Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Fleet Street

Apologies, apologies, apologies………to all the faithful tour readers out there, a hundred thousand heartfelt apologies. There was no update last week and if each and every one of you have now gone off and are reading blogs about baking cookies or the mating cycle of wading birds then I can only hope you’ve checked back now that you know the Reddish Egret uses bill clacking in its courtship rituals (it’s true – honest) and you just have to know what the Monopoly boys are up to.

The reason behind last week’s no-show was a company music quiz on Monday night and then the gang couldn’t settle on a day for the rest of the week. So we took the ready-made excuse and had a week off, which in retrospect was probably a good thing if not for our livers, definitely for our wallets.
But just a quick note about the music quiz, we didn’t win, nowhere near to be honest although we did briefly hold the lead, but we did receive a prize for the best team name. So congratulations to Charlie, Spikey Haired Ed, Mags for allowing me to name the team Gang Bang Style and winning each of them an advent calendar.
The sort of victorious Gang Bang Style

So onto Fleet Street, that street once famous for being home to the majority of the UK’s daily newspapers and apparently former home of the demon barber, Sweeny Todd. It’s basically a continuation of Strand (remember no “the”) but instead of continuing the tour from West to East, I decided to approach the street from the other end and begin by getting off the tube at Blackfriars. It was but a short hop straight across Queen Victoria Street and into The Blackfriar, a Nicholson’s pub saved from destruction by Sir JohnBetjeman no less. I’m certainly glad he took the effort to do that, and so should everyone else because it’s an absolute gem.
A pointy cornered building.

From the outside it appears as a tiny pointy cornered building perched on the junction of Queen Victoria Street and New Bridge Street, a row of gleaming mosaic tiles shining with the reflection of the passing traffic spell out “Brandies” and the number 174. Twinkling lights peep out from behind the stained glass windows and promise a warming welcome inside, and thankfully the interior doesn’t fail to deliver with carved relief pictures of the Blackfriars themselves cavorting around the top of the bar.
Charlie & BGC, tempted by the twinkling lights....

I could carry on in this vein for more paragraphs so I’ll just end by encouraging all pub fans to seek this place out and raise a glass to Sir John, and instead will turn to the attendance of the tour for this square.
All the faithful were there apart from No-nickname Michael who was having a month off the sauce, so it was Aussie Pete, Charlie, New Guy Micky, Buddy Rob and me who travelled the 4 stops on the tube and met up with the housewives’ favourite Spiky Haired Ed, Munchkin Steve (back down from up t’north on a visit) and a newbie to the tour, Mike who for guessable reasons I will name Bam for the purpose of the tour – We’ve already got one Michael anyway!
Pumps at The Blackfriar

Munchkin Steve and Bam were quick to come forward with their recommendation for a pint of Ding Dong from Andwell Brewery, which is apparently brewed specially for Nicholson’s. It was a good recommendation, a ruby red seasonal ale just right for a gloomy November evening. Not forgetting the real reason we were there, the Cask Marque certificate was easily spotted, framed and propped up on a stand by the door and one scan and one pint later we knew if we were to be able to cover the 6 pubs I’d got planned for the evening we have to move on – a shame really, pubs this special shouldn’t be rushed.
Munchkin Steve & BGC, tempted by the single twinkling light.

Heading north towards Fleet Street, it was a quick detour into Bridewell Place and the aptly named St Brides Tavern, a Greene King pub but on the way there it was Buddy Rob who got treated to the BGC’s very special guided tour. A quick potted history of the area records that when the Bridewell Royal Hospital was destroyed in the Great Fire of London it was rebuilt as a prison which later became school buildings. The original gatehouse has now been incorporated into an office block on New Bridge Street. This can be seen complete with relief portrait of Edward the VI who granted a charter to Bridewell Hospital, and I pointed this out to Rob as we passed. He seemed to be more interested in the office girl that looked as if she’d just been knocked over but you can but lead horses to water! (Oh, and for the record the girl already had a host of people looking after her – we didn’t leave her sprawled in the road!)
BGC fitting well in with the 70's look

