondsey’s unique and varied residents welcomed us with open arms for a thoroughly unpredictable evening of politics, rock music and cycling.

“I could have been the next Alan Shearer if I’d kept off the booze and drugs.” So claimed Sonny, a fast-talking rascal who accosted us with his own brand of non-stop banter the moment we entered The Gregorian. This pleasingly-named pub was Sonny’s stomping ground and he, along with his brother-in-arms Allie, said that if we encountered any trouble, just mention their names to gain carte blanche and immediate respect. The pair were already impressively mullered; it was 7pm.

Along with almost becoming the next Alan Shearer, Sonny informed us he was a former youth leader of EDL, he earned £2k a week working as a ‘trunker’, his father was top dog on one of London’s biggest estates and was a friend of diamond heist masterminds and taught Tommy Robinson all he knew, and – most poetically of all – if we ventured too far into Bermondsey we were likely “to get raped”. If ever an iota of silence should fall, he would respond in an almost Pavlovian manner with one of two stock phrases: “I coulda gone ta uni” or the inevitable “I ain’t racist, but…”.

Before any of this, he requested to message his girlfriend from my phone, from my own Facebook profile in fact. To prove he wouldn’t run off with the device, he emptied his pockets as a deposit, consisting of some loose change, chewing gum and a few pirate DVDs. I cautiously let him use the phone and later saw that he began his message with the charming salutation “hello you little slag”. She never replied.

Despite the unflattering (but accurate) picture I may be painting of Sonny, he did welcome us warmly into his corner of Bermondsey, and provided an unprecedented level of chat for so early in the evening, not to mention plenty of material for the blog. As we bade adieu to him and Allie it felt as if we’d peaked too soon. Surely the rest of Bermondsey would be beige in comparison to a start full of such local colour?

Dirk and the gangWe were joined at this point by our friend Aniela and the three of us wandered on, a little shell shocked, and soon found the St James of Bermondsey, a bastion of calm after The Gregorian. It was full of quiet, friendly types, and a genial gesture soon bid us join a half-full table alongside the affable Dirk and his boyfriend, hailing from Germany and Italy respectively, but who’d been living in Bermondsey for several years. They were the antithesis of Sonny and Allie: modest, liberal, refined, professional. They represented another side of Bermondsey and warned us off several establishments, including the Blue Anchor, the Victoria and indeed the Gregorian. When we said we liked to experience the true nature of an area, and not cherry pick our pubs, they raised a doubtful eyebrow and wished us luck.

Back out into the night again, The Stanley Arms soon appeared, emblazoned with ‘Bermondsey’s premiere live music venue’ above the entrance. We entered to the quiet tones of nondescript 1950s jazz; both the music and décor seemed caught in a time warp, and the punters appeared not to have moved from their stools in several decades. Tonight’s DJ was Mike, we were informed; the regular DJ, Larry, was away. We nearly requested some Slayer or Cannibal Corpse but didn’t want to risk Mike’s chagrin. “Thanks, Larry”, I yelled on the way out, an accidental faux pas guaranteed to turn Mike a deeper shade of puce as he lined up yet another faded hit of yesteryear to regale the wallpaper with.

G, A and guitaristAs we entered The Blue Anchor a band by name of TNT were setting up. Would this rival The Stanley Arms’ legendary status as Bermondsey’s premiere live music venue? The answer was immediate and explosive. Over the next hour, TNT treated us to a plethora of rock classics, from Thin Lizzie to Led Zeppelin, as the three of us almost set fire to the dance floor. The guitarist played one solo with his pint glass and we were smitten. Most of the other punters continued their sad but steady guzzling of booze, hanging onto the bar for dear life, with one notable exception. A few songs in we were joined by the quirkily named Cookie, a sharp dressed fellow who memorably stated “I’m 44 and I’ve loved music since before I were born”. He swayed in and out of the pub, joining us for a few photos, group hugs and indistinct mumblings. We didn’t want to leave but felt the spirit of the crawl urging us on.

