“Are There Bonus Points for Steals?”

Day 3 cntd (19th Dec 2008)

All Bar One (Canon Street) 1 x ½ Amstel, 1 x ½ London Pride, 1 x ½ Aspalls Cider, 1 x tonic £6.50

Barely Concealed Excitement at All Bar One

Barely Concealed Excitement at All Bar One

This was the first All Bar One on the tour so far, which set us thinking about how many different words we could use as an alternative to BLAND – banal, boring, dull, uninspiring, flat, formulaic, ho hum, humdrum, tame, tedious, unexciting, uninteresting, unstimulating, vapid, monotonous, insipid, and my own personal favourite: blah.

Firstly, our merry band was universally disappointed by the fact that we missed out on an interesting experience by the width of a doorway. A pub called the London Stone is literally one door number further away from the station, and we all agreed it looked like a much more exciting prospect: A vaguely creepy theme (with the pub sign in Gothic writing), plus the legend of the London Stone itself, symbolizing the Heart of the City, which is embedded in the wall outside – the theory goes that as long as the Stone remains there, the City of London is safe. They also have hidden toilets that you have to find by going through a bookcase – which could be tricky in the latter stages of a Friday evening.

Secondly we were all surprised at how little the concept of All Bar One has changed in what – 12, maybe 15 years? Like so many of them, this seemed to be built out of an old bank, and follows the usual generic (there’s another word for the list) formula for the chain.

“The bar nibbles are a bit rubbish”, said Pilot, pointing at three bowls in front of us containing lemon, lime, and orange wedges. It was Pete who did the toilet check for us on this one too, and he seemed genuinely impressed by the “sparkly worktops and trough sinks”

It was also at this point that Sue suddenly regressed back to being a student again – looking covetously at the rather stylish Addlestones glass in Pete’s hand, and mischievously asking “Are there bonus points for steals?”

(Note to lawyers – a remark obviously made in jest, and none have us have ever done, or even thought about doing anything illegal. Honest.)

Alas, it was at this point that Sue had to bid us a fond farewell and go to catch her plane, and so the elite squad of festive pub hunters was temporarily taken back down to three.

Corney and Barrow (Monument) 2 x bt Kirin, 1 x glass Gribble Bridge Rose £13.35

And so, on to a wine bar. But a proper wine bar nevertheless, not one of these horrific pretend wine bar chains that blight our city High Streets (Yates’ anyone?)

Corney and Barrow were a wine merchant first and foremost, with oodles and oodles of history behind them, importing some of the most fabulous (and expensive) wines in the world such as Chateau Petrus from Bordeaux and Domaine de Romanee Conti from Burgundy (we decided not to sample these on the day as it would have been a difficult round to justify to wives or Bank Managers).

In more recent times they have opened a series of City of London based wine bars, showcasing the wide-ranging stuff in their cellars. They have about 13 sites now, pretty much all in the square mile, feeding and watering city types with big shirt collars and expensive cufflinks.

The bar at Monument is in a basement site right next to the station and has a very wine cellar type of feel to it. All the ladies behind the bar were utterly charming, including Helen who served us – resplendent as she was in extremely festive reindeer antlers.

There was of course a moment of complete panic when we realised that they might not have any English beveridge for us to try (although we soon found out that they did), so Keith boldly embraced the spirit of adventure and asked if they had any English wines. Even ten years ago you would be inviting a truly unpleasant experience with a request like this, but the Gribble Bridge (interesting name) turned out to be a lovely drop of crisp dry rose.

Certainly not the cheapest bar on the tour but certainly very nice – as we sat smugly at our table in very pleasant surroundings sipping on ice cold Japanese beer or fine English wine, I think we almost felt sophisticated. Almost.

Pepys Bar (Tower Hill) 2 x ½ Worthington’s, ½ Guinness £4.90

KL and Pilot at Pepys Bar

KL and Pilot at Pepys Bar

But the day was moving on, and we still had many miles to cover, many rivers to cross, and many ales to sup, so onwards we went in a determined, yet Christmassy fashion.

Our  usual exhaustive research had suggested that there was a place here called the Wine Library right next to the station. Indeed it was very close by, but unfortunately turned out to be what is basically a very posh off license. We briefly contemplated the idea of buying a bottle of something and then ruining their credibility by pushing the cork into the bottle and swigging away on the step outside like three extremely odd tramps.

But instead we stuck to the rules for once, and looked further afield for a proper pub or bar. Luckily (as it was getting fairly cold), we discovered Pepys Bar, no more than 30 yards further up the road – an interesting place which we only discovered as we left, was part of the Novotel next door.

Well quite frankly it was no Library Bar at the Lanesborough, but at least it was realistically priced! It was actually perfectly nice (especially for a Novotel), with a very sleek and minimalist design, and a large restaurant area to one side. We sat at the bar and were served by Eva who was very smiley and not at all embarrassed by her smart but strange waistcoat uniform. The beer was all supplied by Coors, and all the more unremarkable for it, and we felt no real need to linger – That is, until Pete went to the toilet and told us that there was some sort of Seventies Spy Film/Elevator music being piped in (a sort of whistle while you pee experience), so we all had to go and have a listen – one at a time so as not to give Eva any strange ideas. He was right – and we mused as we were leaving that it was slightly disturbing considering the bland pop being played in the main room. Surely no self respecting establishment should really have better music playing in the loo than the bar….

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