Saturday, 4 May 2013

Park Lane

“When two worlds collide.” Stuck on the train writing this I can't remember whether this was the name of a song or the title of a book but it sounds like something Annie Lennox might have warbled about whilst simultaneously making us feel guilty for living in the west. So why did I start this episode with that title? Well all may come clear dear reader, all may come clear.

At first this square didn't get off to a good start. After the measly turnout that was Chance #3 I immediately emailed all the previous tourists asking them to respond with which day of the following week would be suitable for the next instalment. Out of an audience of several thousand, guess how many replies I got?  Well if you guessed anything over 2 you were dead wrong.

The first was from Munchkin Steve, who actually should be credited with much kudos in that he’s managed a phenomenal amount of tour appearances considering his actual living location in the wild remoteness of Lancashireland. Anyway, he declared that if the tour could be run on the forthcoming Wednesday night he would gladly come along before dashing off to catch the iron-horse back up to the coal face of a different degree latitude. The other reply was from Aussie Pete, who has been conspicuous by his absence on the last few tours, but who also declared that Wednesday would make a suitable night out. 

To the rest of the people who didn't reply, I can only cry a House of Commons style "shame" and say that I won't ever ever ever invite you again. Wait a minute, that's what they want isn't it, the sneaky so-and-sos…….......right I'm going to invite you all twice a week from now until the end of the tour! I’ll break you down eventually! 
Park Lane - Exactly what it says on the tin.

So Wednesday it was, leaving the only other decision to be made was to mark out the pubs nearest to the featured square, the second most expensive on the board, Park Lane. Upon checking the Cask Marque website I was dismayed to find so few pubs highlighted near to this main thoroughfare. There were several near to the south end of Park Lane, but I wanted to save those for when we do the Mayfair square, but at the north end, apart from one Wetherspoon’s just across the road from Mable Arch there were none until you were reaching into the areas around Edgeware Road or Marylebone.
Marble Arch in the sunshine.

Surely something was stinking in the state of Cask Marque-land so I fired off a quick email to my tame Cask Marque employees and sure enough they discovered that all the pubs of a certain major chain, for one reason or another (far far too boring for this blog) were not showing up on the map. Quick as the flash of a hand-pulled-pint the issue was rectified leaving me which a much healthier choice from which to plan this week's tour.

So, date and venues sorted, it was just the actual tourists to fall into place. Munchkin Steve and Aussie Pete had their seats reserved so it was just New-Guy Mickey (another one who's missed far too many of the recent squares) to put in a welcome return and that old perennial BGC wannabee, Spiky Haired Ed to make up the numbers.

But then (and this is my reference to the two worlds) I heard from me old china TimThomas, he of the local CAMRA branch newsletter editing fame who'd previously appeared on the Community Chest #3 feature. Tim was in town as he's really nothing better to do with his days that stroll round art galleries and visit pubs (really, he literally lives the life that us working idiots only dream of) so thought he might hang around in the big smoke and catch up with us on the tour, especially as he knew the first pub of the evening, the Tyburn on Edgware Road.

Spiky Haired Ed wasn't finishing work until 18:00 so in a great show of sympathy we told him to catch us up in the first pub and made our way there via the endless tunnels of the Monument/Bank station (see last week's episode for full details) and a long drag along the Central Line. We popped up though directly on Park Lane, which allowed for a quick snap of the road sign and then a death defying dash across Oxford Street and up to the pub where Tim was already installed. So all that was left to do was make the quick introductions between my two worlds.
Horrible, bland, boring Tyburn.

The Tyburn is a perfect example of a Wetherspoon’s and highlights everything that’s both right and wrong about these particular places. This is a modern building and is obviously being looked after by the Wetherspoon’s team as it was clean, neat and tidy and doing a healthy trade. The service, along with the handy location of the certificate at the end of the bar, was fine, just a short wait for the two pints of Heineken (£4.05) and the two pints of Titanic Brewery’s Molly Brown Ale (£3.05 – Hey, you do the math(s)) - but yet it's still a horrible, horrible pub. Bland, uninspiring and without anything approaching a soul, the most interesting thing was the bowl of lemons on the bar which we tried to convince Steve were complimentary. 
I think Steve did suck one of those lemons.

The beer was fine though and on a hot day that promises a great summer, was quickly downed which led us to the quandary of what to do as Ed still hadn't turned up. Move on to the next place or stay in the Tyburn and wait for him there? I suggested an alternative in that I explained the Tyburn took its name from the Tyburn Tree, the old gallows that used to stand near the site. Apparently at its peak it could cope with 24 simultaneous hangings, which is quite something no matter which side of the capital punishment debate you sit. There was, I'd heard, a commemorative stone set somewhere to mark the exact site of the gallows, so full of intrepid adventurership we elected to kill the waiting for Ed time by locating the thing and recording it for posterity. Needless to say we didn't find it. We found a massive horse’s head standing next to Marble Arch and some pretty fountains and some bemused tourists which Steve decided to entertain but that all aside, there was no stone to be found.
I'm not sure whether finding the Horse's Head deserved a kiss Steve?

