Back in 2006 when beerintheevening.com was the New Testament and hangover’s only lasted until tomorrow lunchtime, my mate Balmers and I often enjoyed a London pub crawl on a Sunday afternoon.
On a jaunt along Mile End Road one cloudy August sabbath, we chanced upon a pub called Soma. It had a horseshoe bar and windows overlooking the main drag, but what really drew us was the dystopian novelist Aldous Huxley, who named soma as the drug of his Brave New World.
It was early in the day and quiet, so when we ordered two pints of Red Stripe and launched into a Huxleyan analysis of east end pubs and their control over society we caught the attention of a woman drinking alone at a table.
She was blonde and probably in her late thirties, more than ten years our senior at the time. Nevertheless, for two single men her smile, femininity and spontaneous conversation made for a sparky introduction. We joined her. It was fun.
At some point I made my excuses and headed to the gents (this wasn’t the first pub of the day). The world has many ways to fleece you out of a pound and one of these was on the wall by the sink – a gumball machine dispensing single-use, chewable toothbrushes.
Buoyed by nothing more than the whisper of a promise only I could hear, I inserted a quid, twisted the handle and received my disappointing Kinder Surprise.
Back in the bar, it wasn’t long before the friendly woman outed herself to us. She was a lesbian, she said, and had come out a few years ago. I suppose she found us entertaining and clocked we weren’t complete tossers. Or she could smell toothpaste.
The easy tone of our conversation thus far, and more Jamaican lager beer, meant we could easily switch to the woman happily answering our innocent questions about her sexuality and life experiences. Privately, I mourned the pound coin.
The woman announced her partner was joining her in the pub soon and she would be delighted to introduce us. Terrific, we said. Another lesbian. Surely she’ll add to the craic.
Sadly, that wasn’t the case. The partner arrived and was quite the opposite of her other half. She had a shock of dark cropped hair, wore a jumper of red and black hoops and wasn’t impressed with us at all. It was like meeting Dennis the Menace the day Gnasher died.
In a futile attempt to salvage the day I got in a round. As I stood at the bar, the death knell of our chance encounter sounded behind me: ‘So…which one of you mows the lawn?’
Balmers could be a wally sometimes, but you had to admire his matter-of-fact delivery.
We debriefed in the Blind Beggar on Whitechapel Road.
After the formalities of getting in a couple of pints, finding a table and christening Dennis the Menace, I told Balmers I’d wasted a nugget on a crap toothbrush from a gumball machine.
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A jacket also came in handy. Despite the warm weather the early hours got pretty chilly.
After a couple hours my top felt like I’d done a night on the Ministry of Sound dance floor. A spare would have been easy to carry and a welcome change.
3. Take food
All the food stops I read about online in the build up were empty by the time we got there. At Sudbury fire station we ate hot dog rolls warmed on a BBQ because there was no meat left. Maybe next year I’ll take olive oil and balsamic vinegar…
A 12-piece box of Baklava from my local Greek-Cypriot patisserie (I know, it’s grim up North London) was easy to carry and great sustenance for my fellow cyclists and me.
The hip flask of schnapps was also popular among teammates.
4. The first bit is crap – get a location app
Two or three thousand cyclists (retrospective estimates are undecided) leaving London at the same time leads to bottle necks, long waits at lights and much chuntering in the ranks.
Having been split up from some of the team, I was lucky to catch up with them again on the outskirts of the capital. A location app on your phone like Find My Friends would have been a good way to track progress.
You can make yourself invisible after the ride, in case you have stalkery or prankster mates.
5. Make sure your lights are secured…
There’s a cattle grid just after you cross the North Circular. As I rumbled over I saw a jettisoned red eye blinking up from the depths.
6. …and not set to flash
…but at least it was one less flashing rear light on the route. Three miles following one of those and it feels like a scene from Clockwork Orange.
The weather was fair, the hangover manageable and because Cape Town Piotr had searched ‘Manchester hipster pubs’ the Kenna League chairman found himself standing in a 170-year-old basement filled with ping pong tables.
Phillipe Coutinho was putting the finishing touches on a decent shift for Two Goals One Cup, but members of the pub crawl were far from elite sport.
They were too busy doing a terrible impression of three people playing table tennis. At least the Brooklyn Lager was passable.
