My 12-year-old son loves pubs. Every weekend, and sometimes on school nights, he asks if we can go to the pub. I’m not sure where his enthusiasm comes from. Although pubs are much more tolerant of children than they were when I was young they’re still not great places for a 12 year old to hang out.
We have taken our children to pubs far more often than my brother, sister and I were taken in our childhood. Back then it involved sitting in the “Beer Garden” with a packet of crisps and an orangeade while my dad was in the bar. Children were not allowed inside the pub itself. These days children are allowed inside, in most pubs here in West London at least. The timing of the smoking ban (which is due to celebrate its 10th birthday in July 2017) was good for us. We have eaten plenty of meals in pubs, and watched plenty of sport too. It’s how I usually keep up with Kilkenny hurling matches, and my wife and daughter have seen more Arsenal games that way over the last year than I have.
In recent weekends I have indulged my son’s desire to visit local pubs. I have even let him drink Coke. Previously he could have lime and soda, or fruit juice, and usually a glass of water for every two or three sweet drinks. It’s one way of making sure we get out of the house on a cold, wet Saturday, and by visiting two or three pubs I can make sure he has a longer walk than he otherwise would. I have made a point of visiting places that I haven’t been to for many years, and in some cases had only ever been to once before. I have lived in the same postcode for my entire life so far but there are still two places where I have never had a drink.
As the pre-Christmas mood developed, and we visited newly-refurbished bars with their decorations up and real fires burning, I introduced him to the concept of the pub crawl and we pondered the question, “How many pubs do you have to visit to make it a crawl?” I asked friends and work colleagues and the general consensus is at least four. Fewer than four and it’s not really a crawl.
My brother and I talked about doing a pub crawl when we were teenagers. We planned the route, wondering how many times we’d deviate from the High Road to go to back-street pubs. We never did it. He has lived in Spain since the 1980s and though we have done a few bar crawls in his hometown we had never done it in London, until today.
Prompted by my son’s enthusiasm, and with my wife and daughter at the Emirates Stadium for Arsenal v West Brom, we planned a boy’s day out, a proper pub crawl, something we never managed when he lived here.
We started at the George IV at 2pm, London Pride for the adults and lime and soda for my son. We tried the newly-refurbished Fire Station (which was previously an All Bar One) but it was closed, so we moved on to the Lamb Brewery (formerly known as the Barley Mow). I’m pretty sure that the man at the next table was Nick Lowe but he was gone long before we finished our drinks (London Pride again for the adults, and coke for the boy).
We met my son’s godfather at the next place, the Packhorse & Talbot. He was with his wife’s brother-in-law and they were expected for dinner at their mutual mother-in-law’s place but they were able to join us for a few. It was Guinness at the Packhorse and (before I knew it) a large coke for my son. I drank half of it. I’m worried about his teeth. We moved on to the Roebuck (Guinness again for the adults, and water for my son, which he complained about). After that we tried the place that used to be a Wetherspoon’s 20 years ago and is now called Piano (it was closed) and back-tracked to the old Police Station, now a bar called Carvosso’s. It was closing at 5pm but we had time for another Guinness (and J2O for my son). My son’s godfather (and his sister-in-law’s husband) returned to the mother-in-law’s for their dinner and my son, brother and I walked down Devonshire Road to the only back-street pub in this locale that couldn’t put the word “gastro” in front of its name, the Duke of York. We timed this well. The place was pretty much empty so we were able to play some pool and not risk getting into a fight. I had been here once in the previous 25 years and it may be another 25 years before I revisit it. The grown-ups were back on the London Pride and my son was back on the water, grudgingly. We walked back up Devonshire Road, pausing to note where the Manor once stood. It became a gastro-pub (called the Devonshire), was briefly part of Gordon Ramsay’s Empire, and was pulled down some years ago to be rebuilt as a block of flats. The Manor, The Duke of York and the long-gone Emperor (it’s been a Nationwide Building Society for over 25 years) were always the roughest pubs round here.
We had a long walk (via Sainsbury’s Local, to buy some bread) to get to the next place, The Raven on Goldhawk Road. My brother likes his rugby, and they were showing the Munster v Leinster game. It was lime and soda again for my son, Guinness for my brother and me, and two bowls of cheesy chips to help soak up some of what had gone before. Our earlier companions rejoined us. By now it was after 7pm and we could confidently describe our trip as a Proper Pub Crawl.
I had been texting one of my few local drinking buddies as we progressed and we met him at one final venue, the Tabard, on the way home. Another Guinness, and back for dinner before 9pm. 8 pubs, 8 pints. Mission accomplished. Same place, same time next year.