Tuesday 31 August 2021



As the clock struck 9pm at Aldgate East Underground on Friday night, I could already allow myself a slight smile of satisfaction of a 'job well done', having not departed York until well after 6, but now checked in at my Premier Inn and back out for some pubs before last orders bells pealed across the city.

And the City was where I was headed, in search of those awkward Good Beer Guide ticks that don't open on a Saturday or Sunday, relying as they do on daytime weekday footfall from 'the suits'. 

Relieved to see that they stay open until 11pm on a Friday, it almost felt like I'd found a loophole in the rules!  

I didn't have a second to waste if I was to get to the three pubs I was aiming for, with the slight hope of a fourth, thanks to one kind pub that seemed to open until midnight on a Friday.  Too good to be true?  It's not like Whatpub, Google and the pub website would ALL be lying to me would it?  Would it?  Would it?

More on that later.  For now, a couple of stops took me to Moorgate, where I bounded off like an African gazelle in my Adidas Gazelles into the dark London night.  Barely a soul about, as I tried to follow myself (the little blue dot) on Google Maps, which always goes insane in Central London.

After a few unlikely turns around mean looking grey buildings, passing shut barriers and little parking wardens in little huts, I found our first pub lurking:

Wood Street, Barbican (1920 / 3349) was probably the least desirable (to me at least) venue of all tonight's ticks, being a fairly modern bar, but with some surprisingly satisfying booths with etched snob screens, a satisfyingly Stabilo-tastic bright green colour scheme, though possibly a bit too Aqua for my liking, and some inverted 'ferny' wallpaper to compliment the plants in tubs outside to make you feel 'closer to nature'.  A young tourist lad seemed to struggling to differentiate food and drink menus, so the bloke behind the bar looked relieved when I went "ey up, pint of that Bunny Purity Hop stuff pal, wi nowt taken owt".  The ale was fabulous quality, the best of the night, and the atmosphere was hopping too, mainly unseen from me, a huge group seemed to have 'reserved' the back area of the pub either officially or unofficially, for their own amusement.  One guy gave Colin an amused glance, but most were London twentysomethings so far too caught up in themselves to notice anything outside their immediate orbit.  I drank my ale in closer to 22.5 minutes, than 27.5, but fear not, a special clause I've just invented for Friday nights in Central London allows this.  

Fabulously kept pint

Mate, it really isn't that hard to figure out!


Don't sit too close to the candle Col

Trying to get a view of all the punters , plenty here, I promise!

Google Maps then was evil cos it tried to make me leave by the back of the pub, and cross this river, but there was no bridge so after avoiding a near drowning, I walked the long way around, seriously eating into my time.  I was NOT happy.

Eventually, with Google Maps still having a fit, I swung a risky left, everything seemed to click into place, and I was suddenly on the same street as the pub.  It was like a gift from the gods!

And that was true in every sense, the Hand & Shears, Smithfield (1921 / 3350) certainly one of those bona-fide London classics that you've heard of, but are astonished to find you have never visited despite having been quite a diligent Central London ticker since 2014.   Rare too that there was enough space within for me to appreciate the interior, nice curved bar all the way around, old wood panelling, tiny snug which I think was a former off-sales.  A few customer's around the back, but I was content in the otherwise empty front bar, more evidence there is method in this 'weekend closure' madness.  Guv'nor was a lively likeable chap, again I got that sense of relief from him that I was a paying customer walking in for ale, not wanting the loo or directions to the Shoreditch Beard Museum.  When I ask if he prefers cash or card, he says gold, silver and even bootlaces are good with him, I say I wish I'd brought my old bootlaces.  We then spend a couple of minutes moaning about card only pubs.  But time is ticking, and like he's read my mind, he says "I'll leave you to enjoy your pint" and walks off to do important pub work.  Tim Taylor Landlord was the beer, thoroughly enjoyable as it often is, but in the best of condition?  Probably just falling short.  Could this be something LON CAMRA find too and the reason why it isn't a GBG regular?  Or do they just rotate their entries at random because there are so many?  Who knows, I'm just a ticker, I'll go where I'm bloody well told.  Great pub though if you've not been, which judging by my Twitter same night, the whole world has.