After a few minutes it became the clear the homemade quince vodka of the previous evening was not entirely shaken off. The group retired to the bar area.
What it lacked in ventilation, the Northern Quarter’s Twenty Twenty Two more than made up for in classic arcade games. House of the Dead 2 of particular note.
Quite what the founding pillars of the industrial revolution would make of four girls in short shorts playing beer pong remains moustache-bristling conjecture.
Pub number two was The Whiskey Jar, which appeared to be a popular venue for hen dos and Tinder dates.
Perhaps cheap dates. The early hour meant it was possible to get two whiskey sours for a tenner.
Now, there are two types of cocktail bar in the world.
There are cocktail bars that anticipate drinks and prepare accordingly and there are ones where the customer watches the barman fiddling around with paraphernalia for an interminable amount of time.
The Whiskey Jar was sadly the latter.
Although he didn’t express it in the usual fashion, Cape Town Chris was delighted to join the crawl just in time for a debate on whether a hipster restaurant was correct to serve pizza straight from MDF tables without a plate. Opinion was split.
Next up was the recently-opened pub of Seven Bro7hers Brewery. Split level exposed brickwork and a fantastic IPA.
Crawlers were pleased to learn from the barman there were two brewery tap rooms in the locale. What could be more hipster than drinking craft beer surrounded by pallets?
The crawl stopped by Manchester Piccadilly to pick up a late straggler. It was thirsty work and The Waldorf’s convenience was, in hindsight, all it had going for it.
Taking a cab to a rail arch on North Western Street, the party entered the alternative Beer Nouveau. A smattering of patrons, a friendly owner and large barrels where the beer is brewed on site were there to greet them.
One crawler – who through a second-language, workplace gaffe is known as ‘The Master of the Flaps’ – took great pleasure in sampling the local mead on offer.
A keen amateur mead maker, he also turned out to be The Master of the Put Downs, telling an enthusiastic beekeeper from the area he was only interested in Polish honey.
The crawl struck out in search of the Cloudwater tap room. A constant hazard of visiting craft breweries is drinkers can find themselves walking through deserted industrial estates looking daggers at the guy frowning at his smartphone’s location app.
Such was the case here, until it turned out the taproom had recently moved around the corner.
Cloudwater: what a find! Again a rail arch was the venue, this time underneath Manchester Piccadilly station.
A tremendous array of beer was on offer as were MDF tables you either could or couldn’t eat your pizza off of depending on your point of view.
The 11.5 per cent Imperial stout was served in halves, so wanting to soak in more of the atmosphere the crawl stopped for a second drink. The pilsner was gorgeous and much less dangerous.
By this time hunger was an issue. The party attempted to get a no-doubt-MDF table at Almost Famous burgers but the 90-minute waiting time was not agreeable.
In the face of adversity, all pretence this was still a hipster crawl crumbled.
Weatherspoon’s in the Printworks is not by any stretch of the imagination a trendy venue but it does have two clear benefits.
Lagunitas IPA is £1.79 a bottle and it’s a convenient place to wait for your table at the adjacent Nandos.
Say what you like about its unchallenging hot sauce, the Mozambican-themed restaurant does sell the excellent Super Bock.
Having lived in east London for half the noughties, it can be easy to dismiss another area’s attempts as hipsterism. The unrendered walls, beards and – you guessed it – MDF tables of the Northern Quarter can come across as forced at times.
But the lack of nonchalance is more than atoned by the fantastic beers and welcoming atmosphere.
It’s highly likely in future residents will spot the Kenna chairman slinking around the side of the train station on a Saturday afternoon.
As for the rest of Saturday evening, the crawl returned to Macclesfield for further tippling in the Red Willow.
Kenna League table – week 30
Narcozep Cup – last 16 first leg results
Thieving Magpies 21 – 19 Islington Sports Islam & Leisure
Cowley Casuals 28 – 26 Bala Rinas
FC Testiculadew 27 – 15 Lokomotiv Leeds
Team Panda 23 – 17 Sporting Lesbian
Walthamstow Reds 25 – 27 Judean Peoples’ Front
Young Boys 17 – 37 Adam Johnson Fan Club
Burqini Pool Party 20 – 20 Dynamo Charlton
So Good They Named Him Twice 39 – 23 Two Goals One Cup
THE first man to visit a pub for every tube station in London has recognised the Kenna League chairman for ‘providing wisdom and élan at crucial moments of the crawl’, according to the Kenna League chairman.
