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The 12 pubs of Christmas Pub Crawl

by dsf

12 pubs of Christmas
Saturday 4th January 2003

Conceived of at least 3 weeks before Christmas 2002, this crawl was one of our better ideas, we thought. The idea was, simply enough, to visit pubs containing the numbers 12 down to 1 in their names, in descending order, as close to twelfth night as we could. It was essentially a specialised version of our previously-considered 'numbers' crawl. The protagonists were going to be myself and Anne (as always) plus Techno and Phil.

And so it was that in the week leading up to the 4th we all set about our research, trying desperately to find suitably named pubs. Techno had actually come up with a preliminary plan/route some time before, but it was somewhat impractical; for a start, it involved a trip out to Basingstoke somewhere around 6pm. Instead we figured that London simply _must_ be able to provide us with the requisite pubs to complete this crawl.

Oh how wrong we were.

Anyway - along came Saturday 4th. Techno had spent the previous night in Milton Keynes and Phil was off the beer; as it happens I was also having a dry week but that didn't stop me from crawling.

The lack of urgency brought about by the independence granted to Anne & I by the aforementioned absences made for a slack start;

The camera worked!
rather than our normal 11am start we didn't get to the first pub until 1139. This pub was the Twelve Pins in Finsbury Park, close to the tube station and doubtless a haunt of several hundred Arsenal fans when they're playing at home. As it happens they were playing at home that day, but the hordes had yet to show up (thankfully this also applied to the Oxford United fans) so we stood comfortably at the bar with our halves, and made a swift exit.

Jumping on the tube back to Vauxhall we waited about 20 damn minutes for a train, in a biting cold wind, for Putney and our first non-numbered pub of the day. During planning we had completely and utterly failed to find any pubs in the whole of London with the

The Pied Piper, as was
number 11 in their name; we tried looking for eleventh and XI too, to no avail. Now, we'd decided previously that should numbers be unavailable our next best bet was to look for the things mentioned in the 12 Days Of Christmas song, so this pub was the Pied Piper (formally the Rat & Parrot) in Putney. It was creepily quiet inside, potentially because from the outside it looked shut. Thankfully this made getting served and finding a seat easier than beating Al Gore in a spelling contest. Not that we sat for long; trying to make up for lost time we pegged it back into town for the next pub.

Idiosyncratic. Some would say 'shit'
And again, no number. There is a pub in Spitalfields called the Ten Bells, but we didn't want to chance it not being open on a Saturday. So, referring to the song again, we needed a Lord. The Lord Burleigh on Vauxhall Bridge Road near Victoria Station, to be precise. Home to some frankly dreadful gents toilets but a friendly small pub with a ridiculously cheap lunch menu, we'd been to this place a few times before and it seemingly never fails to be full of 'characters'; our first visit had been notable for the 6 or 7 old fellas sat towards the back of the place watching snooker on the small television and talking loudly about it.

Before you ask, no, the pub for 9 didn't have the number in its name either. I told you we were wrong in thinking this would be easy. The only pub we'd found that came close, but would still have been a horrendous case of cheating, is a place called the Thirty Nine Steps in Hackney. Anne & I don't know Hackney, but what we did

Ladies, women, birds, whatever.
know was that there was an armed siege taking place somewhere over that way at the time. Being partial to avoiding such things, we needed a Lady. But then, the pubs containing the word Lady were either too far away or potentially closed. But we had backup; I'm a Londoner, we're crawling in London - that makes the Bird In Hand a credible alternative in our book. That said had we known what the area was like - heavily residential and quiet, near Kensington Olympia station - we maybe would have thought twice about going there either. Thankfully we didn't, and it was open; it also gave us the opportunity to watch a bit of Man Utds FA Cup game while in the company of a 4-man card school in a table by the window. Then, back to Olympia and on to our next pub.