Aniela with hatWe had been utterly spoiled by the calibre of the evening thus far and the subsequent two pubs (The Old Bank and The Hand and Marigold) were, almost inevitably, somewhat vanilla in comparison. They had no Sonny and Allie, no Dirk, no Mike the stand-in DJ, no rock gods TNT and no music-loving Cookie. However, Bermondsey had not quite run out of fun yet. Aniela brought some fashion to the evening by modelling an item of industrial millinery left languishing on the roadside. Milan, take note.

MotorbikeAndy then struck on the intensely foolish idea of cycling back to Waterloo on Boris bikes. Which of course we all embraced wholeheartedly. There isn’t room here to describe our obscure route or embarrassing average speed. Only to mention that one of us took regular, sudden, spread-eagled breaks. I won’t reveal her name.

I must, however, end on a special mention of the wonderful Aniela, who has left on a Colombian adventure that makes our London ramblings seem like child’s play. And so: bon voyage! Travel safe! And teach those Colombians how to party Bermondsey style (if not to cycle). If you get into any trouble, just say you’re mates with Sonny and Allie.

IMG_20141107_223148Next stop: BETHNAL GREEN

BELSIZE PARK – October 2014

Apparently taken from the French ‘bel assis’, meaning ‘well placed’, Belsize Park’s pleasing geographical situation makes it a hot bed for the rich and famous. From actors to musicians to a 110 year old Holocaust survivor, it truly is home to the great and good. And now it can claim to be the temporary residence of two tactless but well meaning seekers of the sauce.Belsize Sign

Heading up Rosslyn Hill before turning right onto Pond Street we made stops at The George, The Roebuck and The Garden Gate. All three were high class, laid back, gourmet burger serving type establishments. Inhabited by preened and pruned men and women lounging lazily in wingback leather chairs and discussing the political dilemmas of the week just gone. Greg and I’s standing in this social scene was an uneasy one and, despite our half educaBelsize pubsted proclamations about the state of our nation, we were unable to penetrate the well placed landed gentry.

We forged onwards, stopping for a quick beer in the White Horse, and into The Stag where a patient and good willed group were waiting, cake and balloons in place, to surprise their 30 year old friend. We contributed to the cheering and whooping upon her arrival but, alas, were not asked to join the birthday revelries. On a nearby table a young couple, obviously spurred on by the party atmosphere, started what can only be described as ‘dry humping’ on one of the pub’s pews. The lyric “loving on the floor of Belsize Park” from Marillion’s hit Kayleigh had struck an inspiring and passionate chord with these lovers and a sort of re-creation was initiated. To their defence the floor was probably not the ideal place for fully clothed copulation so we left them, horizontal and sweaty, adoring one another on the bench.

Next, The Lord Southampton – a slightly ageing and shabby local pub for local people where the romantic attention was turned on Greg and I by a middle aged cellist called Tony and a 30 something girl called Georgie (who was obsessed with stating “I hope my boyfriend doesn’t find out” despite the lack of any sordid behaviour). Greg took it upon himself to teach Tony how to twerk, a scene which Greg’s pupil described as “a gay fest”, and we all took turns in selecting IMG_20141017_221140some classic pop hits on the jukebox to croon along to. We were joined by Sandie, an East London lady of the highest calibre who suffixed every sentence with “babes” and was wont to tell anyone who would listen, “I ses wha’ I fink . . . babes”. Our unlikely quintet proved a raging success, however, and Tony and Sandie were true rough diamonds – hilarious, welcoming and memorable company. The booze and banter was flowing freely until Tony, for reasons we still can’t decipher, was accosted by a midget at the bar. Some shouting and pushing prevailed, Sandie saw to the vertically challenged assailant whilst Tony was dragged, kicking and screaming, to a corner of the bar. Our bottles empty, Greg and I concluded our bumptious presence was no longer desired and left the drama to play without us.

We sauntered back towards Haverstock Hill, the evening now starting to blur round the edges somewhat, and met with Greg’s girlfriend, Helen, and friend, Colette. We made flying visits to The Hill and The Sir Richard Steele, the latter of which is adorned with a biblical ceiling mural. I, in my own slurring way, deciphered the art for my chums and anyone who happened to be in ear shot. At the time I felt like I had unearthed some deep, unrealised critical acumen I posses on contempIMG_20141017_233930orary theological iconography. In reflection I think we were at a point where the alcohol swilling around inside us had diluted anyone’s need to call ‘bull shit’, a call I achingly deserved.

