17
Dec 09

an beginner’s guide to london pubbes

Pumpkin Publog/5 comments • 397 views

Foreword: I wrote this over several weeks, forgot what I was doing with it, created a mysterious section (later removed, subsequently regretted) about armchairs and have entirely lost the plot of what it’s meant to be about. Also I am ill. Enjoy!

Not for beginners, you understand, by one for lo, I am a new bug. I don’t remember the smoking ban coming in (here, at least; it was quite an event where I was at the time, in Mid Wales) and Samuel Smiths are still a little entertaining to me in their sheer oddity; people say ‘Clerkenwell’ to me and I go ‘cor is that a real place? I really liked the Real Tuesday Weld album of the same name!’ and I have, on two separate occasions, spent ten miserable, sodden minutes standing in a doorway outside Euston Square station, peering at Google Maps and wondering what the hell happened to the road that I’m sure I went down the last time I came out of one of the doors here; I think everywhere east of Westminster is bat country, still find Oyster cards a bit esoteric and don’t understand the Blue Posts acronym system; occasionally I still give bartenders scandalised looks when they tell me how much a pint of Kronenbourg and a Winter Warmer is going to be and despite the best attempts of my educators, I’m not actually sure I understand what an estate pub is* and six months ago I knew a lot less.

Here is what I have learnt.

I am, as anyone who knows me will know, no stranger to the concept of pubs. I used to live in Aberystwyth, which virtually has more pubs than people and I frequented its fine (and terrible) establishments greatly. I have also tried and tested the drinking establishments of Oxfordshire and indeed, anywhere else I’ve spent more than about an hour. The concept of ‘pub’ is not difficult to me; London pubbing, especially with a large friendsgroup that extends across all corners of at least the zones 1-2 area is quite a different prospect though, since an Oyster allows you access to a far greater selection of establishments than almost seems wise. I am, at least for the moment, quite wedded to West London and have far greater in-depth knowledge of where to find a pint between the West End and Hanwell than most other places but the great and wonderful thing about the N207 is that I haven’t let a few terrifying falling-asleep-listening-to-Mastodon-after-a-little-too-much-soporific-ale-oh-my-god-where-am-I incidents hold me back from broadening my horizons.

My London pub education could, it’s possible to estimate, have started on what I think was 30th December, 2007. I went up to South Ealing, where my boyfriend at the time lived and en route to a friend’s birthday party in Surrey we went to The New Inn, South Ealing Road. Since at the time I was living in Aberystwyth, I spent most of my time there internally hyperventilating whilst eyeballing the astonishingly small amount of change I’d got from a tenner after buying three pints of London Pride. “What,” I thought, “is the fvcking point of this city?” At home I could get a pint of Hoegaarden for a bargainous £2.50 in a pub with a proper jukebox! London was rubbish! “Bvgger this,” I proclaimed, “this is sh!t and I can’t even get a pint of Brains,” and went back to Wales the next day.**

Now in 2009, I have of course changed my tune. When deprived of pub, I pine and seethe against whatever is depriving me and I have extended my repertoire far beyond the Fullers empire that encompasses zones 3-5 of West London. This is, in no small part whatsoever thanks to the contributors to this site, who took me in, found me a job and showed me the best watering holes to find a nice pint of something tasty and in my time here, I’ve only ever discovered two truly, truly terrible pubs and one I didn’t think much of and in all cases, the company more than made up for the less than wonderful surroundings.

One of the things you may notice throughout this is that I cannot remember the name of any pubs I have ever been to. This is partly the result of beer’s amnesiac allure and partly because my brain appears to classify them as “the one with the armchairs” or “the one with Steve LaMacq in” or “it was blue;” you’d think my job as a bookseller, where I am daily faced by people who can’t remember anything about a book except possibly its cover colour and that might be wrong, I would have learnt to be a bit more specific but sadly and possibly due to said job, the bit of my memory that ought to remember important facts such as which Blue Posts is which appears to be full of ISBN numbers and anecdotes rather than anything useful. So it is that I have to tell you that my first FreakyTrigger pub action occurred in a pub in Covent Garden which has a lot of Beatles memorabilia. TfL had told me to come out of the wrong door at Covent Garden tube station and I spent fifteen minutes wandering around thinking bleakly to myself that I was lorst and had no way of finding the pub ever and would just have to go home, after circling the theatre showing the Lion King musical for the sixth time.

Fortunately I happened to spy a pub sign down a sideroad just as I was giving up and eventually made it to the pub, which was tiny and charming and not even that overpriced, as well as serving some strange poppadom crisps which came with their own little dips and which in no way prevented me getting really quite trollied before wobbling home. Still, I’d met some ace new people (not all for the first time; I’d been to a Poptimism at the Cross Kings in September 2007 but, despite said establishments, err, charming murals I’m not sure that counts as a proper “going to the pub for the pub” type outing) and had had a jolly nice time and not got as lost as I thought. “Excellent,” I thought, “I’ll do this more often.”

One of the great things about the FreakyTrigger collective is that when I turned up to said pub, whatever it was called (Cross Keys? I think keys were involved?) I was immediately inundated with information regarding the pub itself, the pubs in the area, the history of the area and anything else I’d care to think of whilst boggling at all them ‘ouses etc. Obviously, I forgot all this within seconds but the fact that it was proferred immediately suggested to me that I would do well here and served to significantly transform my ideas about London pubs as something irritating and noisy and overpriced that were never going to be homey in the way my old haunts were.The terrified attempt at finding places was to become something of a theme to at least my first six months of Going Pub in London and indeed, still often actually is a thing as I attempted to find the Exmouth Arms in the pouring rain the other day but that’s an inevitable part of getting to know anywhere and I look forward to the day when I will actually remember where anything is. The collective pub knowledge contained within the contributors to this site, though, far exceeds any guide you’re going to get and it’s probably a testimony to the number of pubs we go to that we haven’t actually quite got around to writing a comprehensive one yet.