Problem with Smithfield was, I had left myself with an even longer walk if I was to get a third pub in before my midnight one.  I still felt like walking was the best idea though, staying in control, so I strode out to Cannon Street.

But just BRAPA luck to find a bunch of protesters and a giant police cordon!

Twice I tried to cross it, and the filth diverted me down another street.  It all seemed pretty peaceful whatever it was about, but Mr Plod and the Oinkers were in good spirits, and the protesters sang 'Gold' by Spandau Ballet for reasons I couldn't fathom and dispersed without further kerfuffle.  

It was NOT what I needed, and I just had to hope last orders hadn't sounded (it was 22:14 so I'd have been unlucky) .......

But as I walk through the open door, it seems as though our long haired lover from Lithuania is shooing me back out at the Bell, Cannon Street (1922 / 3351) and I'm all like "what what what?" and he's all like "nah nah, haha, ok ok come in, I thought you were someone else, did you see anyone out there?" and I have no idea what he's on about, so I get a pint of Harvey's Sussex Best, which despite what I said about it in St Albans last week, I end up enjoying more than my Timmy T's!  A strange night all round.  But before I've even perched at a side wall (not a very furniture filled pub)  , this overly friendly guy comes in all like "heyyy, how are you maan?  Havin' a gud nite?  You like this pub, huh?  Visiting London?  Local?" and he's talking to me!  My first thought is male prostitute, second is he's one of those 'Street Angels' that look after unfortunate waifs & strays on evenings in big cities.  So as you can imagine, I'm not as friendly as I would normally be, I face the wall and sup my Harvey's!  I think he must work here, cos he then takes our host upstairs, and they leave me alone in the bar for 20 minutes!  Not sure what's going on up there, presumably they are on important pub business as there's a lot of knocking and banging.  Moving barrels perhaps?  I get to admire the pub and Col gets to spread out a bit.  Our LHLFL returns alone, a new spring in his step, and we have a nice long chat about pub working and how he wishes some of his colleagues were a bit quicker at serving folk!  I let him do the highlighting, must give that Stabilo a sanitise, and that was that.  Another true London gem.

I half contemplate the Olde Bank of England at Temple as it is close, but with the clock ticking towards 11, they may well have rung last orders so LHLFL (who's now properly invested in BRAPA) thinks I should stick to the midnight closure plan.  It's now 10:45.

Look at the determination!

That takes me on the tube to Embankment, where I can change for the Bakerloo one stop to get me to Charing Cross where my pub is.  But no need, as my phone has enough signal to show me the pub is actually really close to Embankment anyway. 

10:59 as I step up to take this photo, chilled out obviously because every source in the world says midnight closure for this pub ......

Hipster Martin Taylor blocks my entrance

Out in the street, it had been a manic Friday night scene, so I'm not surprised to see it extend into the Princess of Wales, Charing Cross (1923 / 3352), quite a change of pace after the Hand & Shears and the Bell.  Charming Charing pub though, I'm always impressed by the pubs around here unless you count the Lemon Tree which I found very limp.  But I'm noticing the staff have a very wired look in their eyes, and one shouts "you got one minute mate!" I can't believe it!  So much for midnight closure!  But I must congratulate them, even though they seem hellbent on observing 11pm as 11pm, they are shouting along the bar for everyone to order now or forever hold their peace.  I'm the last person to be served, the last orders bell is chimed just as I put my payment card on the reader!   I find a recently vacated table by the door, and I says to Colin "well that was a close shave" (very Wallace & Grommit) and this barman is like "ah a cauliflower,  brilliant!" and a few drunk punters look at him and go 'awww'.  A very nice pub, lively, with that classic Central London 'loos are pretty much a vertical drop down steep stairs', though I guess it lacked something of the olde worlde charm of the last two.  My Ghost Ship is drinking well, and on returning from said loo, I'm amazed to see how quickly the pub is emptying out, save for three lasses beyond me taking selfies, and going to the loo one at a time, saying bye to each other, but not actually leaving.  I start drinking quickly, but even so I'm the 3rd last person to leave, pub must've shut about 11:20pm so I guess that's something of a compromise?  