Sam Cullen completed the three-year odyssey of 270 London Underground stations last week, in the order they opened.
“I’m not one to brag,” said the chairman, micromanaging a Kenna HQ lackey hang a framed print off of the blog post on the wall of his executive office. “But I can say I’ve been instrumental in Sam’s journey, providing wisdom and élan at crucial moments of the crawl.”
Critics of the chairman, and there are many, claim he is trying to bask in the reflected glory of Cullen’s feat. They say the only advice he gave was to spam tweet links to his own meagre London pub crawl posts in an attempt to drive traffic to the site.
The chairman denied he was overplaying his role: “This is about pubs, not search engine optimisation, pubs, pub crawl, beer, bar, boozer, tavern, ale, saloon, inn, kenna, jeff kenna, fantasy football, premier league.
“And that’s all I have to say on the matter, underground, tube, transport, train, london, capital, big smoke, west end, east end, Mary Poppins.”
Cullen’s achievement drew a slew of media coverage, which included his own recommendations of London pubs based on his experience.
IF one tired of London pubs is tired of life, what of one tired of London pub crawls?
Having visited the capital’s ale houses along bus, boat, Tube, tram and train routes over the last three years, a change in the air was needed.
There are many shortcomings to the nation’s rail services, but they do open up a whole array of towns and pubs to the dedicated drinker. And what more zealous tippler could there be than Inspector Morse?
Crime fiction’s biggest pub lover was often seen doing his best ‘thinking’ in the charming boozers of Oxford.
The ancient university city is an hour by train from the capital, making eight bars in the environs of Jericho and the city centre a walkable target for the London day tripper.
Paddington station was the rendezvous for five regular crawlers on Saturday 14 November 2015: the Kenna League chairman, the Pirate, Lady Norman, Sutcliffe and Dazza – who was once again on gents hand dryer rating patrol.
Despite the gloomy weather at Oxford train station, crawlers felt refreshed from a journey in which fellow passengers on the 11.21 had engaged in both conversation and our supply of brandy and coke. Pub recommendations flowed with the chat, and at least one pub was added to the itinerary.
Making our way east towards the city, umbrellas were up. Moist from light rain, we entered the small cocktail bar of The Randolph Hotel. It was filled with a mix of tourists and older patrons who looked a regular feature.
The waiter baulked when we ordered five Morse cocktails. A fiddly drink to make for even the most skilled barkeep, our man persevered. After a brief interlude five tipplers were showing signs of either displeasure or enjoyment depending on their interpretation of champagne, vanilla spirit, bourbon and something else garnished with long strain of orange zest.
The drink divided opinion but the surroundings did not. The wood panelling and nod to the fictitious chief inspector hanging above the fireplace was by far the most salubrious snug this posse had found themselves on a crawl. At £66 for the round, it was a pity Sergeant Lewis wasn’t ‘in the chair’ to pick up the tab.
The whip decimated, we made our way into the neighbourhood of Jericho and The Olde Bookbinders Ale House. The rain had not yet let up, so it was with great pleasure we crowded into what would turn out to be one of the best pubs of any crawl.
Situated opposite ‘Canal Reach’, the murder scene from the first televised Morse The Dead of Jericho, the Bookbinders is a tremendous pub. Authentic, cosy and a fine selection of drinks, it seemed a pity to stay for just one. The French landlord was as welcoming as his pub. His bonhomie and hospitality was extended to the toilet artwork. Captivating.
It’s a short walk from the Bookbinders to The Jericho Tavern. A spacious, echoey pub with wooden floors, a high ceiling and according to the pin board a fine heritage as a live music venue.
Morse was seen disappearing into this establishment in the closing scenes of The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn. An adult film at the cinema next door proves crucial in solving the case. At the end of episode the chief inspector is disappointed to find the skin flick has been replaced by 101 Dalmatians, so he ducks into The Jericho Tavern instead. Classic Morse.
And a wise move. The beer selection was little short of outstanding. That is unless you’ve got the palette of Sutcliffe, whose customary resort to ‘the darkest thing on the menu’ – in ale, as well as life – was rewarded with the amber Doom Bar. He found little recompense in the balance-the-20p-on-the-bobbing-lemon-to-get-a-free-drink game, as did all crawlers.
