Day 6 cntd (April 4th 2009)
The Queensbury (Willesden Green) ½ Kirin, ½ Red Stripe, 1 x bt Budvar, ½ Guinness £7.80
McGowans Bar (Willesden Green) 4 x Sambucca £7.80
It had been a while since we’d made one of those classic Tracks of my Beers errors where we go to the wrong pub. The aforementioned errors have mostly been down to Mr West (Jr) thinking that he knows the pubs of London better than he actually does.
How unsurprising then, that as we came out of Willesden Green station, I confidently told my three amigos that I had been here several times before, so we were turning left and heading across the road to the Queensbury, only to be proven inevitably wrong a little bit later.
The Queensbury is another oddity, but a very pleasant one at that. It is housed in a building that also contains the Willesden Green Conservative Club – apparently fed up with making virtually no money at all, the club decided to lease out half of the building for something a bit more modern. The result is a very nicely put together bar and restaurant. The best feature is clearly the large outside area at the front – all wood furniture and fairy lights – which is where we perched ourselves. The bar area itself has a mixture of low sofas and upright chairs with a fairly chilled out ambience, and a doorway at the back leading through to the restaurant area which is full of fairly informal dining tables, has a tempting looking menu and is decked out with the usual eccentric wallpaper. Despite the continuing lack of real ale it was certainly one of the better venues of the day, and we sat ourselves happily amongst the wicker and the lights and proceeded to have one of those brilliantly inane discussions that only happen in pubs (despite not being an “official” TOMB Pub Conversation).
It began as we were discussing the fact that the Queensbury seemed familiar to all of us – I was thinking of a couple of other pubs in London, but Keith upstaged me with effortless panache. “It reminds me of a place I went to in Damascus” he said, “stylish, with fairy lights in the courtyard” (possibly the first time ever that anything in Willesden has been compared to Damascus).
I, feeling like we should go off on a tangent, but being less than expert in matters relating to either Testament of the Bible, made an enquiry. “What was supposed to have happened on the road to Damascus?” I asked.
“Bing Crosby and Bob Hope turned up.” said Gareth, helpfully.
What followed then was wide ranging and mostly silly as we went through an awful lot of what seemed to be the Religious Studies A Level curriculum. When I suggested that The Immaculate Conception was a Greatest Hits album by Madonna it was met with much derision and unnecessary verbal abuse. Turns out it was actually Mary, since she was totally without sin (by the way, I should point out that my brother is a teacher at a Catholic School).
Finally Liam returned to us, having spent the previous 15 minutes ignoring our religious ramblings and talking to various random people in the garden. He then informed us that the last two chaps he had been chatting with had told him that there was another pub that was blatantly closer to the station entrance, and that we needed to get ourselves of to McGowans without delay.
I obviously snorted at this suggestion that I was in any way wrong with my previous assumption. Subsequently I was assailed by further derision and verbal abuse (justified this time) when Liam’s new pals were proved correct, as McGowans was clearly the closer venue.
In we went, and mindful of the fact that we had already spent longer than was strictly sensible in Willesden, we decided to opt for the short drink option. Charlotte behind the bar could barely contain her contempt for us as she poured the drinks, but at least she (sort of) posed for a photo. In truth there was nothing particularly wrong with McGowans – in fact Gareth pointed out that it differentiated itself from other Irish bars we had visited today by actually having some Irish people in it. It seems that the chain have about a dozen of these bars around the outskirts of London and they do have a reputation for authenticity. But enough, we couldn’t linger. It was onwards at full speed, to try and make up the time we had lost by a) rambling, and b) being wrong.
The North London Tavern (Kilburn) 2 x ½ Flowers, ½ Heineken, ½ Nethergate IPA £6.60
A short walk down the hill from Kilburn station brought us to The North London Tavern, a big traditional looking London corner pub owned by a group consisting of about 10 similar sites. The irony wasn’t lost on us that we found ourselves in a rare non-Irish pub, in what is one of the traditionally more Irish areas of London.
