10 years old

To be still doing this ten years later we must be doing something right.  Here is a list showing the areas covered in that time.

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The crawls I would pick out are the ones that broke the mould.  And then mention needs to go to the “heckler”, the “trailer”, and that dreaded pub “closure”.
temple  The first crawl to involve trivia that I remember was the Temple one through ancient parts of town central to the history of London. We’ve all tried trivia but nobody does it as well as Tony.

marylebone Rich has rewritten the rule book twice, the most notable being the one around Maida Vale when most of the pubs were outside of zone 1. The other one was much more subtle, choosing the best pubs along a four mile walk from the river to Islington.  I suppose that there were no real rules broken we just like to think there were!

london-bridge In the early days a new area was exciting, like a familiar driver taking a back street route. Now after so long going back to an area thing have changed with pub make overs and of course closures. Pub “closures” are bad enough but best not to have an intended pub close down in the weeks before a group of crawlers find out the hard way, as Paul seems to encounter frequently. Dimo has a trusted strategy to avoid this, going round the route before the real event (see below).

oxford-circusThe “heckler” was on one of Phil’s crawls, where the proprietress overheard a speech and corrected the unlucky guide. Phil was describing the location of a lost bar in Kingly Street with music connections (which has now more recently opened again as the Bag o’ Nails; it was some kind of salon or nail bar at the time), lots of ironies there to hammer home perhaps!

victoria The “trailer” caught up with us on one of Gerard’s very early crawls. We were really near Buckingham Palace on a pub where some dodgy looking lone guy claiming to be a gardener to the queen started to chat to us and ended up coming to the next pub with us. The only way to shake off this stray character was to time our next exit and drink up swiftly as soon as the guy went to the loo! If he knew that wee were only interested in the next decent pub he could have worked out where we had gone!

monumentLast and not least on one crawl in the city free food was served – meat and potato pie with chips and veg, gladly accepted and sadly never to be repeated.  Most of the crew now get their food beforehand to allow for late night drinking.

Obviously the idea of pub crawls is nothing new but I observed how, in Newcastle for example on a Friday night in the 80s and 90s there was always as many people on the streets walking between venues as there were people in the bars.  It was always the plan to take in more than a few places and the early discussion was what route to be taken.

Later while working in London when colleagues from the North were staying over and wanted something to do on an evening I would ask them where they wanted to go as Central London was a vast area and the options are practically unlimited.  To make it more fun I offered them the chance to pick from a list of cryptic clues, referring to an area of London where I knew a cluster of good pubs.  Instead of, say, Shepherd’s Market or Covent Garden there would always be even more interesting places – well interesting if you value obscurity as well.  The addition of trivia to the walks has more than delivered to that objective.

One of the cryptic clues was to the “forgotten street”, which was a reference to Marylebone Lane.  For obscurity, this lane is “off the grid” in that the street does not follow the regular street grid pattern, intriguing to some more analytically minded people, and attractive to anyone looking to get off the beaten track. And how many streets have a boozer where the piano is playing old time songs and the punters are singing along?

To be more specific, the lane follows the track of one of the lost rivers of London, the Tyburn, which seems more obvious when you consider the dip in Oxford Street at Bond Street or the “diagonal” streets, such as S Molton St and Bruton Lane.  It would not be a surprise that then the core londonpubcrawls group consists of analysts, transport planners and engineers.  No historians but if you do the research in Zone 1 there is something interesting waiting to be discovered along the way.  History and patterns play a big part in everything.  This walk is quite typical of the ones our group has taken over the years, having a theme running through what we do.

Paul and Tony

Paul is a regular going back to the very beginning and introduced Tony to the group.  I asked them both if they ever thought this was something that would still be going ten years later and it was a resounding “no”.
Clearly there is something about the format that works.  Tony was surprised how long he had been coming to these, having missed the first few he has pretty much been to all of them since, “it still feels very fresh” he comments and missing out is a major disappointment.
Tony and Paul acknowledge that Paul’s famous pub closures crawl was one of the funniest moments but Tony thinks the mishaps are what can make the night funnier, even if means walking into a lager den or it’s pouring with rain…….

“Arriving at x2 closed pubs in a row –which I have now done twice” recalls Paul, “but then there was the time when Artie took us to a shabby ‘70s boozer that sold really off beer and had a narrow selection, with Arti saying ‘Yes the beer was really bad when we did the recce!’”

