Day 3 cntd (19th Dec 2008)
The Indulgence Bar (Barbican) ½ Carling, 1 bt Corona, 1 Glass Merlot £9.75
Another one that wasn’t what we thought it was. We thought we were looking either for a Hogshead, or a pub called The Sutton Arms. Instead we were able to sample the delights of the Indulgence Bar, which sounds more like a piece of chocolate than a boozer.
Clearly we all knew a thing or two about indulgence, or over-indulgence to be completely accurate, and we sauntered in with a confident swagger. What we got was a slightly strange independent bar, caught halfway between industrial minimalism and West End style.
A couple of very cool touches were the walls around the bar which were decorated with log end sections which had random bottles of spirits and wine stuck in amongst them. Better than this though were the lights – a whole chandelier made out of upturned champagne flutes hanging down from the ceiling, with coloured bulbs hanging out of them. Would of course look very stylish in my kitchen, although I suppose you could argue that the correct position for champagne flutes is the other way up and full of bubbles.
Unluckily for Keith, they had no ale of any kind on, and he had drawn the short straw on the drinking English rule. Close your eyes, hold your nose and drink your Carling Keith, you’ll only retch for a minute or so.
Pilot had by this time had enough of all the ale we had been drinking, and decided to move into “evening” mode by kicking back with a cheeky glass of Merlot.
A quick piece of advice to any Bah Humbug type landlords out there: in December, the number of Christmas decorations you put up is directly proportional to the number of customers you get through the door. Probably. This was the first pub of the day without much in the way of festive baubles, and was the first pub that was less than heaving with festive drinkers.
Time to go to Farringdon.
The Castle (Farringdon) 2 x ½ Red Stripe, ½ Bulmers £4.70
So what are the finest things about Farringdon? Is it the fact it’s one of the hottest areas in the country for clubs, with the original superclubs Turnmills and Fabric keeping Dance freaks gurning and grooving all night? Is it the fact that you can get some of the best meat known to humanity from Smithfield Market and its surrounding restaurants? Is it the fact you can occasionally get a seat on the train, even during rush hour, if you are leaving London from here rather than St Pancras?
No, quite simply it’s because, thanks to the aforementioned Market, you can pretty much get a drink here at any time of the day or night. Find yourself walking the streets at 5am in need of a sharpener? Then just get yourself off to The Hope on Cowcross Street, affect the air of a master butcher, and settle in with a pint.
The area is indeed blessed with pubs and bars of all shapes and sizes, although, as usual we only needed the nearest one. There was danger that another Wetherspoons might actually be the closest bar to the station, so decisive action was needed – i.e. employing the line of site rule to ensure that we went to The Castle instead.
We had been here before I think (the situation, not the actual pub) – A pub called The Castle run by the Castle division of M and B (like the one in Holland Park). This is a very distinctive pub, however, looking like a typical boozer from the outside, but being much more of a creature of the night when you get inside – all dark and mysterious moodlighting, and strange video images on the back wall.
Much discussion ensued about the fact that some of our party remembered this place being utterly crap about 20 years ago, but that it has been a fine establishment for a while now. Good and interesting range of lagers and speciality beers like all Castle sites, but despite having a Cask Marque sign proudly displayed on the wall, they didn’t appear to have any ale on at all.
But enough about the beer, because at this point the Festive Attack Squad was boosted back up to a majestic four by the arrival of Dave Victory, fresh from his professional photography course. A double whammy then, because not only is Dave a very entertaining man, wise in the ways of pubs and ale, but also he had not one, but two cameras with him, and said he was happy to take photos throughout the evening. So not only would we have to worry less about the fact that we kept forgetting to take photos of the pubs, and would have to go running back when we remembered; but also it was highly likely that the photos would be of considerably higher quality than our amateur efforts so far.
Suitably refreshed and reinforced, the Christmas Gang of Four supped up and prepared for the battles ahead.
The Betjeman Arms (Kings Cross St Pancras) 2 x ½ Betjeman Ale, 2 x ½ Doom Bar, plus 2 packs of crisps £8.60
Every day’s a school day. Most people know that Sir John Betjeman was a Poet Laureate, but other things I have learned include – he failed his degree at Oxford, he hated C.S Lewis, who had been one of his tutors, he died at home in Cornwall in 1984, and David Brent from The Office thinks he’s overrated (“Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough”). He was also apparently a massive fan of Victorian Architecture, and was hugely instrumental in saving St Pancras Station and the large Gothic facade of the hotel – and since the station has reopened full of Eurostars, it has earned him not only a tribute statue on the station platform, but also the infinitely higher praise of having the station pub named after him.
After yet another minor debate about which bar was actually closest to the Underground entrance – I’d never knowingly turn down a glass of fizz at the Champagne Bar despite the dent it would make in our budget – we promptly discovered an almost secret staircase near the underground ticket area, at which point we realised that The Betjeman Arms was the destination we required.
The pub is in one corner of the huge, arch roofed St Pancras building; the look is slightly chainey, courtesy of the fact that it is owned by Geronimo Inns, but it does have inside and outside bars – the latter coming complete with a seated area sheltered by large parasols, despite the fact that there is no sun or rain to shield from since the outside bar is, technically speaking, er, inside.
A decent range of ales were on offer, in pretty good condition, and mostly from down Cornwall way, provided by Sharps brewery (including one presumably brewed just for the venue in the form of Betjeman Ale).
Hunger pangs were just arriving by this point, but we certainly didn’t want to be slaves to food so we limited ourselves to just the two packs of crisps between four of us, and then took our positions in the “outside” area to soak up the ambience of our premier International station.
There was the very seasonal prospect of “Hot Mulled Cyder” available at the outside bar too, which presumably wanted to add an air of authenticity by using a slightly ridiculous old English spelling. Still, it has to be said that in terms of pubs actually within stations, the Betjeman Arms was punching above its weight.