Still, The North London was buzzing on this Saturday night, with both rooms full of happy go lucky types having a pretty good time. It’s another old pub that has been modernized, although this time with a lot more care, being full of comfortable old sofas, informal dining tables, and general decor that was sensitive to the history of the place. It was great to be back in a pub with some real ale on at last, and it was all in pretty good condition (“served in a poxy glass though”) said Gareth. I think he just doesn’t like halves. The food menu looked appetizing too, and having eaten here previously I can confirm that it usually tastes as good as it looks. Liam also pointed out that the toilets were most pleasant, which reminded us that we hadn’t done a toilet review for at least two days in tour terms (which in reality meant since January). Apologies for slacking off on that score.
It’s a good pub, but we were still conscious of time at this point, so we drained our glasses and found a friendly local who offered to take a photo of all four of us before we moved on. Bless her, I wouldn’t dare suggest that she was tipsy, but it took her nearly ten minutes and about fifteen goes to make the camera work properly. I blame the instructor giving bad direction.
The Railway (West Hampstead) 2 x Pint Bombardier, 1 x bt Corona, 1 x Pint Stella £6.70
Lately (West Hampstead) 4 x Pints of Amstel £12.80
Final stop of the day and another mistake, just to finish the trip off in typically shambolic fashion. Slightly embarrassing too, since all of us know West Hampstead reasonably well. In our defence (well my defence really, because as usual it was my fault), we thought that the strange and mysterious bar called Lately was actually closed, and that the difference in distance from the station entrance was so marginal as to be irrelevant. So, off to The Railway we went with a spring in our step, secure in the knowledge that the end was in sight.
Yet again, it was a typical big corner pub, lots of wood panelling, chalkboards, mirrors and the like. The beer range is nothing out of the ordinary, but at least they had some ale on which, even considering the North London Tavern previously, was still something of a rarity today. We were greeted with enthusiasm by Becky behind the bar, who then proceeded to learn us up on some stuff we never knew about the place, despite having been in there many times before. Apparently, there is a huge function room upstairs, which way back in the day used to house a studio and gig room. Becky waxed lyrical about the famous bands that either recorded or played there – The Who, The Clash and many, many more. Who’d have thought that West Hampstead was such a hotbed of Rock N Roll? Every day’s a school day. I was obviously getting slightly hungry by this point, as I went on record saying that since we knew my wife and Gareth’s wife were back home having a Domino’s, and that if Liz, knowing how much I like it, hadn’t saved me a slice of Pepperoni Pizza for when we got back, then we were clearly headed for the divorce courts. Silly Boy (Liz, being brilliant, had of course kept me some, so our marriage dodged a bullet there).
We left in reasonably short order, since I was keen on showing my colleagues The Gallery down the road which is one of my favourite bars in London. Disaster hit here, however, as we crammed our way in to the ridiculously busy bar and discovered that they had run out of almost all draught beer. We stomped out in melodramatic disgust and walked back up the road only to discover that from this angle, all of a sudden it really did look like Lately was the nearest premises to the tube.
What followed was a surreal 20 minutes in a very strange bar which rounded off our day in satisfyingly bizarre fashion. The bar itself just looks like an illicit drinking den – dark windows and a dark doorway, with a blue neon sign displaying the name of the bar residing above. The interior seemed to be equally dark, almost Gothic, and a strange muted atmosphere permeated the room. We ordered our beers and sat at the bar ready to have a final quiet relaxing pint. Until we were virtually assaulted by a young lady and her friend, in a highly advanced state of social relaxation, who wanted to know about everything we were doing, and also wanted to tell us everything she had been doing in terms of redecorating her house. Elaine, I think her name was, and she was absolutely barking. Celebrating a good days work, she was three sheets to the wind and hadn’t even changed out of her decorating uniform of an old white t-shirt, her pyjama bottoms and some dodgy looking slippers. Or maybe she goes out like that every Saturday night bless her. She also had a bag of cheap looking booze with her, and we realised it was time to make a sharp exit when she decided that our beers needed freshening up. She proceeded to pour something like half a pint of vodka into each of my and Gareth’s beers, presumably assuming that we wouldn’t notice that a) our pints had magically refilled b) had turned much lighter in colour, and c) now tasted like rocket fuel.
We sensibly took this as a sign that the evening was coming to a natural close, and in the words of many a journalist, we made our excuses and left. Our miniature Tubeway Army sauntered casually back towards West Hampstead station, accompanied by the the sound of continuing arguments about booze in music, or music in films drifting into the night air.