“One of the funniest moments was on an Islington crawl”, says Tony. “I don’t think I’ve ever laughed as hard as when we were in the Duke of Cambridge in Islington; we had a photo trap set for a couple of the guys, who were encouraged to stand in front of a hidden set of letters from a Countdown board game. Sadly it didn’t come off as I couldn’t stop laughing as they stood in front of the “W” and all I could get a picture of was “ANKERS”, and the game was up. Still makes me chuckle when I think of it now!”

Paul likes the mews boozers around SW1 and we certainly all seem to favour a particular area in which to operate, when you see who is hosting it there is a good idea where it’s going to be even within zone 1. He says about the format “people are envious but I want to keep the crowd the right size”. Recent members keep the events going and now it’s rare that we dip to 4, which is our “quorum”. I think most of us agree on this. At the last count we have had 14 different hosts over the years. So we do adapt over the years.

Tony is hopeful of an evening where someone manages a “full house” of pubs he’s never been to but this is becoming quite rare.

Another thing they agree on is what has changed in the last ten years. The pub scene has changed a lot over the last few years, the range of cask ales has increased a lot, and some great new pubs have opened, including craft beer ones and brewery bars. Sadly there have also been closures though and not all the pubs we’ve visited have survived. Paul also notices that East London has “picked-up” no doubt due to the re-opening of the “overground” line serving Shoreditch and Hoxton.

Will we still be here in ten years time: “Certainly hope so!” was the reply

3,000 pints of beer (approx.)
537 pubs
200 packets of crisps (approx.)
79 crawls
14 chairmen
1 website
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still going after all these beers!

And final words this time for once go to Dimo

I caught up with Dimo on a rare Friday that wasn’t booked for a pub crawl. In fact it was a “reccy”, a colloquial term for a tour of some of the pubs on this occasion to an audience unable to be there on the crawl itself. Such is the level of perfection in the group these days that the pubs have to make a certain standard.

vauxhall Not everyone does this. On a recent crawl allegedly three pubs were closed and the crawl organiser is bound to get a bit of stick when that happens.

Dimo puts the success of the zone 1 crawls concept down to the fact that that the group have similar likes which evolve over time. “The organiser tends to make a huge effort and usually has to put in a fair amount of research. Although nobody should have to work too hard on it, a form of healthy competition creeps in”, he observes.

The group has expanded over the years and some people have moved away. Other people with different interests are allowed to join in but the group like to stick within the format, within reason.  Some crawls are extremely difficult to schedule – for example high-end pubs in Kensington with bouncers vs hipster hangouts in Shoreditch frowning at suits – but that is the diversity of zone 1 and by coming along at least someone is discovering a part of London they simply wouldn’t go to.

There have been all manner of suggestions within the format on how to celebrate the 10 years – should it be to re-create the original route, or vote for the best one, or invite back the original crawlers – none of the suggestions can really do it justice, it’s just a monumental achievement to keep it going this long.  We will have to see – that’s the beauty of being “guided”.

bermondsey Most of us would surmise that the London pub has changed over the 10 years. As hardy drinkers it is clear that the diversity of beers has improved – not so much from further afield like in the past – by a whole plethora of microbreweries where the beer tastes are bolder, the imagery more exciting and less traditional; and the number of batches and geographic spread are more concentrated.

leicester-square Tourist/traditional pubs will always stay near the tube stations like a busy McDonalds but the back streets are full of newer pubs with the huge range of hand pulled and the growing list of keg beers.  [Looking for good examples? – Pelt Trader, The Red Cow, Old China Hand – go back to the “Pub of the Crawl” for some of the tastes available.]

russel-square The other aspect with the research is that London never ends – scratch the surface and there’s some history below, literally buried in the ground beneath the current surface buildings – like an underground river, historic railway, demolished building or even a Pleistocene fossil!

Whether you buy into the idea of competition there is a respect for everyone’s different way of doing things. Pubs come and go, new ones open fortunately and sadly some old favourites disappear

Without working too hard there’s another Friday night around the corner full of good beer, new pubs and discoveries

angel In the end the last pub on Dimo’s route had closed down, the sign suggesting vainly it would re-open. A poignant moment.  Those that had been to that pub when it was open were not surprised, sad even.

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We have covered all this area (above) and more on the fringes.  I can’t remember anyone picking the same starting pub, this remarkable site tells us just what we did back then.

The pub crawls started in the year Dimo landed in London, Ten years after and some 80-or-so crawls behind us the group has been taken on a journey to a new level of casual obsessiveness indicating that there seems to be many years ahead. New beers may be getting dryer in taste but there’s no sense in the appetite for this phenomenon drying up in the near future

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Phil

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