Anyway, St Bride’s Tavern – a lovely little oasis tucked away from the crowds and has a feel of a 1970’s working man’s club. The beer, something from Titanic, (it had red on the label but I can’t see it on their website) came in traditional dimpled jugs apart from Ed and Micky’s lager which was something I’d never heard of, Noble, a 5% brew from Greene King themselves. It also came in a very nice stemmed glass and didn’t taste too bad to boot. The certificate was hanging proudly on the wall unfortunately just over the head of a chap with a very dodgy Movember moustache. Now when I say dodgy, I mean dodgy – I know I’m calling the kettle black, and Aussie Pete currently looks like a 1980’s car salesman but this guy looked like a German Porn star and in fact if you have a minute, he looked like a German Porn star that was actually playing the Bontempi Organ (with his socks on). But did that stop Pete starting up a very brotherly-love conversation with the chap. In fact for all the time it took us to drink our pints, for us to try to surreptitiously take a photo of the pretty barmaid, for Charlie to download Cask Finder and get his first scan and various other activities Pete and this dude talked each other’s hind legs off. In fact it makes you rather suspicious as to whether it was just hind legs they talked off.
Charlie demonstrates that the beer comes in jugs

Poor Munchkin Steve had to leave us now as the border to the north closes at 21:00 but the rest of the gang finally reached Fleet Street proper and quickly entered The Old Bell Tavern, another Nicholson’s located right at the east end of the street. Although not as ornate and decorative as the Blackfriar it’s still another lovely olde worlde pub.
Aussie Pete and BGC, tempted by the lights of the shop next door.

We spotted the certificate instantly, as it was hung on the wall behind the bar, but in a dark and dingy corner. I was surprised when the barmaid was more than happy for me to go behind the bar to scan but I needed Charlie to come to my rescue and illuminate the certificate with his phone in order than my phone could “see” it. Pretty soon there were about 6 of us behind the bar all clamouring to get the scan or help others do the same. It was then that the shortest little bar manageress in the world asked what we were up to. “Where are you from?” she demanded, “Just regular drinkers” I tried to explain “doing the Cask Marque thing.” For a minute I wondered if she would think we were actually from Cask Marque and perhaps I should demand a free sample from all the beers………… But I didn’t, and anyway I’d already spotted another guy in a Cask Ale Week T-Shirt and thought perhaps he was a real inspector and he might then challenge me to a “taste off” which I’d no doubt lose in disgrace…………………..and back in the room. 

Bunch of Octopodes getting the scan.

The pints of something or other (see note at end of page) were quickly downed and after a profuse thank you to the diddy manageress again it was back onto Fleet Street to what I thought would be a bit of a slog to the western end of the road, but actually turned out to be a gentle stroll to the next pub, Ye Olde Cock Tavern, which is a Taylor Walker pub and also scores top points for having the words “Ye”, “Olde” and “Cock” in its name – yeah childish I know, but still makes me giggle.
After the Old Bell I was expecting the Cock to be similarly crushed even for a Tuesday but surprisingly it was quite empty with only a couple of its tables filled with drinkers. Pints of Hooky were ordered (for those of an ale persuasion anyway – it was Staropramen for the others) and we retired to an empty table only to find it occupied by a forgotten scarf. Quickly adopting this as my mascot for the night we then began to discuss the problems of trying to drink with a moustache as it doesn’t let you form a seal around your mouth. Well that was my excuse for the dribble down my shirt front anyway. The Cock was another impressively decorative pub with some fantastic low hung lanterns along the bar; it boasts Samuel Pepys and Charles Dickens as former clientele but they didn’t seem to be in tonight. A pit stop of crisps and nuts was called for, anything to stop Pete dashing off to order a three course meal, and then it was up and away to the next place.

