Croydon. The word itself has become synonymous with the ills of British society.
‘Croydon facelift’ and ‘Croydon strobe’ are two examples of how putting the name of the Greater London borough in front of a word immediately turns it into a cruel parody.
So what about ‘Croydon tram’? For those unaware of that mode of transport, it could conjure up images of a nightmare conga snaking its way through the love triangles and DNA tests of the Jeremy Kyle Show studios.
Meandering its way through the environs of Croydon from Beckenham Junction to Wimbledon, the 39 stops may not be classic spy tale, but there were enough pubs on the way to get a slice of life on the Kent borders.
Perhaps even a Croydon facelift would be spotted in its natural habit. And during spring mating season.
Almost 14 years after its opening, the Croydon Tramlink hosted its first ever recorded pub crawl. At 1pm on Saturday 12 April 2014, tipplers met at Beckenham Junction with the following itinerary:
- Patrick’s, Beckenham Junction
- Claret Freehouse, Addiscombe
- The Tamworth Arms, Centrale
- New Addington working man’s club, New Addington
- The George, George Street
- The Dog and Bull, Church Street
- The Wandle Arms, Wandle Park
- The Crown, Mitcham
- The White Hart, Merton Park
- The Alexandra, Wimbledon
In a world first, pubs would be rated on the quality of hand dryers in the gents. Irish Jonathan did the honours.
Afterwards it turned out drinkers travelled a mammoth 22 miles, surely the longest pub crawl to date.
The cast of crawlers convened included a few recognisable faces such as the Kenna chairman, Sutcliffe, Vicky the bus spotter, Binksy and Palts the Balt. The chairman was seen making what was thought to be a deprecating note of the distinct lack of Kenna League managers present.
A shortage of pubs in proximity to the tram network meant it was impossible to visit a pub for every stop. The group would have the chance to sample the unique delights of each boozer for around half an hour.
In the case of Patrick’s, the lasting impression given by this bar was the bar itself, which had a greasy sheen your hands took with them.
Like most flatpack Irish pubs, it looked like a down on his luck Leprechaun had been violently sick all over the walls and ceiling. The beer was no pot o’ gold either.
There were some plus points: lots of widescreen TVs hinted this would be a good place to watch sport, it’s very close to Beckenham Junction tram stop and there’s an excellent hand dryer in the gents. Although, perhaps a little too excellent…
Having finished their drinks and posed for Sutcliffe’s patented ‘outside the pub’ selfie, crawlers crossed the road to begin an epic tram journey.
Sutcliffe’s bitter rating: 1/10 as only Guinness available (what do you expect from somewhere called ‘Patrick’s’?).
Boarding the tram for the first time that day, the party crackled with expectation. The bubble was burst when Sutcliffe started pulling out tram facts. Everyone realised he’d be at these all day.
South Norwood Country Park and Croydon driving range passed. The next intrepid stage of the journey arrived.
The Claret Freehouse is a stone’s throw from Addiscombe tram stop. From the outside it looks like an old restaurant hardly open for business, but once inside a fully functioning single-room boozer is found.
On the left a bar, at the back Sky Sports and on a right wall an impressive display of current and upcoming cask ales. All of which surround the Claret’s dedicated clientele, who seemed a little taken aback by the file of crawlers thrusting into their dimly lit snug.
A pint of Peroni greeted the lager drinker. In what’s becoming a rarity these days it wasn’t watered down. Sutcliffe was unusually positive about the ale on offer and the cheese rolls. A proper drinker’s pub.
Sutcliffe’s bitter rating: 9/10 and probably the best I’ve seen south of Bradford.
Trams were running about every 10 minutes, so it wasn’t long before the crawl made it’s way to Croydon town centre.
The leafy suburbs left behind, this was the first taste of Croydon’s epicentre, and it wasn’t positive.
The Tamworth stands alone very close to Centrale tram stop, with a few steps leading up to the front door. Once through, the visitor is greeted by a bar, an odd set of patrons and an overpowering aroma, which upon tasting the Kronenbourg was partially explained.
Let this not be a reflection on the good names of the regulars, but none of the crawlers will visit this pub ever again.
Sutcliffe’s bitter rating: 3/10 as it was a limited selection, but what there was available was quite good.
Emerging from the pungent odour of the Tamworth, crawlers were back on the tram again for the lengthiest jaunt of the day to New Addington.
4. Disappointment, New Addington
Over hills and through fields, this is the most rural leg of the network. New Addington itself is on the top of a hill, a kind of dystopian town planning nightmare, like the Rio favellas but without the sunshine, climate, pretty girls, bikinis, good footballers, glamourous location or enchanting music. All that’s left is the squalor.
Finding a pub in New Addington proved to be a task too much for the crawl. The Randall Tavern, of notorious former patronage, is the only recognised pub in the area, but too far from Fieldway tram stop for the crawl’s purposes.
A working men’s club is to be found next to the community centre, advertised by a neon OPEN sign. As the party approached at 4pm disaster struck. That’s when it shuts.
Barmen don’t come less friendly than the one in the New Addington working men’s club and he suggested we try the 21 Club around the corner, just past the tip.
Children playing pool and Argos gold greet visitors to the 21 Club, but alas it was a ‘members only’ bar. Snubbed, the crawl returned to the tram stop in low spirits and even lower blood/alcohol levels.
Ironically, despite being the oddest and least friendly bar inspected that day, it was the only one to have a Dyson Airblade in the gents.
Sutcliffe’s bitter rating: The promising bar closed just as we arrived. We sought refreshment at the nearby 21 Club and found little of it. Definitely for members only. This post apocalyptic boozer had the clientele of Mad Max 2, the decor of the Fuhrerbunker and atmosphere of 1984. Didn’t get a chance to check out the alcohol on offer but I suspect it was something along the lines of ‘Victory Gin’. The women were on the large side and looked like they regularly battered the weedy looking men into sexual submission. Maybe I could pick up a tip or two.
