Day 8 cntd (13th June 2009)
The Bear (Wembley Central) 4 x ½ Bombardier £4.00
Barrett’s (Wembley Central) 2 x ½ Strongbow, 1 x bt Corona, 1 x Lime and Soda £7.05
Right let’s get off the fence here. The Bear is a crappy high street chain pub, on the site of an old Post Office. Cheap, to be fair, but otherwise crappy, soulless and horrible. It’s one of those places where the Manager walks around looking self important with a giant bunch of keys attached to his belt, but never does any bloody work.
It’s part of the Barracuda pub chain, and I’m sure it was designed to look very neat, tidy and contemporary in keeping with most managed houses like this, but it was actually all a bit shoddy. One of the windows in the front door was broken, and there were wonky posters around the walls and pillars which seemed to have been put up in a very slapdash fashion (they were advertising the Lions match today, but there was no way in hell we were going to watch it here). They had also committed the sin of having no less than six hand pumps on the main bar, only one of which was actually serving beer. Oh, and Liz said that the Ladies’ Loos were disgusting and smelly.
We realised at this point that it was half past one, kick off was approaching fast, and we needed to get the hell out of Dodge. I think we should leave it to our notes to give the final verdict on The Bear, as they sum it up pretty well:
“Just the worst kind of soulless high street pub with not a lot to offer. Huge fridges all along the back bar full of bloody alcopops or crap beer. One ale on which was in frankly shoddy condition, and really unhelpful bar staff. Dear God, just don’t go there ok?”
But even though we were desperate to get on and watch the Lions match our Wembley Central torture wasn’t over yet, because Keith thought he had seen something past the station in the other direction that might just have been closer than The Bear. Lo and behold, it’s another Irish Bar! We paced it out and it did indeed seem closer, so we had no choice but to admit yet another mistake and get ourselves a quick beer.
And quick we were too – clearly we had been in Barrett’s (or an Irish bar just like it) at least 20 times on the trip so far, and we felt no need to linger. You know the drill by now – no real ale, couple of big screens, and pictures of Gaelic Sports around the walls. To be fair, everyone in the place was very nice, and they probably deserve a more detailed review. On the other hand, sod it, because two o’clock was steaming towards us and we needed to be somewhere else.
The Grand Junction Arms (Harlesden) 4 x Pint Waggledance + 3 bags of crisps £13.15
Aaaagh! Bloody public transport! Isn’t it always the way? If you’re late for something already, you are almost guaranteed to find a further delay on your chosen method of transport. In this case it was a delay of ten more minutes at Wembley Central, before we could get to Harlesden and find the pub with the TV screens.
We found our way to The Grand Junction Arms 20 minutes into the match and immediately set about forgetting the horror and the rush of our previous hour, and just enjoying our lunch (the crisps) in front of the game. Unfortunately we had a minor issue with the screens – we had a plasma on one side of the pub which had a decent picture but no sound, and a smaller screen on the other side of the pub which had sound, but also had constant interference in the picture. We opted to stay with the good picture and make our own commentary, which almost certainly annoyed everyone else in the pub.
We couldn’t help thinking that the Grand Junction Arms is a bit of a wasted opportunity. On the positive side it’s got lots of good quality ale, plus plenty of space not only in the main bar, but in a function room/restaurant area out the back, and also what could be a magnificent garden area running alongside the canal. On the minus side, all the aforementioned areas needed some TLC, the toilets were fairly horrible (“no paper in the ladies” said Liz), the ceiling was peeling, and they seemed to be bizarrely lacking in furniture. The fact that the pub itself is in a sort of no man’s land between Harlesden and Park Royal probably doesn’t help, but it is a fabulous building and it should be a much cooler pub.
Patricia behind the bar was very nice though, and looked after us well as we watched the Lions thrash Western Province by, er, 26-23. More Asti Spumante than Champagne Rugby then. We declined the option of staying on for their much advertised “Canal All Dayer!” (Reggae Sounds and BBQ food morphing into funky house later, apparently), and made our way out, only pausing so that Rhino could go and have a look at the Park Royal Salvage Yard just over the road (very cool old London bus at the entrance). Right then, time to try and make up some lost time.
The Ace Cafe (Stonebridge Park) ½ Scrumpy Jack, ½ Flowers £2.90
Ok, so things were in danger of getting complicated at this point. We had actually jumped a stop, missing out Stonebridge Park, to get straight to Harlesden to watch the game, meaning we needed to head back North again before doing anything else. However, it was also clear that our guests for the day were gagging for some lunch. After much discussion on the way back to the train, we decided that Liz and Rhino would move onwards a couple of stops to Kensal Green, where we knew that the nearest pub a) had a nice garden and b) did some pretty good food.
Myself and Keith meanwhile, would plough manfully onwards (or backwards, I suppose), to pick up the stop we missed and then Willesden Junction too, before rejoining our comrades in an hour or so. The theory was that our research was suggesting that both stops would be dull pubs, with at least one long walk involved, so they really wouldn’t be missing much.
It is at this point we should probably apologise to Rhino, who is a massive petrol head. Let us explain – when we got to Stonebridge Park, far from having to walk nearly a mile to find an old estate pub, we suddenly realised that easily the nearest bar was The Ace Cafe, a legendary biker and classic car hang out right by the side of the North Circular.
As we strolled through the car park towards the entrance Keith just about managed to stop grinning for long enough to admit “Rhino’s gonna be really upset!”. There were, of course, bikes everywhere, of all shapes and sizes and covering all styles from sensible to bad-ass hog. Bizarrely there was also some sort of Triumph Herald-fest going on too, with some fantastic looking classic cars – although I managed to confirm what an idiot I am by claiming that they were Hillman Imps at first. That well known classic, sought after all over the world.
We wandered inside and found it full to the brim with bike enthusiasts – there was more leather on display here than at a dominatrix convention. Triumph, Norton or Ace Cafe t-shirts were the order of the day, and indeed there was a whole “One Rocker” shop at one end of the bar dedicated to bike stuff and/or Ace Cafe merchandise. The beer was just about ok, but that’s hardly the point is it? This is just about the closest thing we have in the UK to a proper Route 66 style bar and diner, and as such it is very, very cool. There is even a stage at one end, where they have regular live music nights (which must get very sweaty considering the amount of leather around), and in fact were advertising a “Tribute to Screaming Lord Sutch” night the following day, with a headline set by Dave and the Savages. Marvellous.
I suspect everyone who has ever seriously owned a bike has been here at some point, including Keith (he has a Norton you know!), and it does seem to have that “British Institution” feel about it. Aah Rhino, you’d have loved it mate.