BGC & Scarf outside The Knights Templar

Across the road, and slightly up Chancery Lane is TheKnights Templar, a pub whose name conjures up images of chain-mailed, sword wielding, red-crossed men at war and crappy books by Dan Brown. The pub itself is a Wetherspoons emporium and looks and feels like it, occupying the vast interior space that used to be a former bank. The ceilings are enormously high and the artistic suit of armour pinned high on the wall behind the bar looks impressive. What wasn’t so impressive was the stop of our run of 4 consecutive scans as the ruddy faced Irish bar manager explained his certificate had got knocked off the wall and smashed. We made an order for pints of “something” but found that the “something” had run out after pouring three of the pints. I then had to have a pint of Naked Ladies which I presume is this one from Twickenham Fine Ales.

Suit of armour behind the bar - note twinkling lights.

The problem with the big Wetherspoons are that if you don’t have a crowd in, the size of the place can make you feel like a pea on a drum. Although for the Tuesday night the crowd was pretty healthy the place lacked a little atmosphere so we didn’t linger over our drinks.
Finally we came to the last pub of the evening, back onto Fleet Street and the Fullers emporium named The Old Bank of England, which isn’t just a name as it’s the old law courts of The Bank of England. It’s also apparently situated between Sweeney Todd’s barbers shop and the pie shop owned by Mrs Lovett………………it’s all bollocks but it makes for a good story! We were greeted by an enormous Xmas Tree just inside the door and the second bank conversion of the night. I have to say that Fullers have done a better job than Wetherspoons did in the Knight Templar. In the Old Bank of England, the centre of the room is dominated by a massive oval bar and then tables have been arranged around the outside whereas in the Knights Templar the tables are arranged like theatre seats, lining up facing the bar cum stage. Obviously you can take your pick and there’s different strokes for different folks and I reckon that was Aussie Pete’s second chat up line of the night as he moved in on a poor unsuspecting father and son combo and subjected them to ½ an hour’s worth of inane chatter. We, instead, had to put up with a very attractive but grumpy barmaid who didn’t react at all positively to one of us telling her she looked like Pamela Anderson. Bam actually went so far as to ask if someone else could serve us but to give her  credit the poor girl persisted and at least produced the Cask Marque certificate from behind the bar where it was wafting around like a scrap piece of paper.

Charlie (or Caspar) celebrating his first scan - this actually happened in St Brides but I don't have any good photos of the Bank of England!

We tried to order pints of “something seasonal” at first but happy Pamela informed us that this had run out (then turn the pump clip round!) so we settled instead of pints of Chiswick Bitter which is a good alternative in anyone’s books. Once Pete had finished chatting up and no doubt organising his three way dad-son-marsupial gangbang, (never thought I’d get that word in twice in a blog entry!) Bam decided to round off the evening with a round of Jägerbombs. I’ve got to say for a tour newbie, he certainly knows how to impress the old soaks.
And finally-finally, I’ll say another thing for the Old Bank of England – it’s got some of the most impressive toilets I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting. Excuse me.
Number of Cask Marque Pubs visited = 121 (Speedy Trevor already added the Knights Templar)
“something” beer? = I usually Unttap all my beers that I drink but was cursing the 10-15 mins it takes me out of the conversation to do so. So this time I didn’t and promptly forgot half the drinks we ordered. Normal service will be resumed.

Who’s in the closet? = Not Petey! He’s samba-ing down the street with pink feathers in his hair singing “I will survive!”
Next Stop = Trafalgar Square

Just to prove we were in Fleet Street - Look at the sign, not the tramp in the foreground.


  1. Ok so one of the things I am looking at for the next release, is getting your phone to turn on the flash when it is dark so it illuminates the certificate in dark and dingy premises!

  2. Cheers Ali, (it is Ali isn't it?) that would be a good feature. Must admit this was the first time we had to go to such lengths to get the scan.

    Aussie Pete asks if you can change the app so that when you get a scan, a big low bass masculine voice (think Barry White drinking stout) says "Hey good looking, you've just got the scan!"