Almost an hour since their last round crawlers marched gasping into Croydon’s premiere Weatherspoon’s. The George is a giant reverse L-shape with a bar on the inside corner of the L at the front and another at the back. Flags of every country hung from the ceiling which may have been a nod to the nearby UK Border Agency headquarters.
After the disappointing mission to New Addington some were a little peckish and one of two would have eaten anything. Which was lucky.
Sutcliffe’s bitter rating: 8/10 What can I say? It was a Wetherspoons with all of the usual trimmings. Good selection of amusingly titled guest ales and stressed bar staff but they can microwave a fine hotdog (that’s not a euphemism). Also a very good place to meet other solo bearded drinkers who have also given up on life.
Following the tram lines along George Street for a few minutes and turning left, crawlers were presented with the jewel in Croydon’s pub crown, The Dog and Bull.
Croydon residents were keen to point out the Dog and Bull’s credentials in the build up to the crawl and it didn’t disappoint. After the disappointment of New Addington and the contemptible familiarity of Weatherspoon’s, it felt like the crawl was getting back on track standing at the island bar.
The two barmen were the only ones all day to show an interest in the enterprise, and such enthusiasm was in evidence in more than just their chat. The establishment served a pint of Young’s tidier than a tsunami.
Sutcliffe’s bitter rating: 3/10 Limited selection and pretty much the same as the Tamworth Arms. Smelt a little funny, but I think that might have been down to the market outside or the large pile of rough sleepers you had to step over top get into the place. Faded picture on the wall of the Queen Mother pulling a pint behind the bar. Probably taken on one of those ‘see how the serfs live’ walkabouts of which the Royals are so fond.
It’s a 10-minute walk from the Dog and Bull past Church Street and Reeves Corner tram stops to The Wandle Arms. The stroll takes in the site where the House of Reeves furniture store was razed to the ground during the London riots in 2011, now a white-picket-fenced square.
The Wandle Arms was the most charming and intimate pub on the crawl, and served one of the best pints of Guinness outside Dublin. The snug is like someone’s front room and has lots of interesting old branded water jugs hanging from the ceiling. Since that most rare occurrence on these days out – the sun was shining – tipplers opted for the two picnic tables on the street outside.
The managers of Hairy Fadjeetas, Headless Chickens, Still Don’t Know Yet and FC Testiculadew joined the throng. Six weeks before he would scoop the Kenna league and cup double, it was a little premature for the FCT manager to be victoriously parading his daughter in front of his soon-to-be vanquished opposition.
Despite lack of photo evidence, be assured the hand dryer in the gents was purely deocrative. An adjacent towel wetter than an otter’s pocket is the only option for those caught short.
Sutcliffe’s bitter rating 1/10: Guinness only again. Interesting and friendly (in a passive aggressive way) little back street boozer. This is definitely a ‘Derry’ rather than ‘Londonderry’ sort of place though…
From Wandle Park the next few tram stops are in an industrial area before the welcome green of Mitcham Golf course. Sadly, a phone call a few weeks before discovered that despite its propinquity to Mitcham Junction tram stop, the clubhouse was not a public bar.
Is it a south Asian restuarant or is it a pub? The second royal portrait of the day gave no clue.
The ‘drinking area’ at the front felt like a takeaway and any moment a hurried man in a motorcycle helmet would barge through. The restaurant area and dancefloor could probably cater for weddings, wakes and bar mitzvahs. Certainly not a place to stand and drink after work or to spend Sunday afternoon with the papers.
The food smelt powerful. The hand dryer’s qualities remain a mystery.
Sutcliffe’s bitter rating: 4/10 They only had Doombar (not a bad pint but pretty much the ‘oxygen of ales’). Great little place that can’t decide whether it wants to be a pub or a curry house. Why choose though? Big shrine to Her Majesty in the corner was a nice touch.
For the rest of crawl the chairman was not to live down a second bout of disappointment created when tipplers arrived at the White Hart to find it closed for a private party. It’s proximity to Merton Park tram stop and the cornucopia of prohibited buffet food inside visible from the twilit street almost fomented a full-scale rebellion.
Fortunately, the chairman’s leadership qualities shone through and before long the crawl found an alternative in the Wibbas Down Inn along the short walk to Wimbledon. It was the outing’s second Weatherspoons pub, and a busy but mediocre one at that.
Sutcliffe’s bitter rating: The White Hart was closed for a private function and another one of the chairman’s fails. The Wibbas Down Inn was another Wetherspoons which was pretty much a carbon copy of the earlier one except without the microwaved hotdog this time. Ale 8/10
Recollections are dim of Wimbledon’s flagship boozer. It was large. There were lots of people there. It was a Young’s pub.
Sutcliffe’s bitter rating: 7/10 I have only a vague memory of this place which means I was probably totally steamed or that it was pretty unmemorable.
After the Alex, crawlers repaired to the nearby Wimbledon Tandoori for a hot debrief. The party were cheered by the waiter taunting Sutcliffe and his potentially-fatal nut allergy.
It’s fair to say that the length of the crawl and the irregular distances between pubs led to a desultory atmosphere late on. Due to events beyond the control of crawl organisers – notably the Emerson World Cup and some weddings abroad over the summer – it has taken more than five months to publish this report of the day, but lessons are still fresh in the mind.
When it comes to next month’s autumn offensive, careful consideration will be given to pacing. Pubs at regular intervals building to a crescendo of drunken bonhomie are the key to a successful day’s boozing.