Friday, 19 October 2012

Marlborough Street

Marlborough Street, Marlborough Street, let me grab the map……..ok where are you……mmmmm……come on, come on……….Marlborough Street? Eh can’t find it anywhere!
Well Pop Pickers that’s because it doesn’t actually exist and anyone who doesn’t believe me can shove it up their Old Kent Road!
The fact is the road that appears on the Monopoly Board should really be named “Great Marlborough Street” because, well, funnily enough that’s the full name of the road that runs parallel with Oxford Street at the West End of Soho.
Once I’d actually nailed down the location of the street it was the usual easy task to locate the nearest Cask Marque pubs. Although the street does adjoin Regents Street and as previously mentioned, run parallel to Oxford Street, both places we’re yet to visit, there are so many Cask Marque pubs around this area I felt we were fairly safe to zoom in on the 5 places that surround Marlborough Street itself without polluting our future visits on the board…….oh, sorry, that’s Great Marlborough Street of course.
After the oasis of independent non-chain pubs that was last week’s visit to Camden it was a bit of a shock to realise that all of the five pubs I’d put on the plan for this week were part of major chains; we had one from Greene King and another from Taylor Walker and in an amazing co-incidence no less than three from Nicholson’s.
Now dedicated readers of the blog (yes there are a couple……at least!) will know that our last visit to a Nicholson’s was less than impressive when a surly landlord didn’t seem to be too bothered about getting us the Cask Marque certificate, so you can imagine that having received no response from Nicholson’s nearly two weeks after I’d sent them some feedback, I was rather reluctant to venture back into three of their emporiums, especially all in one night!

Well blow me down with a great big ostrich feather if I didn’t get a phone call yesterday from the aforementioned landlord ringing to ensure we hadn’t gone away with the wrong impression. In his warm dulcet Welsh baritone he also invited us back to have a pint on him next time we’re passing. Now I’m not sure if the tour will take us back near Covent Garden again but if it does I’ll be sure to pop in. I wonder if I should remove the Phil Mitchell comment…………………….?
So it was with a much more hopeful heart that saw us emerge from Oxford Circus tube to find ourselves directly opposite the first pub, The Argyll Arms. However the journey here hadn’t been without its casualties; No-nickname Michael had started the voyage with us but when changing trains at Embankment he’d seen his home-tube-line and the temptation of a quiet night in and a sensible bedtime was too much temptation when compared to another evening’s idiotic drinking. But fortunately that didn’t mean we were a man-down because we had a guest tourer on board in the shape of Munchkin Stevey who was on an away trip down from the Manchester Office. After he’d got over his initial amazement of the electric street lamps and the tube (“those t’trains drive b’neth ya very feet I tell thee!”) and he’d stopped screeching “Mechanised Horse!” at every car he saw, he seemed to settle down and enjoy the night out.
The Argyll Arms has to be one of the most classical ornate pubs in the country and features numerous times in the book “London Heritage Pubs”; and if it’s got into that then it must be pretty special. It has a brilliant ornate back-bar, etched glass snug screens and huge decorated mirrors advertising beers and breweries. Luckily it wasn’t too crowded as it can get extremely cramped, indeed I think it was Aussie Pete who said how they could fit many more people in if they’d just rip out all this decoration…………well that’s what you get when you come from a country with no history.
BGC about to enter the Argll Arms - Is the chap in the background weeping because the tour's in town?

The Argyll was one of the three Nicholson’s pubs on the list for tonight and after we’d all been served with our drinks (pints of Pilsner Urquell all round – well it is their 170th anniversary) the pretty red haired barmaid was only too happy to try to get the scan for us as the certificate was hanging proudly behind the bar. Well, she might have been pretty and good at pulling pints but the scan seemed beyond her so the massive Scottish landlord plucked it off the wall and handed it over for us to scan (I swear he held the frame with in one palm!) – Well maybe it wasn’t the barmaid’s fault as all of us struggled to get the scan although we somehow got there in the end. “How many times have you had to do this?” Charlie joked with the landlord, “Oh, a couple of times” this BFG rumbled back “but you know they’ve never been as bad with their phone as this lot” he winked. So there you have it in a nutshell – this is how you run a busy West End London Pub – take note White Horse………
I would have gladly stayed for another drink in this most genial of surroundings but with 5 places on the agenda time was of the essence so we had to push on, but it was only a short 5 minute walk down Argyll Street, across (Great) Marlborough Street and over into Carnaby Street and into the Shakespeare’s Head. This is another historical pub, built in 1735 no less, (although it doesn’t appear in “London Heritage Pubs”) and is now under the Taylor Walker banner. After we’d all stood and admired the life-sized bust of the great man leaning out of an upper storey window it was generally felt that having a drink in the hand would be the thing to do.
Stop bloody staring at me and go and get a drink!

