But of course, I wasn’t reckoning on Mr Cheese’s “never go out on a Thursday” rule, Mr Clarke’s plans to be sunning himself in Turkey, the payroll girls coming up with some sort of half-baked, half-believable story about having a “leaving do” to attend and the IT blokes just basically saying that they couldn’t be bothered.
Well sod the lot of them. I still had my faithful Penfold in the shape of Slowpoke Sam who was more than up for some mid-week High Commission based pub tomfoolery…so all the more flags for us then.
For those who know how to spell Barbados and know that Ba(r)hamas doesn’t have an extra “r” in it the area we would be exploring tonight is Bloomsbury, which is the area in between Holborn and Mayfair and includes such places as the British Museum & Great Ormond Street Hospital.
It’s also home to two other High Commissions in additional to Barbados and it was a pretty easy job to intersperse the route in between these with a maximum of 8 pubs. Luckily at least 6 of these pubs where in “pairs” being so closely located to each other that if Sam and I felt the midweek pace was getting a bit too much we could easily miss one or two of these out.
The route proper started in The Jack Horner on Tottenham Court Road, but due to the fact I’d been “working at home” (and yes, I did actually do some work) and Sam works silly navvy shift hours, for us the tour really began on the 5 o clock train to London which set my commuting nerves a jangling as we went in the opposite direction of half the population of Great Britain.
The tube from Paddington to Oxford Circus was as packed as I’ve ever seen it and it was quite a relief to emerge into the watery summer sunlight and walk the rest of the way to The Jack Horner, missing out Tottenham Court Road station as it’s currently under several billion tons of concrete due to the Cross Rail project.
In fact the walk up from Oxford Road was quite interesting because we cut through the various little backstreets of Fitzrovia, where every street corner seemed to have a pub on it, making a mental note in my brain anyway, that we should try to do a tour around this area at some point……you never know, there might be a future High Commission hiding in these backstreets.
Eventually we broke back out onto Tottenham Court Road and quickly entered The Jack Horner which is one of Fuller’s Pie and Ale pubs. This means overpriced pies and free drink vouchers for Sam and me due to Fuller’s ongoing free pint thing on their websites. Sam made full use of his voucher, going for a pint of the normally exorbitantly priced Sierra Nevada while I kept things real with a pint of Wayland Smithy from White Horse Brewery.
I’ll say one thing for The Jack Horner, there was certainly no shortage of attentive bar staff with Sam and me being asked throughout the duration of our drinks whether we required any additional services. We did toy with the idea of eating one of the fabled pies, but at those shocking prices we decided that Fuller’s would have to make do with just the price of our vouchers as we made our departure to begin the tour.
The next stop was the first High Commission of the night after a quick left turn into Great Russell Street we found ourselves directly outside the Barbadian High Commission. Alas, this place must have been following the example of its Caribbean sister, Jamaica, as there was no jolly flag to be seen flying outside the door, which is a shame as it’s quite a nice flag at that. So instead, we just had to make do with a photo of my ugly mug and the empty flagpole.
The route continued down Great Russell Street, past the Trades Union Congress building where Sam doffed his flat cap and gave a rousing rendition of the Red Flag, before we walked alongside the impressive frontage of the British Museum itself.
The next stop was in the appropriately named Museum Street and appropriately was called The Museum Tavern, which from the outside looks to be a huge corner pub, but in fact, on the inside is quiet a snuck long thin pub.
This place is another from the Taylor Walker stable and had the usual mix of red-nosed wine drinking regulars and pink baseball cap wearing tourists, meaning that Sam and I fitted well in. We decided to take advantage of the more reasonably priced menu and before you could say “must have been heated up in the microwave” we had bangers and mash and the Big Ben burger in front of us to accompany the pints of N1 from Hammerton Brewery and Curious IPA from Chapel Down.
Like all of the Taylor Walker pubs, this place was Cask Marque accredited but there was no sign of the certificate, unless it was well camouflaged against the book-shelf wallpaper. Just to clarify, this was wallpaper that looks like a load of shelves of books.
