Being as close to a professional drinker as I think it’s possible to be these days (the only upgrades available instore at time of writing being the ‘street drinker’ deal and the highly sought after ‘outright bum’ package), I tend to spend a lot of time in pubs. I used to have big issues with drinking alone; since having kids, solo visits to the pub have become a necessity in the constant morbid pursuit of overpriced craft beers and the kind of luxury crisps that I can’t honestly say I enjoy (Tyrells? Please. Show me the Golden Wonder). But even while snatching momentary peace as the sun’s harsh rays cut through the reassuringly dusty gloam of the snug, there’s a thought that invariably nags its way from the back of the head to the front lobe. Is this place actually any good or I am just in here because it’s open?
Take one of my favourite locals. The Cock Tavern in Hackney. Previously an ‘abandon hope all ye’ establishment on Mare Street, the Cock is now an exceptional brew pub, the kind of place to sink weekday afternoons and depth charge entire Saturdays. The beers brewed in house are consistently brilliant and sold at the kind of prices that wouldn’t give your Dad a seizure when it came to his round. Yet as a room, it’s dank as hell, frill-less and austere. It looks and feels like the pub in Early Doors at… well, early doors. I genuinely don’t know if it’s any good, it’s just somewhere I like to drink. My Mrs finds it dull and the kids have to have double bribes just to get them to stay in there while I finish a pint. Does that make it a bad pub?
Over the last few weeks, inspirational cartographers Herb Lester’s first foray into publishing – A London Pub For Every Occasion – has made me feel a lot better about the rooms I choose to drink in. They’ve spent the last half a decade or so exploring the outer and inner edges of London in fold-out form – compiling a list of the capital’s greatest boozers must almost be an occupational hazard.
Beautifully illustrated and divided into inspired sections – you’ll find pubs ‘for that Patrick Hamilton feeling’, ‘if you must go to a gastropub’ or – most brilliantly – ‘for the cat’ – A London Pub… is the sort of book you want at the bottom of you bag at all time. Helpfully, it’s snug and light enough to not cause chronic back pain too – there’s also an extremely handy detachable map for those who prefer to head out on manoeuvres relatively unencumbered.
A London Pub… feels like the sort of companion you want on a proper, guilt free solo pub crawl; on one of those modern day flâneur missions across town on a whim and a tip off. It offers that smidgen of reassurance that’s sometimes needed to get you across the threshold. What more could a professional drinker really ask for?
Now… where’s that bloody cat they’re talking about?