Once again, and for no good reason that I know of, I was elected beer selector for the group and quite randomly plumped for something I’d never seen before, Autumn Envy from Stonehenge Brewery. Now autumn beers are usually ruby red or dark brown in colour, but get this, this beer was green. Yep, you heard me right, green. And not just a greenish tinge, but a deep brackish green that made you feel like you were drinking pond water, perhaps not something the good brewers at Stonehenge thought about. Unfortunately I have to be honest here and report that although it was interesting to drink green beer, the actual experience wasn’t that good; it tasted ok at the start but sadly got very chewy and claggy towards the end of the pint – the others also agreed – perhaps we just prefer our beer brown.
Green! See, you wouldn't believe me, but there it is!

The conversation was turning typically laddish; who was the best Bond and which was the best Bond film? Munchkin Stevey seemed to be a Bond encyclopaedia and admitted to watching the Bond movie channel (there is such a thing apparently) for at least 3 hours a day! Meanwhile all certificate scanners had successfully got the scan (Landlord more than happy to have us leaning into the bar to take the scan) which meant we were “2 from 2” which isn’t something that usually happens on these visits.
Aussie Pete finally realises his true vocation in life - and that of all his fellow country men!

Again moving on far too quickly, it was only a quick dash around the corner to Kingly Street and The Clachan the second Nicholson’s pub of the night. Again another impressive looking pub (probably the outside looks more impressive than the inside though) and one with perhaps the most helpful member of bar staff ever. After we’d got our pints (Flying Scotsman from Caledonian for me) we’d lapped this circular pub at least three times trying to find the certificate, but had failed miserably. I was convinced they had got it somewhere as a friend and visited during the week and had told me where the certificate was, but we couldn’t seem to find it anywhere. Aussie Pete had asked a member of staff who had also lapped the pub with us and also gone to the upstairs dining area but unbeknownst to us whilst we all retired outside to enjoy the drinks this chap had continued to search for it, eventually coming outside to report that he’d asked his manager and apparently they had never had one (?), but the White Horse (just round the corner) definitely does have one. What service! He also did a much better job of collecting the glasses than Aussie Pete!
Happily for the scanners, the White Horse was our next stop, and once again we were off far too quickly, back around to Carnaby Street and up to the White Horse in Newburgh Street. It was at this point that Aussie Pete’s phone rang and he was order from home to eat something. Meekly he slipped off to the café opposite and promptly ordered a giant sized portion of Spaghetti Bolognese, leaving the rest of us to order his beer and get his scan from the pub.
 The certificate was pinned to a pillar by the bar but to scan it, it took all the dexterity of a contortionist and guiding advice of someone the other side of the pillar to manage to complete the action. As I was trying to scan a petite barmaid happily took my phone to complete the manoeuvre for me, Spiky-haired Ed who was next in line started to scan and a second barmaid came along to help. When I took a second look I saw that there was a whole host of gorgeous barmaids queuing up to help us………..well they probably weren’t but certainly I’ve never seen so many female bar staff all in one pub at one time. I remembered that this was the pub I’d tweeted beforehand so perhaps that’s why they were all there, just getting ready to announce the brass band and unveil the welcome banner……………………………………………we’re still waiting L
Returning outside Sybil helpfully took Aussie Pete’s pint over to his “table for one” and a bouncer (the friendliest most polite bouncer ever Pete later reported) poured the beer into a plastic glass, which led to much jovial pee-taking when the loneliest diner in London re-joined us after polishing off the spaghetti. Remember Pete, real men ching!
The lonliest diner in all of London

Last but not least it was (once more) a quick walk down to the next and final pub of the evening, the Blue Posts, a Greene King pub in Kingly Street. Again (seems to be a whole evening of “agains”) this was another ornate pub with an interesting history (apparently the Beatles used to meet their managers in the pub) and another set of friendly helpful bar staff. “Do you have the Cask Marque Certificate?” we breathlessly asked – yes they did, proudly presenting it for us to scan. But what was this “Scan not recognised”? Turns out the certificate expired on the 30th of September and the new one was yet to arrive! Agh so near and yet so far……….oh well 3 from 5 was a pretty good haul for the night and meant that Aussie Pete got his 50th scan and consequently the Cask Marque Polo Shirt (no, don’t start that again!)
On the other hand I am now just 2 shy of my 100 scans and that long awaited title of Cask Marque Ambassador. Looks like I’ll have to ask Cask Marque Trevor to do my “knighting” from Cask Marque HQ!
Number of Cask Marque Pubs visited = 98
Things to do next time = Not so many pubs! These were 5 brilliant places and yet we sprinted from one to the next. Definite mistake.
The next blog = Try not to use the word “again” again (DOH!)
Next Stop = Vine Street

This weeks tourists (L-R) Aussie Pete, BGC, Buddy Rob, Charlie, Munchkin Stevey, Spiky-haired Ed, Sybil and half of New Guy Micky's head - The reason behind the two photos is to show Steve's bi-polar disorder

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