Secret Bars of Westminster

largeblm.gifI recent­ly spent a night in a bar in Cen­tral Lon­don where you can always get a seat, which always has at least three real ales on tap (one of which is always a mild) and where a round of two drinks costs much less than a fiv­er. Sad­ly, it’s not some­where I can rec­om­mend to every­body – it was one of the sev­er­al mem­bers-only Civ­il Ser­vice social clubs hid­den around West­min­ster.

These are some of the few sur­viv­ing work­ing men’s clubs in Lon­don, and that is exact­ly what this one felt like. I was remind­ed of Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights; of the railwaymen’s club my Mum and Dad joined a few years ago because the beer was a pound a pint; and per­haps a lit­tle of the club that Mr Mack­ay opens in the base­ment of HM Prison Slade in Por­ridge the Movie. In oth­er words, it was rough around the edges, and maybe a lit­tle bleak, despite being a stone’s throw from both Buck­ing­ham Palace and the Hous­es of Par­lia­ment. But, for all that, the beer was half the price it is in the Rake, and just as good.

I drank Crouch Vale Black­wa­ter Mild, which was in per­fect con­di­tion, deli­cious, and remind­ed me of Anchor Porter (more hop aro­ma than is usu­al in a mild, per­haps?). But is it named after the sin­is­ter Amer­i­can “secu­ri­ty” com­pa­ny…? They also had Crouch Vale Brewer’s Gold, and a cou­ple of oth­er beers whose names I didn’t write down.

If you know any civ­il ser­vants, ask them if they can get you into their “social”. You’ll either love it or hate it, but either way it will be an expe­ri­ence.

Jukebox 1982


This month, the Ses­sion is host­ed by The Lost Abbey Brew­ery, and theme is music and beer

When I was lit­tle, my par­ents ran a pub. It was called the Artillery Inn and was a slight­ly grot­ty, fail­ing Whit­bread pub in Exeter. When I was four years old I used to help with the stock­take so I have vivid mem­o­ries of count­ing bot­tles of pale ale in crates in the cel­lar.

Fail­ing it might have been but that didn’t stop my folks from try­ing hard at it, work­ing every hour the license would allow, organ­is­ing bands, social nights, bar­be­cues, pan­tomimes, darts tour­na­ments – any­thing to liv­en the place up.

But the one thing that real­ly helped give the place some atmos­phere was the juke­box.

My Dad, being obsessed with music, put a lot of effort into stock­ing it. It must have been one of the last to play 7″ vinyl sin­gles. I remem­ber watch­ing it pick out a record from the huge stack, swing it into place and drop a nee­dle onto it. The noise was great, incred­i­bly loud and mechan­i­cal. There would be a few moments of ampli­fied crack­ling and pop­ping before the music kicked in.

Par­tic­u­lar songs spring to mind: Eton Rifles by the Jam; Elec­tric Avenue by Eddy Grant; I Won’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me by Nik Ker­shaw; Michael Caine by Mad­ness. Those were there because they were in the charts, but Dad wouldn’t have a song in the box he didn’t kind of like. After all, stand­ing behind the bar, he’d have to lis­ten to it over and over again.

Then there were his own records – songs from the six­ties and sev­en­ties. Lola by the Kinks must have been in there. His copy cer­tain­ly has the mid­dle punched out, like so many oth­ers in his col­lec­tion.

I think a pub should have a juke­box. I know there’s a “no music” lob­by, but I just don’t get it. Is the idea that loud music will some­how inter­fere with your taste­buds?

Well, frankly, I find silence inter­feres with my mood.


Irish pubs in Spain

guinness.jpgI used to avoid Irish pubs, par­tic­u­lar­ly when abroad, think­ing they´d be full of tourists. Then I dis­cov­ered that in a lot of places they´re actu­al­ly real­ly good places to meet the locals thanks to (a) the bizarre belief that Irish and British things are just inher­ent­ly cool (b) the fact that they´re shunned by self-right­eous tourists like me. So I became more tol­er­ant, and stopped going into a sulk every­time some­one sug­gest­ed going to an Irish pub. But now I’ve been in a few here in Spain, I find myself very unnerved by the fact that they are, here at least, anoth­er weapon in the fear­some arma­da of Heineken Inter­na­tion­al.