Note the last orders bell, visible from the Ghost Ship!

Phew!  Well that was quite the exhausting action packed two hours.  Back to Aldgate East, for food, water and a good sleep because the main reason I was down here, Essex, was just around the corner.

See you tomorrow for that!  (I've written my month end blog but will get these out of the way first)  Si 

Monday 30 August 2021


Pub 4 on our St Albans list took us about ten minutes away from the Mermaid to our furthest point, I now had a mental map of where pubs 5 and 6 would be, so take that GBG App! (which I see has now been fixed to show all S.A. pubs, which I'd love to think is "the Power of BRAPA" but probably a coincidence). 

Great Northern, St Albans (1917 / 3346) took us unexpectedly into Marston's territory, and with the fourth consecutive friendly greeting, this perhaps the best yet as she's all like "hiiiiiii hunnn how are you today?" , a ray of sunshine, just like the Sunbeam beer I was about to drink.  You've heard that BRAPA pet hate, random piles of logs not doing anything, well here you had 'random pizzas sat around not doing anything'.  That set the tone for a pub that didn't quite work for me or Dad.  His 1960's town planning / post war Coventry / Rochdale analogy worked quite well.  Like here was a pub, once old and proud, modernised too much, and now, they were trying to pull it back, to something closer to the original.  NOT that it stopped the place smelling like a vegan restaurant, and the mural behind Dad would make William Morris blush, gave me a headache.  I can't blame the Sunbeam for that! 

A step back in the right direction, in more ways the one, was our fifth pub .....

Now things were about to get really weird, at the excellent Farmer's Boy, St Albans (1918 / 3347) which in my mind is probably Mermaid's sternest competition for pub of the day.  Wherry or White Rat presented an ale choice which was pure 'recent rural Essex trips' versus 'my local in York'.  I went the latter, but had I been with Simon Dewhurst instead of Daddy BRAPA, I'd have gone Wherry!  Not being at my most observant 5 pints in, it takes me a helluva long time to realise the music we can hear is live.  People facing the wrong way on pub benches with arses in the air and heads sticking out of the window should've been a clue!  The courtyard is packed to the rafters, and I must say, for MOR pub rock, this band were as impressive as could be, excellent stuff!  Even the punk section managed to be gentle, as Dad drops the bombshell he's never found "I Fought the Law" to be a good song.  Colour me shocked, but I take his point.  I wander outside to watch a song, very nice, I come back in, uneventful enough.  Dad decides to do the same, she's signing "I Want to Break Free" by Queen.  Dad returns, three minutes later, all giggly and blushing and flustered.  "She asked me to go on stage!" he says.  From what I can gather, it seems his lack of moustache and hoover were the crux of the reason he didn't, but his leather skirt and fishnets were the reason for the request.  Or is that Sir Quinno spreading vicious rumours?  Excellent stuff all round.

Onto the last pub then, and the first I'd seen today, on the main drag up from the station ......

Looking back now, Robin Hood, St Albans (1919 / 3348) was yet another classic boozer in the mould of Farmer's Boy and very much the Mermaid.  At the time though, it was marred slightly by a man with a Timmy Mallet demeanour who stood a centimetre from my face at the bar (not Daddy BRAPA) as we ordered our 'Side Pockets for a Toad', first time Dad has been able to enjoy this since a vinegary experience in Croxley Green 14 years ago!  First I wondered if this guy was a Twitter bloke about to introduce himself, but he didn't say a word as I told Dad that Harvey's has never been a beer that has wowed me, for all the southern love of it.  Was certainly sure the bloke was about to order it, but he went Side Pocket too.  I wasn't about to make eye contact, and he only spoke when I said I didn't think the jam jars were always a good indication of ale quality.  "Well, they change 'em daily here!" he says rather snootily.  I didn't ask, mate!  We finally went to sit down, worried I'd be smacked on the head with a foam mallet and forced to say 'bleurgh!" (which of course I might've done had I ordered Harvey's ..... sorry southerners, just a little joke.  And sitting in the far corner, away from any in-timmy-dation (thanks!) we could finally appreciate this low key classic for what it was.

Back on the train to St Pancras, pretty sure I was totally mentally sound and not feeling the after effects of the six pints too much .....

