Saturday, 13 April 2013
Booze, banter & Bourgeoise conversation - an Oliver Reed pub crawl!
‘I have two ambitions in life: one is to drink every pub dry, the other is to sleep with every woman on earth.’
It comes as no surprise that the above were the words of the late, great and outrageous Oliver Reed, a man who undoubtably left his mark wherever he went, and nowhere more so than in SW19, more commonly known as Wimbledon.
Reed had been brought up in the borough and had gone to school first at Rokeby Prep in neighbouring Kingston (of which I am an old boy) and then onto Ewell Castle near Epsom (of which I am not). Whilst his career took off and he became, for a time, a big star as famous for his acting (sadly for a brief moment) as his wild personal life - punctuated by drunken brawls, drinking bouts with other hellraisers like Lee Marvin and general outrageous behaviour - he never lost his connection with Wimbledon and he would spend lengthy tracts of his life in the area.
Growing up in Wimbledon, Reed was an ever present character in the pub on a Sunday morning after a vain attempt of one of my parents to get me into a church. With them worn out and enjoying a deserved drink and me - aged 4 - tapping the fruit machine and sipping on a Coca Cola Reed held court in a corner, although this is merely a recollection of my mother and father rather than my own personal memory, I was far more concerned about the fruit machine!
Anyway, the man has become something of a legend in the neighbourhood and as with all the great characters in history his urban street-cred has grown to such proportions that he has come to be associated with a well known pub crawl which had one simple tenet, based around the then 8 traditional pubs that surrounded Wimbledon Common (now 6 due to the sad demise of The Prince of Denmark and The Brewery Tap). But no matter, we had to make do with the limited resources and, in honour of our shot livers and the great - if unfulfilled - actor we decided to use our Good Friday wisely and embark upon a pub crawl to which he lent his name.
I fear that I take holidays a little bit to seriously and decided to embark upon the day with a very agreeable Montecristo No. 2 and a pot of strong, dark, viscous coffee - as well as a blog post on Richard O’Sullivan’s Man about the kitchen (my commitment to my art knows no bounds! Barf!) as the picture below illustrates!
The decided hour was soon upon us and, after a quick sharpner (Scotch & soda) I was out of the door, on my way to an afternoon of self indulgence, semi-witty banter and mild public nuisance in my hometown.
Pub #1 - The Dog and Fox
The Dog and Fox is ‘supposedly’ the oldest site in Wimbledon village - a point on which one of my companions and I had a very tiresome and inconclusive debate on - and has now been turned into a rather soulless bar come restaurant, was where we started our journey.
Deciding that we needed to line our stomachs before embarking on this quest, food was ordered to act as a buffer-zone for the carnage that was going to be wrecked on our insides. A tab was set up, an order was place, three rounds were drunk and no food came...
‘We’re busy mate.’ Said a languid and nonchalant bar-keep.
‘Well it’s been one-and-a-half hours since we ordered.’
‘I’m sure it’s on its way.’
‘Yes, I’m sure.’
To be fair the food came, but it was sub-standard, and most of it had come from the deep freeze. Commanding premium prices as they were, I thought it was an outrageous cheek and one which here won’t go unpunished. I warn all readers off the place, a waste of valuable time and certainly an establishment that saw better days when the great Mr. Reed was alive.
Pub #2 - The Rose and Crown
The second establishment on the tour has to be one of Wimbledon’s most famous pubs. Passing the boutique clothing stores, artisan delicatessens and a Queen Anne period residence, a pub sign bearing the grasping visage of Henry VII and the red rose of Lancashire loom large for now the Rose and Crown comes into play.
A stalwart for the student drinker back from university - and the hub of Wimbledon tennis workers - off season the place has a local feel with a good pint of Young’s Special being the tipple of choice. The indifferent service and the sprawling nature of the establishment add to its charm.
