Sunday, 10 March 2013

Community Chest #3

The idea for this particular trip had been floating about for some time after it had been suggested around my local CAMRA group to do a trip to London. A couple of the chaps had also been reading this blog so it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss to try to incorporate this trip into the tour.

My original thought was to visit some of the well known pubs in the West End but our branch newsletter “Ullage” editor-in-chief and all round good guy Tim Thomas had heard of a launch of Berkshire based Siren Craft Brewery beers at the Craft Beer Co in Clerkenwell, which made me focus in on this area instead for potential tour locations.
BGC finds the Craft Beer Co open
At first everything looked very rosy, not only were there quite a few Cask Marque accredited pubs in this area but they were very well regarded places that appear in many of the London pub guides. So quick as a flash I had a tour route planned taking in the Craft Beer Co itself and other places such as The Bleeding Heart, The Gunmakers, Jerusalem Tavern and the Ye Old Mitre. But like the best laid plan of mice of men it all went squeak when research showed that all these places were closed at the weekend!
It’s quite a well known fact that areas of “the city” are like ghost towns at the weekend and most pubs and shops don’t bother to open because of the lack of trade. But I was quite surprised to find that this practice had crept into the Clerkenwell area as well. Surely there would be enough locals on a Saturday to warrant opening?
But a closed pub is a closed pub, so I amended the route I’d planned and substituted another 4 pubs alongside the Craft Beer Co to make up the 5 for our trip. According to all the pubs’ websites, they were all definitely open, but I decided to keep the locations a secret so as to make it more of a mystery tour. The other thing I did to try to make the tour more entertaining was create an “i-Spy” type quiz, making the tourists spot various items on route. As I’d walked the route a couple of time, just to make sure we didn’t get lost, I made a note of interesting things along the route and added these to a list of other random things the boys would have to try to spot.
So there were items ranging from a “Blue Plaque” to a “Yellow Car” – from a “man being electrocuted” to “someone singing” – It’s all sounds a little pathetic when written down but it was quite amusing, honestly!
So we set off on a midday train with a couple of the chaps still feeling the effects of a heavy Friday night in Hungerford. Which gives me the opportunity to introduce today’s tourists. In addition to Tweeter Tim there was the branch treasurer Scrumpy Steve, branch secretary Mild Mike, social secretary Stout Richard and Sam Weissbier. And if you’re wondering about the names just ask the guys to show you their badges – it’s a branch joke!
Anyway the trains were running on time and before we really knew it we were alighting at Farringdon tube station and ready to being the trip. A swift turn up Greville Street saw us pass the first item on the i-Spy quiz, a Weatherspoon’s pub named after the Lollard leader, Sir John Oldcastle.
But were weren’t stopping there, and neither were we stopping at the closed Bleeding Heart Tavern and instead the walk up to the Craft Beer Co did prove that this area of London is like a ghost town at the weekends though, in fact it was more like a zombie town as we walked along the deserted litter strewn streets, causing Sam to comment that this was a like a scene from Get Carter.
Yes Steve, it's open!
The Craft Beer Co though was far from deserted with a healthy crowd of drinkers in place. The beer range was seriously extensive, I didn’t manage to count all the hand-pumps but there must have been between 10-15 different beers available. Four of these had beers from the Siren Brewery on and Steve, Sam and I had a half of their Under Current Pale Ale and their Sound Wave IPA – both were extremely nice and the only disappointment was that I’d failed to see another one of their beers called Liquid Mistress which has to be the best name for a beer ever!
The amazing mirror ceiling clock thing
We’d managed to find a table by the door which just about seated the 5 of use (Tim had swiftly left us for some “new” friends he’d found) and from there we could view the decorative qualities of the pub which included a huge Charrington’s mirror and an even bigger mirrored ceiling that might have doubled as a clock in a previous life.
Finally prizing Tim away from his new friends we moved further along the Clerkenwell Road (spotting the blue plaque commemorating Sir Hiram Maxim’s gun factory) and hit our first disappointment of the day. The Betsy Trotwood on Farringdon Lane was as dead as a dead thing. Not standing on ceremony I knew there was a Fuller’s place, The City Pride, which could stand in as an alternative but shock horror – this was closed as well!