Back at Kings Cross, we sat outside, sobering up with some coffee and food.  We then undid all that good work with a late Parcel Yard ESB, where we bumped into our Hull City chums, including BRAPA alumni Ben, Tom and Christine who'd just enjoyed a 0-2 defeat at Fulham, which is like a victory if you think about it carefully whilst drinking ESB.

Had been a great day, and I will be back in Snalbans some time in 2021/22 to tick off Six Bells, White Hart Tap and anything else which might make its way into the 2022 edition.

Take care, Si 

Thursday 26 August 2021


Hertfordshire moved up to 30th place in the BRAPA Hits Parade with a comprehensive six pub demolition of St Albans last Saturday, leapfrogging the likes of Staffordshire, Norfolk and Isle of Man in the process.  

It was also the first time GBG pubs have been ticked on 21st August, meaning there are now only 12 calendar days in the year still to tick on. #BRAPAStatsYouDidntNeedToKnow

And breaking news coming in as I write this courtesy of Duncan Mackay, the 2022 GBG has been deferred until 12th November  (25th Oct for us Privileged Clubbers), 2581 pubs to tick in two months?  I got this.

It was a Boyzone/Cat Stevens special (Father & Son day), and my third pub visit to St Albans, 'home of the CAMRA' although I'd only achieved one pub on each occasion previously!  First up, an overnighter in Lower Red Lion in April 2006 where Tom's Dad forgot to tell us there was a beer festival on.  Playing Trivial Pursuit at 1am in the bar against a weird know-it-all was a hazy BRAPA highlight of my past.  Dad could not touch a drop of ale in Watford the following day.  Not that Watford DID ale back then.  And 10 years later in Jan '16, I popped into the Garibaldi late on to celebrate my final Bedfordshire tick. It seemed nice.

Both pubs remain in the GBG.  That is what you call long term BRAPA success stories.

But today I could attack it properly.  Before 11am when we arrive, oh yes, it rhymes with Feathergoons.

A debut for my new rainhat 

Spliced together from two old timber barns previously situated elsewhere in Herts, you are thinking 'crikey, talk about making it hard for themselves, what's wrong with reconverting the local church?' as you walk in to Waterend Barn, St Albans (1914 / 3343) , but the barny effect is real, and makes it one of the more aesthetically pleasing Spoonies out there.  It's all about that beer though, as our Decca is 'on the turn'.  Not total vinegar, but showing all the signs.  Buoyed by my successful pint return in Polka Hop two days ago, I march back to the bar with confidence, but this time, when the 'appointed ale guru' holds it up to the light, he looks thoroughly unconvinced.  No one tastes or smells it, true it looks good, but surely you can't always tell from sight alone?!  Barmaid, who'd previously been friendly and chatty with the two of us, is icily stoic as she pulls our replacements, which are great by the way.  No intention of turning the Decca around either, sad to say.  Wonder how many more complained before it got removed?  I can see the staff talking about us and monitoring our expressions.  I guess having a Good Beer Guide on the table maybe works in this situation?  At least I'll never have to return! 

Not hitting the right notes

Holier than thou

Happy with our replacement ale

Despite having SEVEN St Albans pubs still to go at, the BRAPA mindset is always 'get a difficult outlier' ticked off if time allows.  11:30am.  Time allows.  

Onto the bus we hopped at nearby St Peter's Street, Colin waves at a few relatives up for adoption ......

The bus stops out in the sticks, between two major roads, M1 and A414.  So not the quietest country lane, as we yomp a mile down into the village, the traffic noise dispersing surprisingly quickly.  Nice to give Dad the full flavour of intense BRAPA ticking as we skid on wet leaves, and cars pass us on pavementless narrow roads, the rain steady and certain.

Just after noon opening, like clockwork, we arrive.  Fullerlicious!