Sala­man­ca has at least four Irish pubs and for var­i­ous rea­sons I’ve now been in three of them. They´re all Heineken beasts so you get Paulan­er and oth­er delights such as Adelscott and Des­per­a­dos. You may also come across an advert for the local Octo­ber­fest fran­chise, a sub­ject I blogged about a cou­ple of months ago.

More sin­is­ter still (I find) are the var­i­ous efforts to make the locals drink more and more. Spe­cial offers for large drinks, for exam­ple. Even the pub quiz turns out to be a syn­di­cat­ed mar­ket­ing effort.

The very things about the drink­ing cul­ture in Spain and France that the Gov­ern­ment in the UK want us to emu­late – mod­er­a­tion and small­er mea­sures – are an anath­e­ma to peo­ple in the busi­ness of sell­ing.

It’s not all bad news though – some of these Heineken out­lets do have a guest beer from anoth­er brew­er. Guin­ness. Sigh.

Kids running round screaming”

There’s a long-run­ning graf­fi­ti debate on a cubi­cle wall in the toi­lets at the Pem­bury Tav­ern in Hack­ney, East Lon­don – some day, I’ll tran­scribe the whole thing.

One com­ment blames the pub’s “down­fall” from an appar­ent hey­day in the 1980s on “beard­ed CAMRA mem­bers”, which has prompt­ed some­one else to reply:

No, not the CAMRA c***s – the f*****g child-friend­ly c***s.”

That’s just one bit of evi­dence of how angry the sub­ject of chil­dren makes some peo­ple. Angry in an Eng­lish way, that is. No-one says any­thing or com­plains – they just sit rolling their eyes and tut­ting. In Britain, there real­ly does seem still to be a belief that kids should be “seen and not heard”, hence the ulti­mate pas­sive-aggres­sive sign, pop­u­lar in pubs a few years ago:

Qui­et chil­dren wel­come.”

Let’s trans­late that:

Chil­dren who behave like chil­dren not real­ly wel­come.”

Why should kids have to stay at home? Or, worse, sit on the step out­side with a Pan­da Pop wait­ing for their par­ents to emerge? Or, worse again, sit in the pub in absolute silence, bored to death, in case they annoy a near­by cur­mud­geon and embar­rass their par­ents? I don’t have kids of my own, but I don’t find it hard just to ignore them. I just con­cen­trate on hav­ing a nice time with my friends, engage in a con­ver­sa­tion, read a book, or what­ev­er, and soon for­get they’re there.

Some­times, it’s even nice to have them around – like in the Pem­bury, in fact, which can be a lit­tle ster­ile oth­er­wise.

Barcelona Brew Pub

Blackboard in Barcelona brewpub Beer Nut and sev­er­al oth­ers have been there before us, but we had to try out Barcelona’s two brew-pubs, start­ing with Cervesera Arte­sana.

As a place to hang out, it was per­fect – live­ly, but not crowd­ed, and very friend­ly. And it’s always nice to see the brew­ing kit on site.

But what about the beer? There were four on tap: wheat, hon­ey, black and “tosta­da” (brown ale, basi­cal­ly). All four were inter­est­ing, and all four were served way too cold. Once they’d warmed up a bit, we were able to taste them bet­ter.

Wheat – pecu­liar, being thin and rather lemo­ny, with an almost lam­bic qual­i­ty – but, at the end of the day, quite pleas­ant and refresh­ing.

Hon­ey – again, thin, but not unlike var­i­ous (non­de­script) sum­mer ales we’ve had in the UK, with­out an over­pow­er­ing hon­ey taste.

Black – now we’re talk­ing – Amer­i­can porter-like, with a mas­sive amount of hop flavour and bit­ter­ness. Cas­cades?

Tosta­da – the best of the bunch, and the most pop­u­lar with the reg­u­lars. Again, tons of hop aro­ma and flavour, and a love­ly red colour. Not the best beer in the world, but cer­tain­ly one of the bet­ter beers in Spain…

Sad­ly, the entic­ing sound­ing Iber­ian pale ale (IPA) and Iber­ian stout weren’t on.