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.

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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.

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Next stop: CHARING CROSS

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.

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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.

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Next stop: CANNING TOWN

BOSTON MANOR – May 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Next stop: BOUNDS GREEN

BOROUGH – April 2015

To mark the completion of two years crawling, we headed to Charles Dickens’ stomping ground for an excellent night of verse and cotton based celebration.

Borough sign“Are you all over eighteen?”, the sinewy landlord asked as we ordered our rounds. We all nodded shyly and, for some reason, guiltily despite me, at the tender age of 25, being the youngest of the group by some 11 years.

Borough start“Well he’s not acting it”, he nodded in my direction – my bumptious and virile nature had made me stick out like a sore, immature, infant thumb among the tweed-folk sat alone around every table. The King’s Arms was a gentleman’s pub. For gentlemen. And anniversary parties, regardless of the celebration, were not welcome. However, in a rare and genuine ULPC top tip, if you are in Borough or London Bridge looking for a quiet, charming little bar where you can casually flick through a two day old sports rag undisturbed then look no further. The King’s Arms of Newcomen Street is one of those few hallowed bars every Londoner seeks when in need of a reflective, solo pint – quiet, anonymous, mature. And, despite our well intentioned revelries which they would certainly have warmed to if we were given the chance to explain, they intended to keep it that way.Borough effigies

After our dressing down, we all skulked over to an inviting dilapidated sofa, ideal for lounging away a liquid lunch whilst picking through a book and picking the stuffing through the ripped upholstery, and sniggered. The King’s Arm was pub number four and, due to it being Greg and I’s two year anniversary and the devastating night out we had endured in Bond Street, we had thrown an open invitation for one and all to join us and were now a merry octet.

Greg and I had exchanged gifts (cotton pleat for him, a cotton owl-eyes night mask and cotton duck oven glove for me) and had made for drinks in The Trinity, The Blue Eyed Maid and Belushi’s before Greg’s sharp sighted spouse spied The King’s Arms from Borough High Street. We tried to behave in The King’s Arms, we truly did, but the stern accusation of the authoritarian behind the bar had unwittingly brought Borough collageout the eighteen year old in all of us and we giggled away like school girls – adorning ourselves with comical moustaches made from Greg’s gifted pleat.

We departed The King’s Arms, a mound of discarded cotton in our wake, some of which had been moulded into effigies of Greg and I as a gift, and continued on for glugs in St Christopher’s Inn and The George. The George, famed for its idyllic, Victorian facet, its gargantuan beer garden that lies in the shadow of The Shard and its mention in Dicken’s ‘Little Dorrit’, is at the opposite end of the spectrum to The King’s Arms but is another sterling pub of Borough all the same – ideal for care-free, boozy summer evenings. Inspired by the romance of our surroundings, the literary heritage of the area and the summer-ish evening we were enjoying, we took to some improvised poetry. However, now six pubs in, our verbal dexterity and poetic acumen was beginning to wane and most offerings’ thematic content consisted of parts of the human anatomy being inserted into other parts of the human anatomy. Our poems were, in some ways, Dickensian – just not in an academic sense.

Finally, we made our way through The Southwark Tavern, where for the first time in London history I managed to convince a doorman to let me in after his initial suspicion about my well-being, and on into the beer garden of Borough singingWheatsheaf in Borough Market where we finished with sing-a-longs, dinosaur impressions and the unwarranted destruction of an innocent foosball table.

It was here that we assume Mr Duck the oven glove was lost, probably trapped along with the eternal sentinel footballers under the glass, and that Greg and I shredded what pleat was left and filled a friend’s bag with it. Thus, with a final rhyme and a grinning, cottony farewell, we all set about for our various last train journeys home and thanked Borough and its excellent pubs for restoring our faith in London’s night life.Borough end

Next stop: BOSTON MANOR