Saturday, 12 January 2013

Leicester Square

I’m sure when Dr Frankenstein surveyed the remnants of his laboratory the morning after the thunderstorm he said to himself, “Do you know what? That might not have been such a good idea………” And in a similar fashion I am now reflecting on whether my good intentions have released a monster into the world and am I in fact beholdenly guilty for the chaos and damage this monster will no doubt wreak.

Anyway the background to this week’s tour. As all dedicated readers will know, this was the 1st square after the Xmas and New Year break and as a celebration of the resumption of business as usual and to also attempt to blow away those January cobwebs, I’d planned an ambitious but not unrealistic seven pub trek around Leicester Square. I say “not unrealistic” because there are so many bloody Cask Marque pubs around this area we’d only have to walk a short distance up and down Charring Cross Road, pop into Leicester Square itself to claim all seven venues.
Looks pretty yes? But bloody cold! 
The other factor that I’d hinted towards at the end of the last post was that we might see a few new faces accompanying the tour regulars. Talking about the regulars, we had the pleasure of Aussie Pete squeezing in a potential last tour before the imminent birth of his first baby (apparently it’s bad form to go down the pub when your partner’s in labour), Buddy Rob and New Guy Micky (who had even come into town especially for the tour after working from home). The housewives’ choice and One Direction stunt double Spiky Haired Ed had even sacrificed a, let us say, “more intimate engagement” to be with us. Honoured Ed, honoured!
But there was new blood! The one positive thing about the company’s Xmas do was that a spare seat next to me on our IT department table was filled by a certain delectable creature, namely Emma from the company’s Payroll department. Now it’s worth just mentioning a quick word about Payroll as it’s a curious section where 99.9% of the workforce is female, seriously you walk past their desks and the smell of cats and knitting yarn pours over you like a cloud of noxious gas and you suddenly get the urge to go and buy shoes. That said they do have a reputation of being “up for a party” and can be see donning various forms of fancy dress for certain themed evenings. So trying very hard to keep my eyes off the “off the shoulder” bit of Emma’s stunning dress, I told her all about the Monopoly Tour and said she should whip up some of her more party-focussed colleagues and join us for a square in the New Year.
Well the good girl only just went ahead and did exactly what she promised didn’t she, whipping up no less than three other tailess creatures to join for the 1st square of 2013. At one point there was going to be 6 “pretty ladies” about which I was excitedly tweeting all week, but a couple of last minute drop-outs (Mags, looking at you!) saw the number slightly drop. But beggars as ugly as the BGC cannot be choosers and I’d settle for 4 fine examples of the fairer sex any day of the week! I’d tried to generate some interest in what we generally do on tour nights (drink, scan, moan about work – usually in that order) by sending the links to the Cask Finder app and a cut out and keep version of the Beer Tasting Wheel. None of this was done with any serious intent but you could have knocked me down with a very smelly kipper when all 4 leapt into the spirit of things, even going so far as to promise to drink some beer on the night (apart from Emma – I’ll say it again my dear, it’s not that you don’t like beer, you simply haven’t tried the right one yet)!
The other strange thing all the ladies asked for, well no, actually they demanded, was a nickname each. I tried to explain how the nicknames were never meant to be a feature of the tour and had just grown organically as a way to identify the tourists but this didn’t wash any with them as the demand for nicknames warped slightly and became a demand for derogatory nicknames. Everything I’ve ever learnt about treating ladies, well like ladies, seemed to be turned on its head as I was forced to think of something nasty for each of them. Could I do this? Perhaps I should start them off with a nice nickname and see if events on the tour would change them. So to that end I should do a quick introduction and say that alongside the lovely Emma we had lovely Brenda, lovely Gemma and lovely Nicole.

(l-r) Lovely Gemma, Brenda and Nicole at the start of the evening. Note non-glazed eyes at this point.
Oh, talking about very smelly kippers (we were a moment ago, read back if you don’t believe me) this was the smell that greeted us as we stepped over the threshold of the first pub, The Garrick Arms in Charring Cross Road. I won’t bore you will the travel route taken other than I was impressed by the ladies’ preparations to wear non-idiotic shoes which allowed us to walk from Embankment rather than have to change tube lines to get there.

I think I pull this off better. For example I'm not holding a big invisible poodle.

Anyway back to the Garrick…………..smell of fish aside (I knew it was a bad idea to bring the girls) this is a smart Greene King pub doing a very brisk trade on a busy Friday night. It’s quite a largish place so getting a fairly comfortable position to order drinks and stand wasn’t too much of an issue although the harassed barmaid bit another customers head off when he suggested that it was he that should be next to be served.