Returning to some semblance of true validity, the Eight Bells in Putney usefully contains the word/number Eight in its Name. Sadly it wasn't a new pub for BITE, but at least this meant we knew what to expect - a nice friendly and relatively quiet pub (even on match days, now that Fulham have been screwed by Al Fayed). What we hadn't counted on, though, was the blinding sunlight coming at us from all angles as we sat at the nearest spare table. Nevertheless this didn't dampen our enjoyment of our little time here, although the kid with his family on the table next to us nearly did by telling the least funny joke in history; I suspect he hadn't quite grasped the concept of the knock knock joke yet - or at least, the particular knock knock joke he seemed to be trying to tell:

Comic geniuses need not attend

"Knock knock"
"Who's there?"
"Haha! Doctor _who_?"
"Doctor doctor come quickly!"

I'm sure he'll learn, in time.

The next pub was in nearby Fulham, which made it easy to get to. In truth, it would have been even easier had I not made us get off the bus at least 3 stops too early because I thought we were somewhere we weren't. The Seven Stars, on the North End Road, was a mixed blessing; on the one hand, it contained the number/word Seven (making it part of our first back-to-back successes), but on the other its a grim shithole next to a horrifying housing estate and somewhere that, upon our first visit a couple of months previous I had sworn never to go back to. Nevertheless we perservered, perched by the bar watching the FA Cup goals roll in on Sky while listening to a guy in the other part of

The Seven Stars.
No photo. This pub is so bad
it broke our camera. Although
we have a nice-ish photo
of the pavement opposite
the bar berate the barman for being from Carlisle, thereby making him a "bloody northerner who 'as to come dahn to London and bloody large it", something that apparently all folks from the north insist on doing, according to this sage - a man who also appeared to know way more than was comfortable about guns.

I have again sworn never to go back to the Seven Stars.

On a roll now, we walked up to West Kensington in order to get the tube to Acton Town and our hat-trick, the Six Bells. There was chaos on the underground meaning, as luck would have it, everyone else was getting off at Acton Town too in order to complete their journeys by bus. Bucking the trend by being seemingly the only people for whom Acton was the destination, we walked into the town centre and found the pub easily. Drinks were purchased and we again positioned ourselves where we could watch the scores come in. A mostly nondescript pub, Anne & I brought the average age down by about 40 years and I apparently took on a

The Six Bells
No photo. It was getting dark and
our camera was (still is) busted.
It wasn't very pretty
rather more mediteranean look than normal, being referred to twice as "Greek fella" as I excused myself past the pool players on the way to and from the loo.

The next pub was to be West Five, also in Acton, kind of, but the opposite side of Acton Town station and thereby warranting a bus ride. Being unsure of exactly how far towards the pub the bus would take us, we got off just before a large crossroads we thought the bus would turn left at; it went straight on, which is where we were heading. Unperturbed we set off walking. And walking. And walking and walking and walking. This pub was a hell of a lot further than it looked on the map, and it was utterly freezing, but perseverence won and we eventually happened across the pub.

It was shut. The time was around 1730, and West Five doesn't open until 1900. Chips were purchased and a bus was boarded; failing to think of any more valid alternatives we were forced to improvise

Back-up plan central
by heading once again back to Putney Bridge and having a drink in the Golden Lion (5 Gold Rings 'n all that ... ). Yet again an old pub (done on the animals crawl of Summer 2001!) I have nothing to say about our time here, but Anne would like to make it known that she thinks whoever decided that a good place to put the big screen is right next to the ladies toilet, so that women over 2ft tall can't go for a piss without getting in the way of people watching the game, deserves a good kicking.

And so, to our '4' pub. In Leyton there exists a pub called the Four Finch's, a pub named by an egotistical family man with the surname Finch - there being 4 members of his family when he bought the place. The main problem is that Leyton is bloody miles away, so we'd already decided not to go there. Instead, we were going to the George IV pub near the Aldwych; a tube round to Temple and a 5 minute walk later and we were there. The George IV is near a theatre and so in prime position to remain open on a Saturday, however they have neglected to seize this opportunity leaving us foiled and more than a little pissed off. We know of no other Fours.

It was at this point that a terrible pun I'd made some weeks previously came into play; further up Southampton Row is a pub called the Ivy House, and with a little (*cough*) poetic licence I had suggested that it would count for Four - 'Ivy' being 'IV' being 4 in Roman numerals. Exhausted and thirsty, we agreed that it was as good as we were going to get, and headed up there.

