Day 4 cntd (10th Jan 2009)
The Bodhran Bar (Hendon) ½ John Smiths, ½ Strongbow, ½ 1664 £4.50
Okay please don’t laugh at my ignorance. In the course of our always extensive research, I had been on abeerintheevening.com checking out what they thought was closest to the station. At this point, the first place on the list was mistakenly written down as “The Bodrum Bar”, and so as we emerged out from Hendon I was busy telling the chaps that we were probably in for a bit of Efes Pilsener at what was bound to be a Turkish bar.
It was only when we actually got through the doors we couldn’t help noticing that not only was there a lack of anything Turkish, there was actually an abundance of things that were distinctly Irish. Ah. Not Bodrum, but Bodhran. For the uninitiated (which at the time included me), the Bodhran is the handheld Irish drum that you often see in Ceilidh bands and the like – the one that’s played by enthusiastic musicians with the little double ended drumstick (which I have also now found out is called a Cipin or Tipper). Every day’s a school day.
The bar itself was an intriguing mix of styles. The bit at the back looked like a secret basement bar – all exposed brickwork and mood lighting, whilst in the front bar it was a little bit more traditional, and had a huge painting on one wall of a Ceilidh band in full flow. It also had signs on the wall proclaiming it the home of Hendon RFC, but despite being seemingly keen on egg-chasers, the 3 TVs were all at this point full of football action.
The overall impression was a pretty good one, despite the usual lack of real ale. Being the professionals we are, our intrepid reviewers completed the picture with a report from Liam that they had a “surpsise” garden with a nice covered and heated smoking area, and one from Keith suggesting that the toilets were “very stylish”. Well, the gents were at least, unfortunately common decency prevented us from investigating the ladies.
I think we had a growing feeling by this point that we should probably be drinking Irish coffees to insulate us from the weather, rather than super-chilled lager and cider. Nevertheless, we supped up and steeled ourselves for further wintry challenges ahead.
The White Swan (Brent Cross) ½ 1664, ½ London Pride, 1 x Corona £5.85
Dear God, we’re marching through a blizzard! It actually started snowing at us as we walked up the hill from the station, which we all thought was frankly outrageous. In the spirit of a Scott, Hillary or Feinnes, I decided I should record details of this new hazard for posterity, and so exposed my frostbitten hands to use the new Dictaphone I had received for Christmas. All we managed to record over the noise of the howling wind was the following:
“Its five to one pm, we’ve just left Brent Cross, and we are walking through a blizzard AND up a hill to get to the next pub – almost ¼ of a mile away! Liam is wishing he wore his ski socks and heavy boots, I’m wishing I hadn’t forgotten my hat and scarf, whereas Lewis just says he is glad he wore his ‘All Terrain’ shoes”.
On this evidence, perhaps Everest should be the next challenge.
The White Swan, despite looking like a fairly standard boozer, was a bit more interesting inside. There was a real mix of traditional pub tables and other furniture, combined with big landscape paintings on the back wall and 4 big screens around the room offering all sorts of sport. Most interesting was the menu, however – a full on Hungarian Goulash-fest! There were a lot of very strange looking dishes on there, and I have to say, an awful lot of them seemed to contain tripe.
We didn’t have time to peruse the menu further though, as the relative calm in the pub was shattered by what sounded like the Hound of the Baskervilles throwing a major hissy fit from behind the bar. It was a seriously loud bark, and the landlord obviously saw us exchanging nervous glances, as he told us with a chuckle “don’t worry, that’s just the new pub dog! He’s only a puppy. Quite enthusiastic though”. The “puppy” turned out to be a Doberweiler – yes, that is indeed a cross between a Dobermann and a Rottweiler: two of the most, er, gentle and shy dog breeds you can find anywhere. It was only 12 weeks old and still very cute despite the fearsome bark, but it was fairly clear to us all that the thing was going to grow up to be an utter bastard.
Even more scary than baby “Cujo” though, was the condition of the beer. It was my turn to look smug, sipping from my bottle, as my two compadres gurned and gagged their way through their draught beers. Now, cask ale is a fresh and live product, and there are any number of reasons why you can occasionally find a fault. Lager on the other hand is much more sterile and has a longer shelf life, and if you find yourself with a truly rank pint, it is usually down to the fact that the pub doesn’t clean their lines properly. With this in mind, we could only assume that the Swan hadn’t cleaned their lines for several years……Run away!
The Gate Lodge (Golders Green) ½ 1664, ½ John Smiths, ½ Guinness £4.45
The Refectory (Golders Green) ½ Gaymers, ½ Stella 4, ½ Amstel £4.85
And so we made our, by now traditional, average-once-a-day mistake regarding the nearest pub. We had a moment of mild confusion as we came out of the station, and stared across the bus station forecourt looking for venues, sniffing the air delicately for the scent of malt and hops. Utterly failing to spot the Refectory just behind us and over the road, we gamely ventured up the hill until we found the Gate Lodge which had been suggested as the closest pub by our ever-accurate research.
Lo and behold another Irish pub, albeit a slightly quirky and reasonably pleasant one. Fairly small it was, but with quite a buzzy atmosphere, and a barmaid who looked remarkably like the young Sean Young, if that makes sense. You know, the actress lady – you’ve seen her as a mysterious android in Blade Runner, or a transsexual Police chief in Ace Ventura, depending on your taste in movies.
One particular quirk that we found both funny and slightly charming, was that they had a smoking area out the back, sort of on the way to the cellar, which meant that the customers actually had to go behind the bar to get out there, which required a certain level of trust from the staff. It was whilst out here studying the dimensions of the area that Liam got chatting to some of the locals who cheerfully informed him that there was no way on God’s green earth that the Gate Lodge was the closest pub to the station.
“That’ll be the Refectory, I don’t know how you didn’t see it!”
Fair enough then, another obstacle to overcome. We drained our glasses, said goodbye to the Lodge and its Hollywood look-a-like bar staff, and wandered back down the road, immediately spotting the bar we required. It made a nice change too, being a fairly modern style bar restaurant with a lovely big heated seating area outside and a clean minimalist look inside, complete with a couple of big screen TVs and a digital jukebox on the wall.
We were served by Mark, only mildly disappointed by the continuing lack of ale, since the rest of the beer range was relatively interesting. They also had a tips pot in the shape of Jar Jar Binks from the Star Wars prequels (Tips “Jar” – Geddit?). Since he is possibly the most pointless and annoying character in film history, I’m glad someone found a use for him.
“Best toilets of the day so far!” we all cried. The bar clearly wanted to keep them pristine as well, as we had to go through the slightly farcical process of being “buzzed” through a security door to gain access to the hallowed porcelain. Apparently you needed your passport and a visa to get into the back garden.
Still, despite the over-zealous security measures it has to be said that the Refectory was a pretty good place to have a beer on a Saturday afternoon. Alas, having put ourselves behind time by blindly missing the place initially, we now had to get moving sharpish to make up lost time. Full speed ahead to Hampstead! Let’s get posh.