Ever since Belgium, the Alphabet Pub Crawl has been in the works. In November I sent out a call for pub ideas and then used beerintheevening.com and Google Maps to locate additional pubs and plot out a good route. I came up with this.
The purpose of the Alphabet Pub Crawl was to provide an alternative to the Monopoly Pub Crawl which hasn't been done to death. I, personally, am also hoping to turn it into a decent web page so that other people in the world can try it out, as they do the MPC.
Saturday 16th February was the date eventually nailed down for the reconnaissance run, the purpose of which was fourfold:
- To test the route and ensure all the pubs were viable
- To scope out eating locations along the whole route
- To take an unadorned photograph of each pub on the route, for the later creation of a guide
- To time it.
I'll go into the events of the day shortly, but suffice it to say: this first iteration of the route proved non-viable for a few reasons. I do not have a finalised version yet, but I hope to have it plotted out for proper use by the summer.
We arranged to meet at 11:00am at Russell Square tube station. For me to get there on time involved getting up at 6:30am to take the train down from Nottingham. London St. Pancras International is as glorious as ever. The tube was unexpectedly crowded but in retrospect I guess I should have expected this because it was late morning on a Saturday at the end of half-term. Russell Square platform has lift access to ground level but I saw a set of stairs first so I took these instead. This proved to be a fatal error. I fleetingly noticed some number on my right as I went up; this figure turned out to be the number of steps. 175.
Wobbling slightly, I made it out onto the street in front of the station at 10:40, before receiving more phone calls in thirty minutes than I had in the previous month, as various people announce their various inbound vectors. Julian, Chrismo (henceforth "Chris" since I have almost no contact with Christorian, last week notwithstanding), Julian's friend Dave and James R. all turned up shortly after eleven. Mike and James B. called to say they were already at the first pub, which James R. had himself passed on the way down; as it would happen, all these guys live in London and know London a lot better than I do, coming as I do from Nottingham.
The first pub was the Marquis of Cornwallis which was, at 11:15am, closed.
Such is life. We moved on to the Norfolk Arms which was apparently open, but completely empty. We debated pouring beer ourselves, and the possibility that the serving staff had been killed and their organs pickled in what appeared to be canopic jars on the pub window (they were actually fruit), until Mike shouted upstairs and managed to attract the attention of a barman. We attempted to think of foods beginning with N and useful Slashdot tags for the pub; both of this "minigames", as I shall call them, fell into disuse within a few pubs, regrettably.
The Euston Flyer is the only pub appearing on both the Monopoly crawl and the Alphabet crawl, but since this was a recon I suggested we do what we had intended to do and drink only at every other pub, the better to take notes. So we walked in, talked noisily about not drinking there, and walked out. This had originally been suggested as a finishing point but that would have meant taking the tube to Russel Square after pub #23, which would be fatal in reality.
I led us up the wrong street and past Euston station on the way to the Exmouth Arms, which was full of locals who cleared out suspiciously quickly when we turned up. There was a strong smell of greasy food in the pub, and a cat, which Dave took to. The cat was eventually named, I forget what, but the name was terrible. The new Corpus bar was discussed; apparently it's terrible. We invented the idea of a "drinking age", to go alongside mental age and physical age. It was decided that Julian probably has a drinking age of about 6.
The route called for us to take the Hammersmith & City line to Royal Oak station but Mike, who knows Paddington, had originally suggested the pub we were aiming for and knew for a fact that going via Paddington made for a quicker route. Still, the tube ride was long enough for a little bit of relaxation.
I entrusted my patented RubbishCam™ to Chris for most of the duration of the crawl since I had my hands full with the route.
The Union is a lovely place and the smell of scrambled eggs was highly tempting, although I was overruled on the grounds that we didn't have time to order. Dave (an American) picked up and began to read a Daily Mail; we all advised him that reading the paper would actually damage his IQ and urged him to stop but he did not listen. There was a strange poster-sized print of eight or nine burnt matches in this pub (which is more like a bar). It looked unpleasantly like some weird bug or monster was reaching out of the bottom of the shot.
Paddington station is the centre of a nugget of four pubs which make up part of this crawl, then. Two of them are inside the station itself: the Isembard and the Mad Bishop And Bear, which was cunningly selected on the fly as a replacement for the Marquis of Cornwallis, earlier. We pondered this name, wondering why it was that the bear was the sane member of the duo. I opined that the adjective "mad" could refer to both bishop and bear. We ate fast food in the station, all of us lining up behind Mike's cunning Bite card which a) gets him a 20% discount on what he buys and b) effectively reduced the cost of Burger King to normal high street levels.
We skipped the Isembard based on the drink-one-miss-one policy, then headed off down the road towards the Victoria, another of Mike's suggestions. It was clearly going to be a lovely, sunny and very cold day by this point. Backtrack to the station and here is where the Mad pub would ordinarily fit in; however, again, we skipped it and got onto the tube to South Kensington.
This was the Zetland Arms, which had Six Nations flags up but was otherwise mostly unremarkable. The Zetland Arms is the best pub in London beginning with Z, as far as I know, but nevertheless it is very much an outlier. A request was put in to see whether I could come up with one or two more pubs in this area to make up for the missing ones later and justify the trip; I'll see what I can do.