A heated discussion on Stephen Fry’s value to society later, we cut east across a footpath through academic buildings. The brandy and coke, cocktails and beer manifested themselves in another debate: what constitutes an afro. In hindsight, how a man with a ginger beard offered a valid point on this matter was a mystery with which Morse would have wrestled longer than The Times crossword.
JRR Tolkein and other literary big hitters used to hang out at the Eagle & Child, but on our visit there was no more than tourists and wet umbrellas.
The pub is narrow and wood panelled. The number of tourists ordering mulled wine meant one could have read The Lord of the Rings trilogy while waiting to get served.
Finding a table in the conservatory area at the back, I can’t imagine anyone from Oxford wanting to visit this tourist snare. Indeed, the closest it came to the chief inspector it was dressed up as a background wine bar.
Taking advice from an Oxford graduate on the train that morning, crawlers traversed St Giles to the Lamb and Flag. This wasn’t in the original plan, but its proximity and the scholar’s conviction gave it a solid recommendation.
The Lamb and Flag is much preferable to the Eagle & Child. Open, warm and with beer options adequate rather than outstanding, crawlers saw for the first time that day some real students celebrating after their graduation ceremony. And I thought girls only wore bow ties in gentleman’s magazines.
Taking the Lamb and Flag passage from the pub, the crawl reached Parks Road and took at right. A few minutes walk through yet more sandstone university buildings and now the pubs come thick and fast.
The King’s Arms was up first. It was packed with more bow ties than the Playboy Mansion. By now the day’s repast was beginning to take it’s toll and events slid past with remarkable ease and conviviality.
Immersed in the academic world, for the Pirate it was time to put some of that Somali charm to work. While not disastrous, other audiences have been more receptive to his chat. Pity, with his prolific London Tinder history he could have found an ideal match in a freshly-graduated immunologist.
Undeterred, we bounded around the corner onto Broad Street and The White Horse. With three of the five crawlers standing over six feet tall, it’s a bit of a crouch from street level down the step and through the low doorway.
A corridor of a pub with bar one side and banquettes the other greets the visitor. Peroni was the pick of the lager in here, but we were straying dangerously close to the jaws of the tourist trap again.
It was with relief then, we piled into Turf Tavern 50 metres away. A firm favourite with Morse, this labyrinthine boozer appears to be built on the design of a rabbit warren. By now steady rain was falling, so we huddled under one of the giant umbrella squares erected to protect patio tipplers. The ebb and flow of the chatter was pleasant and effortless. If only I could remember what the hell was being discussed.
From here the crawl became unwieldy. Walking south on Catte Street and turning right at the High, crawlers made another bonus pub visit. I say pub, but The Mitre is a Beefeater.
Morse does happen into here in one of the books, but waiting for Sutcliffe’s bowl of chips while drinking over-commercialised pilsner fails to fire many synapses, or to inspire Sutcliffe to get his camera out. The chief inspector would have solved few crimes in such a setting.
Crossing the High and going down Alfred Street the crawl made it’s last official stop at The Bear Inn. This pub is old with dark beams and plenty of trade. After eight hours on the pop, other details are scant. We had something to drink. It was in a pint-shaped glass. Probably beer.
Having completed the crawl with at least 90 minutes until the 8.21 to London, it was a meandering path back to the station. We stopped at one of the many new new and characterless bars along the road back to the station to kill time.
We stocked up on Polish lager outside the station. The train ride home is a complete blank.
The spires and sandstone of Oxford were a welcome change from the suburban dives and city centre faux show of London. The pubs are by and large fantastic too, and one can see why Colin Dexter made Morse such a lover.
The proximity of the drinking houses means any able bodied drinker can stroll between them, and going at the customary 40-minutes-a-pub pace, we completed the objective in less than six and a half hours, including an additional three pubs.
Perhaps in hindsight it would do better to visit the older pubs (The Bear Inn, Turf Tavern etc) first, in order to better enjoy their historic environs. However, the direction of the crawl would be difficult to reverse. The Randolph Hotel doesn’t feel like somewhere one would be welcome 10 pubs to the good.
Even if one could negotiate the doorman with a skinful, consuming the Morse Cocktail would be a Pyrrhic victory.