After Sam had admired the tatty souvenir shop opposite and I’d admired the sombrero hung on the wall, we left and took the 50 yard journey to the opposite side of the road and The Plough, another Taylor Walker pub which surely has its deliveries done by the same brewery dray as the Museum Tavern?
But funnily enough the evidence on the inside suggested otherwise as the front bar had a distinct lack of handpumps that had been so in evidence in The Museum Tavern. We both went for a half of Dead Pony Club from Brewdog and settled back in the front bar as our foray into the back bar had revealed neither the Cask Marque certificate or enough room to swing a pair of red heels in. Anyway the company in the front bar was more pleasing to the eye and as Sam would attest by his Taylor Swift rendition, the music was better too.
With half pints finished, the route continued round the corner into Bloomsbury Way and past Bloomsbury Square Gardens and eventually after taking our lives in the hands of the hundreds of busses thundering by we reached the next pub.
The Holborn Whippet occupies a prime location at the top corner of Sicilian Avenue which is a rather odd, but rather beautiful passageway that links Bloomsbury Way and the Kingsway. The architecture is quite splendid and it’s possibly worth a visit whether or not your aim is to partake in either the Holborn Whippet or any of the other restaurants that line its sides.
The pub is obviously doing very well and is taking full advantage of its location as there was a hustling and bustling crowd spilling out into the avenue itself. For all of its fullness though, service was very quick and the main challenge was working out what beers were actually for sale as they were only advertised on little slate blackboards over the number of beer taps poking out of the wall behind the bar.
The beer we went for was the rather jolly sounding Mirthless from Redwillow Brewery and we continued with the ½ pint measure seeing as there was still a number of pubs in front of us. A point totally ignored by the barman who although poured us half pints, tried to charge me for pints. He rectified his mistake quickly enough but did seem almost miffed that I was pointing out such an obvious mistake. I got my money back but am still short an apology.
We retired to the hustle and bustle of the crowds outside and found a comfortable position leaning up against one of the Sicilian pillars. We probably should have stayed for a couple more because there was certainly the beer range to warrant an extended stay but somehow the ambiance wasn’t quite our collective cups of tea so we decided it was time to leave.
The route now led us down the full length of the avenue until we emerged out onto Kingsway and we could have had a nice shortcut ahead of us had there not been huge road-cum-building works blocking the road. So instead we had to trudge down to the High Holborn crossroads and then back up Proctor Street until we could bear right into Red Lion Square.
Now there’s a brief story, which is most pertinent to both the tour and Red Lion Square itself that I have to quickly retail.
On the south side of the square are the offices of Mishcon de Reya, a London company of lawyers whose claim to fame is that they represented Diana, Princess of Wales in her divorce from Prince Charles. And if that claim to fame wasn’t enough, they also had the pleasure of interviewing me for a job about a year ago.
As I was killing time before the interview began, having arrived about 3 hours too early in my usual style, I strolled around both the square and the roads leaving off it. It was then that I stumbled across the High Commission of Sierra Leone and it was this occurrence that cemented the idea of the Flying the Flag tour.
Now before we go on to describe the front door of Sierra Leone’s offices I suppose I better clear up that Mishcon de Reya and I came to agree to not agree to work for each other although to be fair to myself I never actually heard back from them so for all I know they’re still waiting for me to turn up one Monday or other. Let’s hope Camilla doesn’t need their services any time soon.
Sierra Leone definitely wins the prize for the most unassuming front door so far. Their High Commission is half way along Eagle Street which is just a row of high brick walls and there in the middle is a very plain wooden door into which presumably the Excellency of Sierra Leone walks in everyday and asks if there are any messages. At least there was a flag though, so points over Jamaica and Barbados!
