Posts from 7th February 2002

Feb 02

The finalists

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 136 views

The finalists for the Evening Standard’s pub and bar of the year have been published.

I don’t have much to say about the bars on the list, because I haven’t been to any of them. Baltic is two doors down from the Ring, and I know where I’d rather be.

Although it’s in my nature to be curmudgeonly about these things, I’m actually quite impressed with the list of pubs nominated. With some I’ve yet to seek out (anyone fancy a few publog outings?), some favourites, some obscurities, it seems like a decent choice.

I work a few doors from the Olde Cheshire Cheese, so it’s easy for me to take the old place for granted, and to snort at the lines of Pentax-toting tourists. Having said that, the few times I’ve actually engaged with tourists who have sat down in there for a drink, I’ve had very interesting conversations. Likewise, the Lamb is a terrific pub (bizarre no-smoking booth or no’) but it seems such an obvious choice. But obviousness and fame shouldn’t be a barrier to winning this award. I’d probably vote for one of these. If I had a vote.

I sometimes go out of my way to go to the Royal Oak, which is a fine place to sit and have a quiet pint. It looks great, in an understated way, and the beer and food are just fine. I sometimes wonder whether it takes its own pub-ness a bit seriously: whether the task of being a traditional pub sits a bit heavily on the place. I suppose I’m saying I’m not sure the place is completely at ease with itself, as the very best pubs are.

The ongoing presence of the Market Porter in these lists of great London pubs bewilders me. While it’s a perfectly good pub, and purveys an excellent range of fare, it’s simply not that great. The d’cor is dreadful (inner city faux-inn woodbeam hell), and it’s one of those places where only a select few ever manage to find a really comfortable place to perch. A sacred cow if ever there was one.

Cider Armadillos

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 235 views

Cider Armadillos were a new one on me. Having been at a football related event all day, with football fans from many clubs, much beer had already flowed, and arriving in Euston at 9.30 in the evening, the Head of Steam it was.

Some of these fellow fans were Bristolians, who it seems like their cider a lot, but not as much, I suspect, as Devonians. But I digress. They had some cider on in a barrel all by itself. I was tempted to try a sip, and very nice it was too. So I had a full pint. I then decided to try a cider armadillo, a drink the Bristolians hadn’t heard of. They have now.

One game of Bar Billiards later ( a superb game, livened up by the fact that a 2000 point lead can disappear instantly so it’s a great leveller ) and reality began to slip. Luckily, the bar staff urged us on with the usual haste, which was a relief this time, as I never got to finish the drink. I was very glad of this next morning as I was able to function at 65% at work, which would undoubtedly not be the case had I been left to sip until the sweet end.

I can never make my mind up about the Head of Steam. They have a interesting range, and the frequent changes make it often worth a visit just to see what’s new. The food is reasonable, the Bar billiards a bonus. The mild train enthusiast in me (OK, I like ’em. But you’ll never see with a Thermos and video camera at Rugby station) appreciates the decor. I’m fascinated by the engineering diagram of Willesden Junction (I think) on the stairs near the toilet. I like the unobtrusive telly, which was where I watched this year’s World Darts Final cheering on Tony David. But there’s something not quite right. Maybe it’s the CAMRA types. Maybe the station pub mobility and movement. Maybe the overpowering smell of urine at the entrance. Maybe the need to get the code for the door to the toilets.

Ultimately though, I think it’s because it was the place where I had my worst London experience. I’d been here a week, when the Nat West cash machine in the station concourse told me I had no money to withdraw. I had a tenner to last 10 days and a Saturday Guardian, and understandably, went for a pint. Feeling down on my luck in the extreme, I then asked the code to the toilets, went down the stairs, ignored the out of order urinals (which are always, always, out of order) and used the cubicle. In my depressive state, I had paid too little attention to my surroundings and noticed that there was no toilet paper. The realisation came a little too late in the proceedings to be of maximum benefit. So there I am, penniless, in the bowels of London, without toilet paper, miles from home.

Luckily, I never read the Guardian‘s Travel section.