Day 7 (April 25th 2009)
We could tell it was going to be a great summer. Our second day out in April, and again we were greeted by glorious, if slightly hazy, sunshine. This of course was long before Keith, myself, and the rest of the country realised that the Met Office are lying charlatans and the much lauded 2009 “Barbecue Summer” was a myth – nothing more than a rumour, presumably started by manufacturers of charcoal briquettes.
On this day, however, a long summer of possibility stretched in front of us, full of potential for tube/pub based fun. Unusually, this time we hadn’t managed to blag a lift anywhere further than the station, and our route was planned to take into account the fact that St Pancras would be our launch pad. After much discussion, we settled on tackling the blue lines – going out to Walthamstow on the Victoria Line before going all the way out to Cockfosters on the Piccadilly and working our way back in. A good chunk of northern London would be traversed, and we would get to start by paying a visit to a Famous Cock. Can’t argue with that.
The Famous Cock Tavern (Highbury and Islington) 2 x ½ Youngs Bitter £3.10
As you may have seen by now, although abeerintheevening.com has been a valuable research tool, it is not always 100% accurate as to which pub is genuinely the closest to the station. However, the fact that they had The White Swan listed as the closest to Highbury and Islington is a particularly glaring error. You would actually have to walk around or through The Famous Cock to get anywhere near The Swan. In fact, Keith reckoned we could have ordered our beers from the station ticket barriers.
I’m not sure how famous it is (sorry), but it is a fairly difficult pub to miss. It’s a big building, right on Highbury Corner, and is part of the Barracuda Pub chain. It was also completely empty – although perhaps that isn’t surprising considering it had only been open for approximately seven minutes when we arrived. It’s very standard pub design inside – chalkboards, mirrors, a mixture of poser tables and low seating, and 3 Big Screen TVs around the room, all tuned in to Sky Sports News.
“Shall we take these into the garden?” suggested Keith, which surprised me. The surprise part was not at the suggestion of Al Fresco drinking, which seemed sensible considering the sunshine, but more down to the fact that despite having been here many times over the years, I never knew that they had a garden. They do, and it’s very pleasant, if a tiny bit small. There were also some absolutely giant metal air vent/chimney type structures in one corner of it, which suggests that they are either coming up from the tube station directly below, or The Famous Cock has a seriously big oven.
The beer was in reasonable condition but not brilliant, although this is probably because they were the first ones out of the pipes today. We sipped away and perused the surprisingly interesting menu which had all manner of tapas dishes on it, plus Eton Mess for afters. I popped to the loo before we left and was confronted by the most terrifying hand dryer I have ever encountered. It wasn’t one of those fancy new ones that dry you in seconds, it was just the fact that there seemed to be a Rolls Royce engine behind the shonky old casing that made the whole bathroom shake, and nearly gave me heart failure. I’m sure they probably could’ve heard it half way down Upper Street.
The Twelve Pins (Finsbury Park) 2 x ½ Strongbow £3.00
Well this one was supposed to be The Gaslight – an interesting sounding place right outside the station. Interesting as in everyone suggested it was a dive. When we got there, however, it was indeed right opposite the station, but it was also closed. Very closed. It looked like it could have been permanent. There were cracks in some of the windows, chairs were stacked up on tables, glasses and bottles had been abandoned and the room was in darkness. We could just about make out a sign on the inside of the door saying “This is not a Public Toilet, its a Public House.” It takes a special kind of customer that needs to be reminded of that.
We flirted briefly with the idea of going into the bowling alley that was almost next door, but they wanted to charge us £2.00 each to get in, so that was clearly out. In the end we found our way to the Twelve Pins, just behind the Gaslight, and very much open.
The Twelve Pins is a big, Victorian, Irish Pub – Keith suggested it looked like one of the old Gin Palaces that you used to find all over town. An open, almost bare looking bar room was tastefully decorated with occasional marble columns (which turned out to be funny looking concrete). It also had a big stage area for live music, plus the usual big TVs. It also had the instantly recognizable crap beer range (and lack of cask) that seemed to be in so many of the bars we were visiting, which was leading us towards drinking more and more cider.
It did have an extraordinary food menu though – ranging from Asian dishes to plates of chips served up several ways (with melted cheese and bacon or with curry sauce), with the option of Irish stew and Colcannon for that touch of authenticity.
We finished up and moved back past the non-Public Toilet and back into Finsbury Park, where we discovered yet again that our slightly casual attitude towards preparation and research was giving us grief again. A simple search on the Transport for London website would have told us that the top end of the Victoria line had engineering works and so the last four stations were closed, but oh no, we thought it would be much more fun to discover this whilst actually out on the route. We were stuck – there was nothing to be done except head straight out to Cockfosters and pray that our chance to hit “The Stow” (Walthamstow, not Stow-on-the-Wold) would come again soon.