Wisteria on the outside, hysteria on the in, I'm a big fan of Holly Bush, Potters Crouch (1915 / 3344) with its serene, farmhousey 17th century atmosphere.  Bit too early for ESB (even for me, it pains me to admit it), I hit the Pride and it is drinking well, the head so bubbly it is almost (but not) reminiscent of a Strongarm in Hartlepool.  After commenting on the barmaid's tomatoes, she has no idea why they've been left out either, we manage to do exactly what we did in the last pub, going from being on friendly terms with the staff, to them hating us.  This time cos I want to sit in literally the only reserved seat in the house.  "We're only gonna be half an hour!" whines Dad, but no, these invisible diners are imminent.  The staff are so blunt and sarcastic, it is fabulous, when combined with the dilly-dallying posh elderly diner brigade who frequent this pub.  "Just wondering if you're open or not?" bleats a pathetic old man.  "WELL, THE DOOR IS OPEN, AND I'M STOOD BEHIND THE BAR, SO I'LL LEAVE THAT ONE UP TO YOU!" she replies.  The stuff BRAPA dreams are made of.  A different couple later on.  "Ooooh you can't beat a good cup of coffee" says wife.  "Yes you can" replies husband "It is called beer, dear!" Fabulous stuff.  THREE beetles in the urinal when I go first time.  Which one was missing, Ringo?  Well, I pee again before we leave and now there are four.  Textbook rural BRAPA ticking.

We'd given ourselves plenty of time to get the bus back, but what I hadn't realised is that flippin' Google Maps had been showing me 'expected' time of arrival, and since I'd checked, the bus had caught up the delayed 5 minutes!  Now, we had to proper stride it out, almost jogging.  Good job Daddy BRAPA is the fittest 74 year old on the block.

I kept refreshing my phone, as we managed to eat into the deficit, gaining 1, 2, 3 minutes, suddenly the corner was in sight, bus due in two.  Run across the road.  Bus a couple mins late anyway.  Puffing and panting, we'd made it! 

My plan now was to see if any of the St Albans ticks were 'west' of town, but the Good Beer Guide App (never reliable) only had ONE pub listed, the Great Northern.  It's been a terribly unintuitive App since they changed it to the current version a few years back, and I've heard plenty of stories about missing pubs, usually in the Yorkshire Dales, but for 8 of the 9 pubs to be missing in the home of CAMRA, that's just plain silly.

Potters Crouch missing too

Google Maps to the rescue again as I type in real ale pubs,  but we were already back in town by the time I identify the ones we need.  A short walk around the corner as I've spotted one quite close.  "Are we looking for a White Bear?" says Dad, squinting into the drizzle.  "Errrr no, a mermaid!" I reply. 

"Oh yes, I suppose she could be a mermaid if she's wearing white" muses Dad.  

Mermaid, St Albans (1916 / 3345) was perhaps my pub of the day, everything about it just seemed exemplary and high quality.  A classic side street boozer in every sense of the word, we are greeted by a third consecutive friendly barmaid.  Do I risk upsetting a third barmaid in a row by asking why she is still in her pyjamas?  Best not.  Oakham Citra has been a favourite of mine in the past, the quality of it here exceeds even my expectations, pint of the day.  I misinterpret the dog biscuits jar signage as being a request to tip your unwanted crisps and scratchings into said jar, a sort of doggy treats benevolent fund.  But she puts me right, what it actually means is BUY actual dog biscuits for your dog, so you can enjoy ALL your crisps and scratchings for yourself.  Most confusing BRAPA signage since Derby's Old Bell Hotel suggested the toilets were refurbishing themselves, and would let everyone know when they ready to be used again!  We squeeze into a tiny window seat for two (probably designed for lovers so a bit weird) York Races is on showing suited 8 year olds, the next generation of pissed twats, making us glad we've left our fair city.  Dad is peckish, all this dog biscuit talk, so we retire to the nice astroturfed garden to eat my posh 'runny centred' Scotch Eggs I've bought us.  Running joke (runny yolk?) with Dad is I give him dreadful BRAPA food offerings, well he was so impressed, he was still raving about it today!  I'd buy them again.  We return our glasses and say bye, mermaid barmaid shocked to hear we are on an epic crawl!  Another chance to tell her we can't all sit around in our PJ's all day?  No, I'll leave it!

The day was about to start getting a tad hazy and crazy, so join me next time (probably after the Bank Holiday) for tales of our other three pubs.

Farewell for now, Si