We all went for a pint of the local wallop and soaked up the atmosphere of a place fast becoming what it’s predecessor on the crawl had become. Of particular interest I had noticed, much to the pub’s detriment, that children were now allowed in the place until 20:00 rather than the previous 18:00...outrageous!
Pub #3 - The Fox and Grapes
Some of my readers will remember the old Fox and Grapes. A grimy pub by the common, popular with golfers and dog walkers. It was in a lovely old building and due to its location had an almost-if-not-quite country feel. The carpets were beer sodden, the loos stank for miles around and the pervading air of wet canine hung about the joint. From the brass topped tables to the oaken panels it was an old fashioned UK boozer!
Jump forward and Claude Bosi and his brother bought out the joint, turning it into a gastropub - albeit with incredible food - and sapping the convivial soul out of the establishment. The pale, pastel walls, spot lighting and contemporary bar were a far cry from the informal drinking hole of old. But they still allowed dogs in the place and below you will see a picture of one punter called Jack Russell who seemed to be enjoying his pint!
Here our tipple was Doom Bar, the once boutique beverage standard now in so many pubs that it would not have seemed uncouth to drink it in ‘Olly’s’ memory. I caused a deal of controversy when I opted to have a cheeky coffee chaser to keep the warming tides of weariness at bay, bitter’s one hell of a drink after all!
Pub #4 - The Hand in Hand
We now come to my personal favourite, an 18th Century pub with a wonderful smoking courtyard set to one side of Wimbledon Common. Here many of my best ideas and nights out have been formed over a frothing pint. Ordering a few pints of a wonderful local drop, Sambrook’s Junction, some of us decamped outdoors and indulged in a much needed tobacco fix.
The Villager was welcome treat at this time, although one of my friends commented that - after my morning’s activities - my lungs must be like a metaphorical cheese-grater! The dependable smoothness of the short cig went well against the heavy, oaten taste of the beer. Looking around my surroundings I could see why I liked the pub so much with its mullioned windows, whitewashed walls and tiled roof, it was like something from a Hardy novel transposed to South London.
Heading back inside a quite half was sunk in a convivial surroundings and we spotted a group of lads and lasses who looked suspiciously like they were on the very same crawl.
Pub #5 - The Crooked Billet
There cannot be many pubs in London, let alone the UK, that are directly neighboured to each other, but the Crooked Billet is literally next to the preceding pub and provides a start contrast from the crusty old boozer previously mentioned.
A family friendly establishment it has screaming children too far into the day, and has few qualms about letting them run amok in the bar area - which would have been very much frowned upon even when I was growing up in the early to mid nineties.
Here, as is custom with our group, a pint of Directors (or Dictators as we prefer) is supped whilst we expostulate on the many matters of state that seem to concern us. Another toast to the great ‘Olly’ being raised in the same breath as the effectiveness of John Major or the price of pork scratchings was being discussed...
Pub #6 - The Swan
The Ridgeway is now down to one establishment ever since the sad demise of the rough, shabby, violent but quintessentially ‘Wimbledon’ Prince of Denmark ceased to be.
The Swan now holds up the area and offers the locals a small respite from their daily grind through its mix of live sports, real ales, cheap lager and my personal favourite, the IT Box. Some of my readers might be unenlightened, but this machine is a small-change vacuum which preys on the ‘supposed’ general knowledge of all who congregate around it like bees to a honeypot, hoping for a chance at a big win of £1-£3, the big bucks!
The pints were becoming harder and harder. Certainly I have paraphrased the quantity I consumed compared to my friends, they might have drank more (or less) but I cannot be sure. I know I certainly snuck a couple or few over the course of the day.
The pub is so generic to the norm at the moment that it doesn’t merit much discussion. Following such revelry one compadre on the tour of watering holes recommended a blisteringly hot curry and I for one - as an easily lead fellow - was taken in by such an idea.
And so the night ended, as it so often does in SW19, in Ahmed’s curry house (see previous review) with booze, banter and a great sense of drunken remorse!