Bad Times Around the Bakerloo Line

Day 9 cntd (July 18th 2009)

The Elephant and Castle (Elephant and Castle) 3 x ½ Strongbow £4.45

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KL and Sian consider a Phad Thai at The Elephant and Castle

Well, I think it’s been a while since we’ve had a history lesson, so let’s have a go now. Have you ever wondered how the Elephant and Castle got its name? Was it:

a)      From a Spanish Princess

b)      From Knives and Forks

c)      From a pub

Any idea? Apparently, lots of people think that the name is a corruption of L’Infanta de Castille (the aforementioned Spanish Princess), but it would seem that this is utter tosh. The actual answer is kind of a mix between b) and c): Way back in the day there was a building here housing the Worshipful Company of Cutlers (knives and forks!), whose coat of arms featured a pachyderm/citadel combo. Following this, the site then became a pub called the Elephant and Castle which eventually gave its name to the area (which had been called Newington up to this point). Come on, admit it, you didn’t know this did you?

Alas, the original inn is no more, and the current Elephant and Castle pub was built in the 1960s along with the fairly miserable shopping centre that now dominates the area in a depressing concrete kind of way.  It looked like another pub that someone had forgotten to furnish properly, and had settled on just leaving wood panelling everywhere that gave it the air of a run down Swedish sauna. We did manage to find some comfy sofas in the end (just as lived in as the rest of the pub) and settled in with our cider. The other main feature of the pub (apart from the ubiquitous Sky Sports TVs and dull mainstream lager), was the Thai Menu which to be fair did look pretty tempting.  It wasn’t the worst place in the world, but we left with a faint sense of disappointment. If you have a whole area of London that is effectively named after a pub – you kind of want that pub to be something a bit special.

The Old Red Lion (Kennington) ½ Strongbow, ½ Bass, ½ Bombardier and a Bag of Crisps £4.70

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KL and JW Strike Their Best Catalogue Poses at The Red Lion

Can you believe we were actually wondering whether we had been to Kennington before? We didn’t have our previous notes with us, but we knew we’d been somewhere in this bit of London on a previous day.  We had to walk up the road and check whether we recognized the pub before we went in. Kind of ironic considering we were actually way past that stage after ignorantly going back to The Trinity.

The first thing that hit us when we walked into the Old Red Lion was the deafening silence. Seriously, it was like the opening scene in 28 Days Later – it was half past eight on a Saturday night, so where the hell was everybody? Eventually the landlady came into view – thankfully not a zombie – and served us some refreshments. It was a strange old pub as well, seemingly cut in two by the dividing wall that went right down the middle. It seems that the only possible way to get through to the other half of the pub was either over the bar itself, or through one of the two tiny Alice in Wonderland style doors on either side of the bar.

The pub seemed to be in some sort of time warp – they had lots of traditional pub brass ranged around, there were pictures and models of ships in bottles everywhere, and they even had Toby Bitter on keg. Unfortunately the cask beer they had on was a bit stale, which is probably one of the many reasons why the pub is so empty. Another reason is definitely the toilet. Like most of the pub, the very small gents was old and careworn, but that wasn’t the problem. It was cold too, but that wasn’t the problem either. The sink was tiny and didn’t seem to have hot water, but even that wasn’t the problem. The hand towel – that was the problem. Our Dictaphone notes said “Dear God, remember the hand towel!”, as if I could ever forget. It was probably white once, or maybe even a light pink, but now, after god knows how many years without being changed, it was the colour of disease. I took the safe option and dried my hands on some leaves I found in the gutter outside.

Bonaparte’s (Waterloo) 2 x ½ Strongbow, ½ Worthington, 1 x Scampi Fries, 1 x Bacon Fries £6.50

Well this was just rubbish. Three crappy pubs in a row.  We knew from our research that there were a couple of options at Waterloo – pubs called the Wellesley and The Old Fire Station plus a bar called Cubana were all in close proximity of the station. However, as honourable men (plus honourable guest lady), we were duty bound as always to use the venue closest to the entrance we came out of. Unfortunately we came out of the Bakerloo line entrance into the main Station concourse, where we were met by the horrors of Bonaparte’s.  We looked around desperately for another option, but no – the sign said “Bar-Cafe”, there was draught beer available, and it really was the closest place. Bugger.

We have previously said that Station pubs can be a bit, well, soulless, but all of them were like New Year’s Eve in Times Square compared to the atmosphere vortex that we found in this corner of Waterloo. It was a glorified coffee shop, with room for about six people inside, and tables and chairs for maybe a dozen more outside. The Worthington’s was completely tasteless, as was the interior of the bar. Thank god for Sian, who not only bought the beer, but also bought us lucky boys dinner in the form of bacon and scampi fries. Oh yes.

Smiles restored, we toasted our new drinking buddy and prepared ourselves for the final stretch on today’s jolly. Ever the optimists, we knew that the pubs could only get better. They certainly couldn’t get much worse.

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