Day 9cntd (18th July 2009)
The Old Red Lion (High Barnet) ½ McMullens Cask, ½ Strongbow £2.87
Next stop, High Barnet – a return to the scene of our super-dramatic, last gasp heartache all the way back on the 10th January. We approached the oasis of hospitality on the edge of the Dollis Valley estate that is The Old Red Lion. Something was different. There were people there. Lots of people. People in bright red shirts. People in bright red shirts who were singing loudly. Brilliantly timed as always, we had stumbled upon the pre-match session of a large group of Gooners who were about to watch a friendly between Arsenal and Barnet. How lucky for us.
Half of them were fairly ploughed already, and the rest eyed us suspiciously as we fought our way to the bar. The red sea parted just long enough for us to get to the bar and order some very ordinary beer and cider. In plastic glasses – y’know, just in case we were looking to start something. I didn’t even know you could get plastic halves these days.
We could almost feel the football fans judging us as we wandered back outside. “A man bag? What kind of baggy trousered opera enthusiast wears a man bag? On a Saturday? When there’s football on? And they’re drinking halves! Must be Chelsea fans….”
We decided not to linger, partly because we had been to the pub before (however unsuccessfully), and partly because we didn’t know any of the words to the songs being sung so we felt a bit out of place. We drained our plastics and prepared to move on, before realising that we had said nothing constructive about the pub itself.
“Nice hanging baskets” said Keith. Fair enough. Onwards!
Theatre Royal (Stratford) 2 x ½ Boddingtons Extra Cold £2.70
It was, of course, an interminably long journey from High Barnet all the way over to Stratford and used the time constructively by arguing continuously about the aforementioned greatest inventions and discoveries ever, or occasionally revisiting our post mortem of the recently finished Lions Tour (we should have won!).
We rumbled along the Jubilee line past the new, half constructed Olympic Stadium (looking good with three whole years to go – that’s British workmanship for you!), and finally pulled into Stratford station.
So where were we going? If only we knew. The station effectively deposits you into the Stratford shopping centre (one of those ghastly, 70s built monstrosities), and we discovered here that we had a couple of drinking options, neither of which were immediately visible to us. Lord help us. So yet again, we were forced to pace out the distances muttering like slightly insane people and praying that we were going in the right direction. This highly scientific method eventually brought us to the Bar at the Stratford Theatre Royal.
The Theatre itself is a fantastic Victorian building that was opened way back in 1884, and got a lottery grant for a big refurb in 2001, which is when they updated the bar next door to the main theatre auditorium.
With regards to the Bar/Cafe/Restaurant, quirky is probably the most suitable word to describe it. It’s always nice to go somewhere that is not just another identikit bar, and the Theatre Royal didn’t disappoint. The first thing that greets you is an outside area with tables and chairs and some hilarious fake grass, perfect for a fake picnic. We were then met with the mouthwatering aromas of the Caribbean food they serve there. It had a very friendly vibe about it, and was clearly on course to be one of our favourite bars of the day – until we got our Boddingtons of course, which tasted for all the world like cold, rusty water, only slightly less pleasant. We can forgive most things for a fun atmosphere, a pretend lawn and interesting decor, but not the cardinal sin that is serving crap beer.
The Hallsville Tavern (Canning Town) 2 x ½ Flowers IPA, ½ Strongbow, 1 x J2O £5.62
Time for our first guest stars of the day! We had been in intermittent contact with our friends Mark and Kim who had mentioned that they were floating around London and would try and join us for one or two pubs. Lucky for them that they joined us at Canning Town which is just like being in the heart of the West End…..Ok, no its not. It’s like being in the wilderness. We had to walk through the strangely deserted bus station and wander into the depths of a South London estate to find the Shangri-La that was the Hallsville Tavern. A Shangri-La that was hidden down a side road, just next to the Cribb and Sons Funeral Parlour.
At least we thought it was the Hallsville Tavern, the sign outside actually still said “The White House”. In we piled, a happy gang of four, made immediately happier when we saw the big screen telly that showed that England were 332 runs ahead in the Test Match. This joy was shortlived however, as they turned over to see the 3.20 at Newbury instead.
Notable things about the pub: stained glass windows that appeared to be decorated with the Blue Peter Boat, a sign by the door that said “Please remove all baseball caps and hoods” (which let’s face it, is never a good sign in a bar), and a small fishtank at the end of the bar. They also had a stage off to one side with a large banner on it saying “Welcome to the Whitehouse”, thus perpetuating the apparently schizophrenic nature of the pub.
There were a few people in and at least two pub dogs wandering around which suggested that this was a proper community local, with a community that clearly loved a drop of pink – “Large glass House Rose – £2.65” said a sign behind the bar. We didn’t taste it. The beers we had were ok if not outstanding, but made all the better by the fact that Mark bought the round. Thanks Mark! Good to see that he was taking his guest star responsibilities seriously. As was Kim who imparted a vital toilet review before we left. “Ladies were a pleasant surprise” she said.
More Shanty-Town than Shangri-La in the end then, but not the worst place we’d seen by a long way. No time to linger further though, because the Dome was calling us South of the river….