By now the route had deviated slightly so we had to back track to what should have been the third pub, The Three Kings but by now weren’t exactly surprised to find that this was also not open.
Any (open) port in a storm - Luckily this was a superb port.
Thank god therefore for the Crown Tavern on Clerkenwell Close which was not only on my planned tour and not only a Cask Marque accredited pub, but was actually open! Oh for an open port in a storm. The troubled waters were soon calmed though as there was a nice selection of 6 ales in addition to a sizable bottle selection. Again Steve, Sam and I went for two different halves, which for me were half a Hoptimus Prime from Robinsons and half a Bitter Californian from the Bristol Beer Factory. Just about making ourselves heard over the cackling old crone on the next table I again apologised for the closed pubs and promised that the “final” pub of my planned 5 pubs would be open – all the time keeping my fingers crossed that it would be.
But before we left I got an easy scan of the certificate which was hanging very available by the bar whilst chatting with possibly the prettiest barmaid of the whole Monopoly Tour so far.
Looking like the world's worst boy band outside the Slaughtered Lamb - Nice cocked leg Sam.
A stroll along St John Street (and a bit of tattoo & grave spotting on the way) saw us at the Slaughtered Lamb on Great Sutton Street, which was thankfully open. This wasn’t a Cask Marque accredited place and although they had a few ales on tap their focus was definitely on the craft beer side of things with a whole collection of Camden Town beers, beers from Kernel and also a bottled beer menu that had us giggling at Arrogant Bastard and Slag Pilsner. I started with a pint of Camden’s Gentleman’s Wit, which was extremely enjoyable before managing to secure the final bottle of slag in the pub.
Richard shows off his tatoos
Talking about slags (sorry, that link was beneath even me) the pub was suddenly full of beautiful young women and suddenly every wine glass the barman had on his shelves was pushed into service. Apparently there was a PR company round the corner and I’m guessing the ladies were on a weekend training day or induction day or whatever but all of a sudden the average age in the pub had dropped by about 20 years making us feel very old and decrepit indeed.
Would you let this man edit your newsletter? Tim strikes a stylish pose with a flat white.
Leaving before we embarrassed ourselves that should have been it for the pubs I’d planned, but sensing that the guys could have done with a couple more we popped into the Three Compasses on the way back to Farringdon station. Not really a place of any merit but they did have the France Vs Ireland 6 Nations rugby match on even if they did serve their bottles of Newcastle Brown Ale with pint glasses.
Richard then took a call from his son and quickly recalling the name of the pub just outside Farringdon tube station we arranged to meet up with him in the Castle. Now I’d obviously done this place an injustice in missing it off the tour in the first place because not only was it Cask Marque accredited, meaning I got in a nice surprise scan that I wasn’t expecting but their beer range was quite healthy as well. I for some reason went for a pint of Erdinger and by this point in the proceedings I’ve no idea what the others went for.
This could be an album cover surely? Nice cocked leg (again) Sam.
There was just time before Jean-Christophe reclaimed his tables to present the prizes for the i-Spy quiz, which by this point also had descended into a bit of a farce. I can’t even remember who I awarded the prizes to but I’m guessing I completely got the scores completely wrong. But at least I awarded the prizes to our group and not the American girl with the big camera on the table behind.
Inside the Castle
The train journey back seemed to be mostly taken up with trying not to wet myself, luckily a parked train at platform 8 at Paddington came to my literal relief. The Thatcham bound personnel managed to sneak in a crafty Burger King and then topped this up with a visit to Tutti Fruitti at Reading, though I believe Steve got his can of Gin & Tonic from somewhere else.
Sam at Burger King. The weird angle is because of his cocked leg.
The lucky Newbury bound people managed to get a straight through train instead whereas we took the “more relaxed” route back!
The relaxed route home.
Number of Cask Marque Pubs visited  = 167
Lessons to be learnt = Ring the pubs beforehand. Oh, and have a coffee every now and then!
Back to the usual tour next week? = Yes please! I couldn’t do this every weekend!
Next Stop =Bond Street
P.S. So how did this qualify for Community Chest? Well with this bunch of weirdos it was more like Care in the Community but somehow I think I fitted right in.

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