Finally, eager to dance away the remaining time before the last tube, we jogged down towards Chalk Farm and ended in The Enterprise. An end of the pier photo board provided much entertainment for our swaying climax in this trendy bar, as did invading the deserted dance floor to groove with two older chaps. The boogie duo, along with the publicly lascivious couple, the regulars of The Lord Southampton and our own respectable company, proved, as always, that the many varied people of London, regardless of placement, just want to have a good time.

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Next stop: BERMONDSEY

BALHAM – February 2014

The Moon Under Water represented George Orwell’s musings on the perfect boozer. Apt, then, that the first stop on our crawl through the superb Balham shares the same name as his fabled drinking hole.Balham

“1.The architecture and fittings must be uncompromisingly Victorian”. Balham’s Moon Under Water does itself a disservice by framing Orwell’s public house ideals next to the bar. From the first ruling onward, Balham’s premier Wetherspoons starts to sink. Faux wood panelling does pertain a certain, if not cheap, Dickensian air. But “uncompromisingly Victorian” is a stretch.

As Greg and I discussed where we may find a bar that could meet such standards a local, as always, stepped in to help.

The Regent and The Balham Bowls Club are where you want to go”.

“And The Bedford?” I enquired.

“Yeah, mate. It’s cracking.”

And so our route was set. One hopes that over the next two decades London’s dedicated drinkers will continue to recognise and assist fellow imbibers in need. A posthumous addition to Orwell’s list should certainly be “friendly fellow drinkers keen to show you the way to a good time”.

The Regent started us off well. A large and lively bar winding down from the recent end of a football game. And then onto Greg Pianothe Hagen and Hyde, a stylised and well kempt relic from an old Steptoe and Son episode – thoughtfully placed detritus abound and an old plonky piano for the musically versed.

A quick drink at bland cocktail bar Be At One and then into The Balham Bowls Club. The BBC, as it is affectionately known, stands out as the first venue that is utterly unique compared to all 63 bars that have proceeded it on the Ultimate London Pub Crawl. Residing in, as the name suggests, an old bowls club it is charming and characterful and worth of a night by its own rights. Gone are the pseudo local pub stylings that seem to adorn most bars, and in is an idiosyncratic, unashamed and genuine oddness that is immensely appealing.

Three quick stops at The Grove, The Clarence and The Devonshire followed, punctuated with a quick face stuffing of pizza as none of the bars fulfilled Orwell’s sixth requirement of “a snack counter where you can get liver sandwiches”. Then into the Lost and Found, swinging to the rhythms of an 80’s disco. Grooving away to Journey and Whitney Huston, Greg attracted unwanted mano-a-mano attention.

“He’s your boyfriend, I take it?”, Sean, a well preened gent, asked me (taking the mistaken relationship score to: Brothers – 2, Lovers -1).

Ian and Greg, Lost and Found

“No, just a friend.”

“Great. My mate Ian really fancies him. We should get them together.”

“Yes”, I agreed, thoughts of Greg’s long term cohabitation with his girlfriend a paled memory, “yes we should”.

Ian was keen, the taste of a lonely Valentine’s Day still tangible, and took every opportunity to sidle up to Greg and throw an arm around his waist whenever the camera was pulled out. Sean informed us of another room downstairs where the four of us could dance. Greg, for reasons beyond me, insisted we leave immediately.

Finally to The Bedford where Greg and I, fuelled by the previous nine stops, grew impatient with the lack of dance commitment from the numerous fellow groovers and attempted, in vain, to rile up a party. We found a friendly couple of girls willing to throw abandon to the wind and jive unapologetically but the majority of TheThe Bedford Bedford’s clientèle preferred a cool and calculated swagger. And thus we stumbled from The Bedford and headed for Clapham Junction to catch the night bus home. The Moon Under Water never really existed as a single entity, but Balham proved to be the first stop in just shy of a year that I would whole heartedly recommend for a grand night out.

“I want an adventure” Greg announced, “let’s walk to Putney”. And into the night we ventured. Unaware and unable to calculate the four mile stint which lay ahead.The Lost and Found

Next Stop: BANK