Adventure over we returned to the pub and Pete, Steve and Mickey were given ownership of the kitty and directions to the next place whilst Tim and I hung around on the street corner like the two most uninviting prostitutes in the world. After a suitable delay Ed sauntered around, picked us both up and we ambled down Seymour Street to the next place.

The ThreeTuns is a Taylor Walker pub and I have to say one of their better places. It cuts a nice line in pubby kitch (rows of jugs along the mantel piece) without being too false and charms you in a way that the Tyburn wouldn't be able to do even if Benedict Cumberbatch was taking a shift behind the bar. Behind this bar however was a devilishly dark Irish girl who poured my pint of Ghost Ship very well and Ed's Stella Black (“I’m going back to the old days” he cried before ordering) as well as the mechanical pump will let a barperson. 
Steve seemed to do a lot of standing the middle of roads waving this night. A sulky Ed paces in front.

Another certificate was located although this time in a slightly awkward position of directly behind the main door. The door was chained open for reasons of easy access and also air conditioning so we had to run the gauntlet of unchaining it, closing it, taking the scan and then reopening the door all before either someone wanted to get in or before someone inside fainted. 
Inside of the Three Tuns.

We’d managed to secure a cosy little corner table complete with banquette and in other circumstances could have probably whiled away a very pleasant evening, but time stops for no Monopoly Tour and we had to move on.  

The next place lay south of Oxford Street so again it was a brave negotiation around the bus which decided to stop right on top of the pelican crossing and a short jaunt down North Audley Street to the Marlborough Head another Taylor Walker place which a huge decorative painting of (presumably) the Duke of Marlborough above the front door. (The pub is named for Blenheim Palace, the Marlborough ducal seat.) 
Marlborough Head. Exactly what it says on the tin.

Although bigger than the Three Tuns, it lacked any of its charm and the service seemed to be creaking as the three bar-people gamely tried to keep the bustling crowd satisfied. I took my cue from the falsely red headed barmaid and order BathAles Ginger Hare for Pete and me, whilst it was three pints of various lagers for the others.

The Ginger Hare deserves a mention on two counts, firstly unlike a lot of beers that are brewed with a "special" ingredient this one had struck that magic balance of being able to instantly tell that there was something special in it, in this case a massive whiff of ginger on the nose, but still being a well balanced beer that you can drink. The other count is the note advertising the ale on the “beer blackboard” which will remain a mystery as to whether someone on the staff was having a joke or just really didn't know the difference. But the other mystery is how Steve managed to get the two strange blokes to participate in the snap I wanted for the blog.......he literally will talk to anyone.
"Quick Bill, point at this sign before the little munchkin fella kicks off!"

Before he turned into a pumpkin Tim had to make a move for home so we left him finishing the dregs of his pint and made our way down to Grosvenor Square and walked past the American Embassy to Carlos Place and the short jaunt to the final pub of the evening The Barley Mow. Another Taylor Walker hostelry this one was even more crowded than the previous two, possibly something to do with the European Cup semi-final that was playing on the many television sets hung around the pub. The bar staff here were struggling to cope though and I seemed to have picked the worst spot to stand in, as the waiting queue moved forward I seemed to get pushed out to the edges and away from the serving action in the centre of the bar. 

With the finishing line eventually in sight I could tell that a huge lanky chap in white trousers (who had definitely joined the throng after me) was readying his money to flag the barmaid’s attention and before I quite knew what I was doing I'd challenged him to his position at the bar. Of course he deflected my peevish irritation with a suave smile and a gracious "arr, sure you can go first" delivered of course in a lilting Irish brogue, making me look like a little red faced tit, which is of course exactly what I was behaving like. At least I did give him what I hope was a similarly gracious apology in return after I'd been served with the two pints of Welsh Red Ale (sorry brewery name forgotten), Hoegaarden (complete with lemon slice) for Mickey and pint of yellow coloured fizz for Steve.
Barley Mow. Exactly what it says on the tin.

We escaped the noise of the television, the press of the crowd and any chance that my charming Irish man might decide that the little red faced tit needed teaching a lesson by retiring to the pavement. Perhaps it was the cool of the evening air but everyone seemed to instantly turn into a copy of Nuts magazine and started whoar-ing and grunting at anything of the female sex that walked past. Luckily no-one was uncouth enough to wolf whistle but for a time I think it was a close run thing. 

Nurse………..! The Trains!
Number of Cask Marque Pubs visited = 193

Strangest thing seen = This football graffiti in the gents at the Barley Mow. French? Mais non! Apparently it's for Derry City?

Did the two worlds collide? = No, they got on very well I think. I'm very choosey about who I drink with you know!

Next Stop = Super Tax

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