Another good reason to have more pubs here would be to ensure everybody was pleasantly fuzzed before the lengthy journey east under the river to London Bridge. In the initial planning stages it had been suggested to have some pubs south of the river and I think we had a pretty good showing going. The King's Arms was closed due to roadworks but I anticipate it will be open next time we try the route (BITE has comments from 11 February indicating it is still open) and in any case we have a contingency K.
On the way back towards the river "Bells" caught up with us. Apparently Elliot's nickname is "Bells" now. I did not know this, but apparently it is true. We passed the Borough Market on the way to the Wheatsheaf which is apparently almost completely without seating. They have a dart board, and the distribution of holes made by darts which missed this board is hilarious.
From here we headed to the Old Thameside Inn, which is (obviously) on the river. Unfortunately, this being the south side of the river, we were in shadow here, making a cold day colder. Some miserable types stayed inside. But it was at least sunny and the view of the river front was undeniably excellent. We elected to drink here instead of at the next pub because it was the nicer of the two, both of which had been suggested by Julian.
As conjectured during the planning stages, it proved to be possible to follow the riverside to the Anchor Pub (skipped) and then on to the Founders Arms on the river front, which was also skipped. Mike holds ideological objections to the Tate Modern gallery, in front of which the Founders Arms is positioned, and sat grumpily at a table there while the rest of us went inside to see what was occupying the Turbine Hall at the moment. It turned out to be a crack. In the ground. Carved into the floor of the Turbine Hall. Great. Perhaps Mike has a point.
And here everything began to stop going according to plan. We toddled along the river bank a little further to Blackfriars Road where we discovered that the Paper Moon was closed. Forever. We grabbed a bus which arrived at that very instant and got off at Holborn Circus for Ye Olde Mitre which, like many pubs in the City of London, is apparently closed on Saturdays and Sundays and hence also totally useless to us. We had now gone four pubs without drinking and the natives were getting restless. The next pub was the Lyceum in the Strand which required another bus but Julian was all like "nah, it's only five minutes' walk!" Now, admittedly I had overestimated the walking distances a little when planning this from the map but by the time we actually got to the Strand the consensus was "Julian, we direct our hate at you" because frankly, no, man, we could have got the bus and it would have been much faster.
There was a potential substitute K on the route, the Knights Templar, a pub I had examined during planning but rejected as being too far out of the way to walk to. Ho ho ho.
The Lyceum was almost worth the walk though. It is a quiet little pub, with a lot of class and a lot of older folks, and it has cunning little booths which offer very respectable amounts of privacy. At this point Rob caught up with us, metaphorically speaking; he phoned us from the Maplin's across the way where he was buying equipment for some server maintenance the following day. I caught up with him in there while everybody else headed on towards the Harp; then I decided Rob could catch up and headed for the Harp myself; there was nobody on either floor of the extremely narrow and cramped Harp; it turned out I had got there first thanks to my superior route.
The Harp was roughly pub #17 and the remaining nine pubs were all on a dense route through Soho. However, to get to the start of this route required one last tube ride, Charing Cross to Oxford Circus. Several were of the opinion that this tube ride this late in the proceedings would be suicidal. I don't know. I'll see what I can do. I think Megan had caught up with us too, by this point. We were up to a peak strength of ten!
It was in Soho that we suddenly found ourselves running around wildly attempting and failing to find sustenance for dinner. Ack! Maybe we were just looking in the wrong places, but there was definitely a fish and chip shop which closed at about 6:30pm just as we were standing outside it.
I don't remember much about the Red Lion, the John Snow or the Blue Posts. I think it was the Blue Posts which turned out to be a hole, but luckily there is another Blue Posts just before the Red Lion which I may substitute. If that's not the case, then I don't know why I have this note about the second Blue Posts here. After the Blue Posts and the Ship we found a pizza restaurant. Since we had the time (this was the recce, not the real thing) we sat down and ate a pizza each. I discovered to my cost that all I really wanted was one slice. Such is life. This problem will have to be solved later.
We trawled all the way along Shaftesbury Avenue, taking in the Cambridge, the Glasshouse Stores (which is good) and the Queen's Head, outside which a monumental quantity of rickshaw drivers were sitting, parked, blocking traffic, repeatedly ringing their bells and generally preventing nearby theatre-goers from exiting the area in any kind of speedy fashion. Nice, guys.
Glasshouse Stores Posse (by this time I have been given the camera back since Chris is soon to head back to Cambridge - he has a two mile walk in -2 degree heat waiting for him at the other end, and I envy him not).
By this time, James B., Julian, Mike and I were bored and felt like going home. We skipped the Devonshire Arms, which is directly over the road from the Queen's Head, then navigated the inconceivably busy Piccadilly Circus to take two quick photos of the Tom Cribb before navigating back. The tube back to Mike's takes a whole hour from central London. Ow.
There was plenty wrong with the route, but there was plenty more that was very right. I was chuffed with the turnout and the smoothness with which everything ran; since everybody around me seemed to know the route better than I did, we fared well. What bothers me more is how little I ended up talking to everybody, since I was reading the map so intensely. And Elliot's like "oh, still studying, you know", like he doesn't even want to answer the question. The Alphabet Pub Crawl: escapism? Gotta put more effort in in the future.