Garrick Arms - Note BGC's scarf (more of that later)
The girls were true to their beer sampling words as Brenda, Gemma and Nicole all joined me in a beer called Detox from Oxfordshire Ales, which was in fine form and mine literally didn’t touch the sides. Emma was sticking to her “no beer” pledge and went with a bottle of that awful Rekorderlig. Turning our attention to the certificate it was easily spotted framed and hung on the wall, but in their infinite wisdom the pub management had hung it about 11 foot high up the wall. Either they were expecting Peter Crouch in that night or the only way this was going to be scanned was by either forming a human pyramid or climbing on top of the fruit machine. Perhaps if we’d come to this pub 3 or 4 drinks into the evening we might have attempted either option but with only a sniff of the barmaids apron at this point we just finished our drinks and left.

I mean, come on! How do they dust it?
Next stop was just across the road in the Bear and Staff, a smart Nicholson’s pub done out in their usual black and gold livery. They still had Ding Dong from Stroud Brewery, which I’d last tried in the Black Friar and was more than happy to try again. Because everyone (yes, even Buddy Rob had a Ding Dong) apart from me were drinking halves (OK Ed and Micky were on pints of lager but they don’t count) we were working the barmaid hard especially when the Ding Dong ran out and we had to make a last minute substitution and order a half of Atomic Blonde for Nicole – a substitution that was more than welcomed as it turns out as the more “lagery” taste hit all the right notes. There was no sign of the certificate unfortunately so the ladies were still to break their scanning ducks.

Bear and Staff. BGC and Staff.
It was about this time that questions about previous tour squares were banded around and the girls seemed to find it odd that certainly at the start of the tour I’d visited more than one square on my own. This led to the very witty Brenda renaming the BGC to BNM (i.e. Billy No Mates) which went down with much more hilarity than it really deserved and instantly changed “lovely Brenda” to “Bitchy Brenda”. The other subject broached at this point was the history of my scarf, which again regular readers will remember was saved and adopted when found abandoned in a pub on Fleet Street. I never knew girls were such story tellers because by the time Nicole had finished with the very innocent story, the origins of the scarf were now that I’d mugged a homeless man and stole it from him. The story was even embellished to the degree that she actually named the street that I dragged this poor fictitious man down before beating him up all for the sake of an Austin Reed scarf. So that was her “lovely” replaced with “Jackanory” – and if they didn’t have that in New Zealand you can look at their wiki entry!

Girls and Beer - this could catch on! Pinky out Gemma!
So back to the tour, Billy and I stomped across the road again to the Brewmaster, another Greene King pub which had all the welcome and charm of a kitchen showroom. The beer range was rather slim and the barman recommended Old Speckled Hen as the best bitter but I have to give the ladies even more credit as they tucked in with a gusto that the pub and the beer didn’t deserve. Finally though we spotted a certificate that was available and with a chance of scanning and whilst I can’t claim the girls were leaping in the arm clicking their heels it was nice to prove that the app does work.
The final pub in Charring Cross Road was The Porcupine our second Nicholson’s and by far the best of the 4 that we’d so far visited. Cosy and intimate it also had a very fine barmaid who not only knew where the certificate was hiding (for some reason behind a door behind the bar) also knew that we wanted to see it for scanning. BNM decided that perhaps going to the pub with other people required some social interaction so was more than happy to stand a round for the tour newbies and tour oldies alike. London Stone from Ha’pennyBrewery was selected as the standard drink but I also got a half of the Old Engine Oil porter from Harviestoun and a bottle of the classic Duvel for comparison. The barmaid also produced a branded Duvel glass and went even further up in my estimation.

That glass of Duvel
There’s beer evangelists and tasting experts with much more experience and knowledge than me (hey, I’m just a middle aged bloke who likes drinking) but I’m going to give Billy a bit of a pat on the back here because this tiny tasting experiment was well worth doing and it was really encouraging to see all concerned trying the different types of beer and not turning their noses (oh their cute cute noses) up at any of them.
Before we started this evening’s entertainment Aussie Pete had the bonza idea to bring along his 50 scan Cask Marque polo shirt as a potential photo prop. He’s never worn it, claiming they sent the wrong size but it was the perfect thing to produce from the bag as Alektorophobia Emma (one for the QI fans here – it doesn’t mean what you think it might but it was the most appropriate sounding phobia I could find. ) posed for a photo outside of the Porcupine. We’ll never challenge London Fashion Week, that’s for certain, but there’s a certain “street” honesty about our photo don’t you think?