Leaving behind the palatial openings into Sierra Leone we turned the corner into Red Lion Street and bumped straight into the next two pubs, The Dolphin and The Enterprise, which stand glaringly opposite each other in this very narrow street. The Dolphin was the nearest and although the beer selection was disappointing (halves of Timothy Taylor Landlord) the actual place was ticking many boxes with its patterned carpet, interesting pictures on the walls and piles of knick-knacks littered along each and every surface. Inside we easily obtained some seats by the window but outside there was a sizable crowd of punters milling around in the fading evening sun.
I had thought that both pubs were Cask Marque accredited but it turned out that only The Enterprise is, so swiftly finishing off the halves we popped over the road to the much bigger and much darker Enterprise where we were met with a similar disappointing range of beers.
This time we chose Purity’s UBU and tried in vain to locate the Cask Marque certificate before failing once more (that’s three down and no certificates so far) and instead resigning ourselves to some high stools by the door.
When you take a closer look, The Enterprise was actually quite ornate looking, with some lovely raised patterned tiles adorning the walls and it’s a shame that the lights were kept down so low when in my opinion, a brighter ambiance would have suited the place much better.
The halves didn’t take long to finish and before you could notice how many people seemed to come across from The Dolphin, use the toilets in The Enterprise before returning back again, we were on our way to the final High Commission of the night.
Theobolds Road led us to John Street where the more impressive frontage of the High Commission of Malawi is located, complete with flag, allowing us the final gurning snap-shot of the night and another three High Commissions ticked off the seemingly never ending list.
Feeling rather sloshingly full and also with an eye on the clock in order to avoid the red-eye last train home, we now had the choice of one of two final watering holes. So taking the easier route, we continued up John Street where The Lady Ottoline occupied a corner of the road spot.
As we approached the place, Sam noticed that there was a sizable crowd inside the building and let out an expletive. It was a rather mild expletive, but an expletive nevertheless and no sooner had it left his lips than a wandering glasses collector who was loitering outside the pub told us in no uncertain terms that it was “closed for a private function”.
Now of course, we have no way of proving whether this was indeed the case or not, but it at least made the final watering hole decision easy as we rounded the corner into Gray’s Inn Road and wandered down to The Yorkshire Grey.
From the brief glimpse we had of the Lady Ottoline it looked to be a young, hip and happening place, if you’re into bared walls, menus on clipboards and blokes with beards and to be honest, The Yorkshire Grey looked exactly the same, even if it was less full. No doubt because they weren’t closed for a “private function”.
For all its hipness, there was only one cask ale on draught, Hackney Brewery’s Best Bitter, which I went for whilst Sam went for a can of Electric IPA from Brixton Brewery, which at least wasn’t served on a shovel, or in a cocked hat.
One sip of the Hackney told me enough to know that this beer was off and summoning all my depths of bravery I informed the barman so. He took a sample himself and whilst managing not to speak a word to me directly, produced a range of facial expressions to indicate that he disagreed. Then the manager (all skinny jeans and bushy beard) appeared and went through the same pantomime.
Eventually when this duo had taken their curtain calls, bows and bouquets he offered me an alternative drink of Sierra Nevada, which at least allowed us to finish the pub crawl with a nice sense of circularity. Oh….we found the Cask Marque certificate…….stuck on the highest shelf imaginable. 4 Pubs, 4 non-Scans……………Trevor!
So we managed to actually enter 7 of the 8 planned pubs and all-in-all I reckon if you could have the décor of The Dolphin, the beer range of The Holborn Whippet and the clientele of The Plough, you’d have a pretty good pub. It would just need a bearded bloke on the door in a sombrero telling everyone that it was a “private party”.
From there it was a quick dash across country to Farringdon tube station to make it back to Paddington in time to take part in some unnecessary jostling for the penultimate train back home.
And if you were wondering whether Sam won the colouring competition…..he did! And I have to say that his colourful efforts, carried out on the train no less, were actually quite good. And anyone who thinks they can draw a better pair of breasts can try to do so on the sheaf of spare sheets I left on the trains.