Day 3 (19th Dec 2008)
So, we decided that we needed a challenge within a challenge. We had heard many things about the mysterious “Circle Line Challenge” (OK it’s not that mysterious – its thought to have been invented by Antipodeans looking for a drinking challenge around Central London, usually in February and preferably ending at the Walkabout at Temple). The challenge is to have a drink at all 27 stations on the Circle Line in a day, and we thought that if we were seriously going to make a dent in the sheer number of stations/pubs that we were going to visit, then it was something we should take on. Plus it was nearly Christmas, so we couldn’t resist the opportunity to roam around the centre of town on a festive Friday night.
This was also to be the start of our guest star season as well – there had been a certain amount of interest growing amongst family and friends about how foolish this task was and/or how difficult. Our response was to suggest that they were welcome to join us for some or all of a day at any point.
And so, we found ourselves on the train to Blackfriars on that fresh and crisp Friday morning accompanied by Keith’s wife Sue, who wanted to join us for a few pubs before flying off to see her family in Scotland, and our friend Pete the Pilot (see if you can guess what he does for a living). Another friend, Dave, was on a photography course in London, and said he would find us at some point after he finished.
Our merry band of four pulled in to Blackfriars Station at about ten past eleven, ready for Christmassy fun day ahead…..
The Blackfriar (Blackfriars) 2 x ½ Ginger Tosser, ½ Nutty Black, 1 x Glass Mulled Wine £6.85
Ever the professionals, we had been doing our research on the internet, trying to see if we could confirm what time The Blackfriar opened – after all it was clearly going to be a long day, and so we needed to start on time. Of course rather than actually phone the pub up, I just took it as read when the website said it opened at 11.30am on a Friday. See? Professional and organized.
A minor surprise then, when we went to knock on the door at 11.15 on the off chance that they’d let us in early, only to discover that the pub was already open; had in fact been open for three quarters of an hour; and had about a dozen customers in getting some early Christmas cheer.
I accepted the inevitable abuse for my “research” with good humour, and pointed out that we must waste no more time – i.e., since the pub was open, we needed to get involved….
History time: The Blackfriar is a proper institution, a wonderful old wedged shaped pub, built sometime around 1875. This was originally the site of a thirteenth century Dominican Priory, which gave the pub (and the station) its name. It’s absolutely stunning (and crazy) inside – it’s a proper pub, but also fantastically ornate throughout the two main bars. It would have been a crying shame to have ruined all this beauty with a crap beer range, so it was a total relief to see a fine array of cask ales on offer, the usuals like London Pride and Timothy Taylor Landlord, alongside more seasonal guest fare such as Santa’s Tipple and Thwaites Nutty Black. And to top it all, there was a hand pump offering Skinner’s Ginger Tosser that was actually very good, with a hint of Cornish honey in the brew.
Very good stuff all round in fact, all the ale was in good condition, and even the mulled wine was fairly high quality. Kelly behind the bar was very informative about the pub itself, and asked the by now very familiar “Why?” when we told her what we were doing.
We responded with practised ease, of course, and prepared to drink up and move on.
Before we left, there was just time for us to take note of the fact that they had “very nice and clean downstairs toilets”, and “stylish Christmas decorations”. Always good to start the day with a bit of history, and a bit of class.
The Hatchet (Mansion House) 3 x ½ Greene King IPA, 1 x tonic, £6.00
I unashamedly love city pubs. There is something amazing about all these boozers – proper dens of iniquity, lurking around the backstreets of the square mile. I’ve always thought that traders and bankers were a privileged lot, although not for the obvious financial reasons, but more being able to spend lunchtimes and post work sessions in these establishments who not only serve you beer, but do it in surroundings filled with history, in a room that you feel like you discovered for yourself, with the rest of the world not invited.
We discovered several sites like this today and the Hatchet was one of them. It has fairly unassuming narrow frontage in the lane right next to Mansion House, feeding in to an intimate bar full of wood panelling, mirrors and Victorian style caricatures. When I say intimate, I do of course mean small. To (badly) paraphrase Douglas Adams – it was the sort of room that you could swing a cat in, but only if it was a very patient cat that didn’t mind a few nasty cracks on the head.
Much as we liked the pub itself, the beer range was a bit more disappointing – we had clearly been spoiled by The Blackfriar. Only two ales on (although if the cellar is the same size as the bar above, that’s understandable), and rather too many “Extra Cold” fonts cluttering up the bartop like very ugly model skyscrapers. They did get extra points though for the ever so slightly retro 70’s decorations hanging up and the knitted Santa Advent Calendar fixed to the back of the cellar door. I don’t think there are enough fabric Christmas decorations in this day and age.
We couldn’t stay and discuss this hot topic any further, however, as we had a long way to go, and wanted to get at least one more in before Mrs Lewis had to bid us farewell and head back to Luton to catch her flight. On we marched, humming festive tunes under our collective breath.