The Ivy House was shut. Bollocks.

Desperate times called for ever more desperate measures. Searching through our minds for pubs visited previously that could in any way, no matter how tenuously, be used as a Four pub we came upon an answer - the song refers to Four Calling Birds - a Cock is a bird, and near Oxford Circus is a pub called The Cock. We headed there, praying that it would be open, and, thank fuck, it was. And crowded too! We had to stay stood at the bar, and my non-partaking of alcohol was tested to the limit not least by our recent disheartening episodes, but by the fact that

In the absence of a genuine
photo of the pub, here's Charles
Koppel. Most definitely a cock.
the Cock is a Sam Smiths pub and as such serves Ayingerbrau Weissbier, a truly wondrous drink. Nevertheless I stayed soft as we watched Spurs get humiliated (hehehe) by Southampton on the TV.

After the Cock came a long walk parallel with Oxford Street towards the Three Tuns. We had thought, right up until we came to enter the new pubs from the crawl the following day, that this was a new one, as it certainly was for Anne & I, but as it turns out Techno & Phil had been there previously. Nevertheless at the time we enjoyed it a lot - it has a very 'real' pub feel about it, like a regulars pub you'd find in

Not as new as we thought
a village or small town, certainly not something you expect to find in the middle of the West End in the car park of John Lewis.

So now we were down to our last two, the first being, naturally, the Two. In particular, the Two Brewers, visited previously just a couple of weeks before during the ETIB crawl. A fairly standard West End pub, slightly cramped and more often than not crowded, the main distinction this boozer has is being very close to the delightful venue that is Stringfellows. Ahem.

And so to One. We could, of course, have gone the really obvious route of going to any old All Bar One, but the main problem with that is that they're SHITE and we hate them. However, in a fit of extreme fortuity we'd found the Pear Tree in Barons Court and so we headed thataway on the tube. Coming out of the station we turned a corner and were pleasantly surprised at the area; we'd hoped it was going to be nice anyway

Lapdances available just opposite
due to the proximity of Hammersmith and also Queens tennis club. However, the further we walked, the feeling got a bit worse, and the closer towards a pretty nasty looking housing estate we got. Thankfully the pub wasn't actually in the estate and, even better, it was dead friendly. Not to mention plain dead - there was one
The Pear Tree
No photo, but it wasn't pretty.
And neither was the barman.
barman, and 3 people playing pool. The barman was a skinny tall bloke covered in tatoos who refused to serve me coke ("If you want a coke, go to Cafe Rouge") and the fella at the pool table was as interested in the darts on TV (just like us) as his game. He also put some tunes on the jukebox and left a couple of credits it in for us to use, but we didn't take up the offer; after our pints (after all, it was the end of the crawl) we upped and left, back to Barons Court station and with a bit of a dilemma on our hands.

It was only about 9pm. We'd finished. What on earth could we do?

Just outside West Brompton station there are 4 pubs; one towards Earls Court (the Tournament) and 3 towards Fulham, which we'd noticed on a previous night out but not been in. Well, here was our opportunity. Except one of them was shut, and the first of the other two looked to be on a par with the Royal Oak in Stockwell, or even the Prince Arthur in Lee.

Utterly terrible boozers

Thankfully the third and final one was not only open, but welcoming. Called the Prince of Wales, it is a large pub with seats out front and at the time a lot of people inside — but not too crowded that we couldn't grab a seat. So, we grabbed a seat and settled down for the remaining 80 minutes or so of the evening.

Somewhat implausibly, Techno and his missus joined us at about 2255 having spent the day doing various odd things; travelling from Milton Keynes to London, buying pianos and transporting them several miles on public transport, attending live jazz in Pimlico. Nevertheless they met us just in the nick of time to get a drink before last orders and, err, necked them quickly as we got booted out when it shut.

One final note - in the course of 13 pubs I had had just 2 pints of lager. I had privately thought I'd crack by about the 4th pub; maybe I'm not such an alcoholic after all :-)