Another great thing about said collective and their pubgoings is that there’s a pretty broad selection of tastes here; me, I am an oldmanpub stalwart, although after spending far too much time in Y Bae, Aberystwyth, I do require that the toilets at least be habitable if you have fewer than six legs and no exoskeleton and I am always going to favour battered settees over benches or even worse, pleather or even worse than that, somewhere I might be expected to look remotely respectable. Nevertheless, I did once wind up drinking actually-not-all-that-overpriced-on-the-scale-of-overpricing cocktails in Bob Bob Ricard, with Sarah and Ewan of this manor and Ken, who doesn’t write here as far as I’m aware, at about 1am after probably a lot too much karaoke. This is the sort of venture that leads to one’s getting mesmerised by the sheer softness and luxury of the paper hand towel things and indeed nicking a load to take home with me and in all fairness I am, like everyone on this site, pretty easy going about pubs so long as you never ever take me to the Stinging Nettle in Shepherds Bush, which if it were not in quite a nice building deserves to be PURGED WITH FLAME and then salted for its crimes against the concept of drinkable wine.

Some of the basic criterions of FT drinking, though, go along these lines-
1. Must have proper beer, ie: not just lager
2. Actually, that’s basically it.

We tend to drink in large(ish) groups but haven’t let that stop us invading, for instance, The Gunmakers in Clerkenwell which is about the size of 1x front room (and a very lovely pub) for Ewan’s birthday or from trying to all cram ourselves into a corner of the Shakespeare’s Head last Friday, so although the assemblies occasionally take on sizes which might merit a substantial part of The Drayton Court (which we have, to my knowledge, never visited en masse due to it being in zone 3 and also strange anti-West biases that I myself find mystifying) being reserved we simply take the concept of budging up slightly on the benches to a sort of space-time artform.

Despite not really understanding what an estate pub is, I have the feeling its something to do with the feeling of “localness” in some establishments. The having of a local is an important thing; I think I’ve at least temporarily adopted the Ladbroke Arms as mine, since its vaguely equidistant between mine and Magnus’ houses and if everyone is going to be so inconsiderate as to live in other parts of London then we can choose our poncy drinking establishments accordingly but the idea of a local in London is more than just somewhere near your home. Myself and Kat used to treat the Hope and the Blue Posts Newman Street as our locals when I was working twenty feet away from her (now a whole zone away, sob!) and the Champion is also an Owl Country favourite (also Kat & I tended to avoid it for fear of colleagues) but equally, I have locals I go to with, say, Cis (admitedly, the Four Goats Head is in Oxford but what can you do?) and some that prove convenient when meeting friends from Ealing, places I go with Sukrat whenever I venture over into bat country, etc. etc. etc. And basically: wherever the FT lot are, it’s a local.

The ace thing about the mobility of London is that although I will piss and moan every time anyone suggests the Calthorpe*** it doesn’t actually prevent me getting there; whilst there were hundreds of pubs within walking distance of my house in Aberystwyth and at least five I could get to in Oxfordshire, the number available to me in London is brainboggling to the point that I am always incapable of selecting one since with all that choice the sudden panic that I will in some way choose the wrong one and offend everyone kicks in, although I’m told this eventually wears off when you turn into Pete Baran. And y’know, I’d probably actually go to the Calthorpe again if it was strictly necessary.

I suppose, before this turns into even more of a wordy, distracted ramble (my writing is normally swearier and I’ve forgotten the policy FT has on such so you’ll have to forgive the otherwise pretentious tone; it was that or Mr Tourette) or I succumb entirely to Beechams Powders and my duvet, my point is that basically: I came to London, discovered that it might not be true that the streets are paved with gold but if it’s pubs you’re looking for then you can go very, very wrong (having lived in Shepherds Bush, I can say with authority that it is evidently important that you avoid all antipodean themed establishments) but the sheer amount of choice on offer means there’s always an opportunity to correct yourself.

Unless, I’m led to believe, you’re in the Spanish Bar. Which I haven’t been to and maybe don’t, err, need to now.

*This is a bit like the offside rule, as far as I can tell, insofar as I asked once and didn’t understand it and now probably can’t ask again. Except I do actually understand the offside rule.
**As per schedule, as it happened.
***ALSO BECAUSE IT IS HORRIBLE. But mostly because it is miles away from Westbourne Park.

Comments

  1. 1
    marna on 17 Dec 2009 #

    That Cvt Garden pub *is* called the Cross Keys, I think. At least, there’s a pub called that on Endell St, and it has an astounding amount of tat of all kinds stuck to the walls. My favourite is a large and immensely tacky painting of kittens that I covet whenever I go in there.

  2. 2
    Andy M on 17 Dec 2009 #

    The Oxford pub is the Three Goats Heads, I think, unless they’ve said “business is booming, let’s add another goat”

  3. 3
    cis on 17 Dec 2009 #

    infinite goats heads!

  4. 4
    Kat but logged out innit on 17 Dec 2009 #

    The extra goat only appears after the 7th bottle of oatmeal stout.

  5. 5
    Ewan on 19 Dec 2009 #

    Estate pubs are a fairly simple concept really, just being pubs built into post-war residential estates. In fact, contemplation of their greatness (FSVO) was what led me to start my own blog, and led to about the first post on it (http://pubology.wordpress.com/2008/06/22/estate-pubs/). I must write on that blog again, in fact; it is my Christmas resolution.

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