The Railway (Hornchurch) 3 x ½ Adnams Broadside £3.90
Good God what the hell was that stench? We strolled out of Hornchurch station entrance only for that stroll to turn into a sort of crouch, cover your face and run, so that we could escape the god-awful smell emanating from the station forecourt area. Something was clearly wrong with the sewer/drainage system, because it smelled like a tramp’s underpants in the midday sun. I think the Hornchurch Tourist Board need to take notice, because the holidaymakers won’t hurry back to the area when it pongs like this, especially as there is usually no smell at all around, say, Buckingham Palace. Other than the smell of money, perhaps.
Thankfully, the smell didn’t reach The Railway, despite its proximity to the station (the name is usually a clue). It was an absolutely huge pub, gentrified slightly by the owners, Mitchells and Butler, who had turned it into part of the Ember Inns chain. These places can feel a bit formulaic, but you can usually get a decent ale and The Railway was no exception – by the numbers decor, but a very good drop of Broadside was served. Judging by the success of Ember Inns overall, it seems to be a formula that works. It was already fairly busy at this point, mostly with regulars coming for a bit of lunch – the menu seemed extensive and the prices definitely cheap. They even had the by-now-familiar offer of a Thursday night Curry Night – a curry and a pint for £5.99 – and if you fancied a cheap summer drink you could get a “Long Pimms and Lemonade” for £2.99. Bargain. There was also the ubiquitous Big Screen TV at the back of the room, showing Sky Sports News, and posters all over the walls claiming that “Joe Gibbons is The Jazz Singer”, which surprised me slightly because I had always assumed that it was Al Jolson. Or possibly Neil Diamond.
As we pulled our jackets around our faces and prepared to hold our collective breath for the run back to the station, we noticed yet more regulars going into the pub, one group of which were all resplendent in their West Ham football shirts. A nice touch we thought, showing such loyalty to the team, that they would go out en masse in their shirts even though the football season hadn’t started yet….
The Elm Park (Elm Park) 1 Pint San Miguel, 2 x ½ Strongbow £5.90
But we had no time to muse further on such things, as we had places to be and pubs to see. In no time at all we found ourselves leaving another station and walking through suburbia looking for The Elm Park. Christ, how could we miss it? Another giant building, this one possibly in need of a paint job. We ambled along the building’s length, found what must be the front door, and walked into what can only be described as a cupboard. We seemed to have stumbled into some sort of anti-Tardis, where the interior is much, much smaller than the exterior would suggest.
There was also absolutely no sign of anyone behind the bar. We stood in front of the tiny counter, confused and unsure what to do until a craggy but kindly local called out from another room “you probably want to be in here lads”. There was a plain white door beside us which led us into the “real” part of the pub, which was, reassuringly, more in proportion with the rest of the building. Turns out the cupboard bit was originally the “off” sales counter that they used to have in pubs like this, although quite why there was what appeared to be a Hammond Organ stored in there we may never know.
I don’t think we ever would have suggested that it was a beautiful bar, but it was clean and functional and had large screens wherever you looked. It also had a huge pub dog lying helpfully in front of the door, which, on first impressions, was clearly dead. Until Gareth basically fell over it on the way in, that is, at which point it raised its head slightly, managed to look somehow both bemused and yet full of contempt for its assailant, before settling back for a bit more of a kip.
Eldest West was clearly thirsty at this stage, opting for a pint, whilst me and Keith looked longingly at the single handpump (that looked like it hadn’t been used for years), before settling for Strongbow again. The lady that served us was actually much lovelier than this place probably deserves – all the promises of Karaoke, DJ nights and Live Music in the world couldn’t detract from the fact that The Elm Park is actually a bit rough.
Sage observations on the nature of the venue from myself at this point included, “It looks like they’ve done a refurb, but either ran out of money or just didn’t try very hard” and, “Lots of big spaces, and not much seating, which kind of suggests that people just stand around, get drunk and fight each other”.
Gareth’s offering (he has a long memory) was simply to tell me, “Do you realize that we’re four pubs in and you haven’t lost a Travel Card yet?” Thanks mate.
The Railway (Dagenham East) 3 x Strongbow £3.90
We moved on to our second “Railway” of the day, although they were very, very different. This one was a gloriously unreformed BOOZAH (that’s right, Capital letters), which had much more in common with The Elm Park than its namesake in Hornchurch.
Worn carpets and an old pool table were the order of the day here. And lager. None of that poncey real ale rubbish, just all manner of mainstream, supermarket-shelf, insipid, tasteless lager. Alright then, cider if you must. They also had spectacularly amateurish chalk boards, possibly written by the pub cat, advertising temptingly cheap cafe style snacks – Bacon Roll £1.40, Cheeseburger £1.70. Wow.
We were served our Strongbows, rather surprisingly, in Coca Cola glasses. On the one hand this was good service, as the barman apologised that these were the only cold glasses he could offer since all his half pints were fresh out of the washer and still warm; on the other hand, Coke glasses have a slightly green hue, and the overall effect was to make our drinks look uncannily like urine samples. Most off-putting.
We decided not to linger, which will come as no great shock to anyone. Special mention however, must be given to the loos – not because they were wonderful and welcoming (they weren’t) but because they had one of the finest vending machines we had seen on our travels so far. It was owned by Naughtyvend.com, and it’s difficult to see how they decided that the customers at The Railway were their target market: The “Little Blue Pill” was the most ordinary option for £3 a pop (sorry), you could get a “Vibrating Pleasure Ring” for £4, or finally and most hilariously, a “Vibrator with LED night light! Find your way in the dark!” for the bargain price of £5. You can just imagine the middle aged men that frequent this place trying to find their way home after 8 or 9 pints of wife-beater, using a highly suspicious looking torch as they try to find the front door keyhole.