We finally made the short walk into Leicester Square, which was perhaps unsurprisingly fairly buzzing with folk even on a chilly January evening. Just next to the famous Odeon cinema are two Cask Marque accredited pubs, the Moon Under Water, which from the name is easily recognisable as a Weatherspoons and surprisingly a Yates’s, a chain not normally known for their real ale.

Fearing that both pubs might be very touristy and very full, it was very pleasant to find the Weatherspoons not at all cramped and staffed by some very pleasant barmen. The certificate was located at the end of the bar and although several of the barmen claimed that it wouldn’t work they were delighted to see the successful scan show up on my Ale Trail

No Nicole, it's not a new type of latte.
I think it was here that the drinks went off in all sorts of variations and varieties. I know I had a pint of Hoegaarden and Ed amazed me by getting a fine pint of Köstritzer. Buddy Rob changed things all up by having a pint of Budweiser rather than a bottle and I was rather fearing the girls had reached their ale limit when various vodka based drinks were ordered but Brenda pulled it all out of the bag by not only drinking a Bombardier but seeking it out from the bar herself. And thus Bitchy Brenda became Bomber Brenda.

Thumbs up that Rob sometimes does drink something other than bottles of Bud.

I’m not sure who was orchestrating the changing of the polo shirt but it was obviously Gemma’s turn and she confirmed that apparently the correct procedure when wearing it is to point to a breast. I will remember this next time I’m wearing mine in Sainsbury’s.

And just to be clear, that's not my hand.
Taking our leave from the Weatherspoons we braved the cold outside as we pondered on the wisdom of seeing whether we should visit the Yates’s. The place looked to be everything I feared about these two pubs; scary women dressed in scary dresses queuing for entrance whilst burly bouncers were stopping all who tried to enter. Giving this up as a bad idea I’m not sure whether our attempt should count enough to claim the pub a scanned but I do think we made the right choice.

Come on Cask Marque - surely near enough to award the scan?
So it was quick scoot up to the north end of the square and a diversion into Leicester Street and the final pub of the night, The Imperial.

Apparently Brenda has to mark her territory when drinking.

This Taylor Walker house was positively abandoned in comparison with the other pubs we’d been in and we almost had the whole of the bar area to ourselves, which was rather lucky as the Polo Shirt fun and games took a curious twist when after Bomber Brenda had proved she can pout and pose with the best of them (but there’s no evidence of breast pointing) somehow both Gemma and Aussie Pete ended up in the shirt at the same time. All sorts of cheap jokes about “pairs of tits” of course leap to mind but I’m fair too polite to use them.

I am very suspicious of the dirty look on Ed's face.
Emma was now well into the scanning and spotted the certificate blu-tacked behind the bar. A helpful chap about who I have no idea whether he worked for the pub or not leaned over and pulled it down and another scan was in the bag. It’s also worth noting that whilst I’ve completely forgotten what beer we were drinking, the more important thing was the vodka based drinks were ditched for some more grain based magic.

It's that bloody shirt again!
I’d very early on in the evening resigned myself to catching the last train but the clock doesn’t stop ticking for anyone and as things started to get hazy I was reminded by Buddy Rob that I’d better leave or turn into a pumpkin. I seem to remember a final swap on the shirt as Nicole completed the set of “girls in shirts” (I’ll have enough for a calendar at this rate) and then it was time to tell everyone I loved them all and stagger back to Embankment.
So was it the best square so far? Do you know what, I think it may well have been. The ladies were delightful company and their willingness to try the beers was exemplary. Did I change the perception of beer for them? Well probably not but I did prove that there’s no need for special “lady’s beers” appealing to what the idiot marketing people think girls should be drinking. All we need to do now is encourage the standard measure to be 2/3rds of a pint, served of course in a delicate stemmed goblet and I think we could be onto something………………………..

End of the night - Note glazed eyes and scared expression. The monsters are released!
Number of Cask Marque Pubs visited = No idea – I need to check…..
Did Billy fall in love? = Yeah, or course he did, at least 4 times (no Ed, one of them wasn't you). Well 5 if you count the barmaid in the Porcupine.
Another Advantage = The girls “love” a photo don’t they? I don’t think we’ve ever had so many on a single post!
Nicknames = So did Gemma remain "lovely Gemma" - No, no way, not after the polo shirt twosome with poor old Pete. Try "The Gemmaration Game"
Next Stop = Coventry Street

Those of a nervous disposition - avert your eyes now..........


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