So that’s that then, all 270 stations done. Below are my final thoughts on this three year epic pub crawl – I thought it would be a nice way to bring things to a close and offer some of my reflections on the experience!
For something that took so long to do, the idea came to me relatively quickly. I had thought about doing a blog featuring pub reviews for a couple of weeks, following on from a conversation with a friend who runs a successful blog himself. I was thinking over a few potential ideas in my head as simply visiting random pubs didn’t seem to have a hook to it. On a Sunday evening I was watching a BBC2 documentary on the History of the Tube – I’ve been fascinated by the Underground for years. I remember seeing some of the guests talk about some of Charles Holden’s station designs on the Piccadilly Line like Arnos Grove and Southgate. I began thinking, I’d love to visit them and then suddenly the two ideas came together – I’d visit a pub for every station on the tube! I remember excitedly telling my flatmate who thought it was a great idea. I then quickly fixed on the idea of doing it in the order they opened. I went on Wikipedia, printed myself a list off of all the stations in the date they opened and agreed with a friend we’d kick off that Friday (8th March 2013) – at Paddington where the first Underground train had departed on 9th January 1863.
We made good progress early on, stations were predominantly on the Circle/Hammersmith and City Line so it was just about darting around Zone 1 and 2. At that stage, I wasn’t too scientific about where we visited and we generally just had a bit of a wander around. However after visiting the underwhelming Phoenix for Bayswater and finding there had been better options nearby, I resolved to do better research for each stop – after all I only got one go at each station.
With stations easily accessible, I had little trouble persuading friends to join me and made very quick progress. I hit the 50 station mark by the end of June 2013. Going into the summer, I planned to slow the pace a little as I had my Masters dissertation due in and the stations were starting to get further out. To everyone’s shock – including my own! – I then accepted a job back in my home city of Brighton and Hove and left London in September 2013. Because I’d already got a fair way in, there was never any question in my mind about stopping. I was coming back to London frequently to see friends so I began to fit it around those trips. It was a bit ironic that was exactly the same time as we began heading to some of the furthest outposts of the network on the Metropolitan Line.
Away from London, I still kept a steady pace up when I could, reaching the 100th station at West Ham and the ‘memorable’ Greyhound Pub in March 2014. My progress in part was helped by some marathon sessions while I was up, 8 stops on the Northern and Central Lines being my record for one trip I believe. After a year I was back in London, ironically living near Paddington and where I’d started the blog! Towards the end of 2014 and early 2015, the pace began to slow somewhat. Visiting the North West edges of the Bakerloo and Jubilee Lines, as well as some on the Met and Piccadilly Lines, produced little in the way of good pubs and often involved quite a trek to the only watering hole. Even in these stages, the blog was still fun, it just became a little trying in places.
Once we had finally done these sections by Summer 2015, things began looking up. We had some great run of pubs on the Northern parts of the High Barnet of the Northern Line. The Eastern parts of the Central Line also proved to generally be pretty solid, even if took an age to get between the stations on the end of the loop due to then poor train frequencies. The final stages of the blog felt very much like the victory lap, with top pubs on both the Victoria and Jubilee Line extension stations.
I wanted to go out with a bang so set the end date for the Defectors Weld several weeks in advance so friends would be able to attend. In the end, it was a great afternoon/evening as we spent many hours in there. Gathering together many of the people that had come along for various parts of the journey, it felt like a fitting send off to a mammoth three year project.
So now it’s over, what have I learnt about London pubs? Well the first point is pretty upbeat, there are countless excellent boozers scattered right across the capital. That’s what’s always made it so hard for me to compile best of lists, although I have done a few along the way which I’ve included at the bottom in my media summary. I’ve been very lucky in the fact so many were good because it would have been a real drag visiting dive after dive every night. Many have also had real history to them, like the Hoop and Grapes near Aldgate that survived the Great Fire of London or Ye Olde Mitre Tavern in High Barnet which dates back to the 17th century. I’ve also seen pubs spring up in some unusual buildings, The Coronet in an old cinema on Holloway Road and the Leyton Technical in the grand old Technical College building in Leyton being two fine examples.
The majority of the time, I was able to find pubs fairly easily. A couple of stations were a particular challenge and for Park Royal, located on the A40 road, I ended up at a bar in a bowling alley! I was generally able to keep to my rule that the pub couldn’t be closer to any other tube stations, but in some areas that wasn’t possible and when that was the case, I made sure the pub in question was the closest to that particular stop, even if there were other tube stations closer. The pub closing down in Heathrow Terminal 4 was a right pain too…
The blog hasn’t just been about the pubs so I’ve also come to appreciate first-hand how incredible much of the architecture on the Tube really is. If you’re into that kind of thing, I thoroughly recommend exploring as many Charles Holden stations as possible. Uxbridge and Southgate being two particular favourites of mine. Trust me its thirsty work so you’re lucky you have plenty of pub recommendations afterwards…
When it’s come to what I’ve judged the pubs on, I’ve always valued somewhere that is true to itself. I love a traditional pub with bags of history and character but equally I think modern pubs can be really homely too. It just has to be done well – I can’t stand a pub which puts ‘Ye Olde Fish and Chips’ on the menu and pretends to have history to it in order to lure in the tourists, nor one that goes gastropub by numbers with modern art, whitewashed walls and ‘artisan’ sides for £5. London isn’t static so some of the pubs I visited back in 2013 may be somewhat different now. I know of a couple that have closed, including the Wetherspoons at Finchley Road O2 Centre which is now a Pizza Express. Talking of Spoons, I have no problem with them and visited several decent ones on the journey. I also came across pub chains I’d never heard of before such as the Flamin’ Grill with their ‘flaming guarantee’ – I came across quite a few of these pubs in the suburbs.
My tastes for beer have always been consistent, a good solid bitter like Doombar, Tribute, London Pride or Youngs Bitter or Special. Sightings of Harveys Sussex Best also made me very happy… Food wise, it’s usually a burger for me. I figured doing this is in the first place was pretty adventurous so I felt no pressure to be overly experimental in other ways. Plus hey, I know what I like…
I couldn’t have done this without my friends. I visited all 270 stops with at least one friend, often with a couple and sometimes big groups depending on the destination. They put up with long tube journeys to some truly bizarre destinations. I’ve had many people join me but three deserve particular credit for the amount of trips they came on, Lee Butcher, Saam Das and Dan Smith, take a bow! Sometimes groups of friends – including my current flatmates –met for the first time on one of the blog sessions. I loved it when we got a big group out as it felt like we were bringing people together. I was also extremely grateful to anyone who sent across/tweeted pub recommendations – there have been plenty but Sarah Clark(@londoonhamer) and Stix (@JeffKennaLeague) stand out on that score.
I was always able to fit the blog around my life, it just meant going out to a random tube station for drinks rather than one of our regular haunts. Again, that’s why I must salute the patience of my friends over the past three years. I also knew deep down I was always going to finish it, I’m too stubborn not to.
Ever since I started the blog, I was trying to get media coverage to spread the idea of it further. In my mind, an idea combining the tube and pubs, two things so iconic to London, seemed like a sure-fire hit. I’ve been lucky in the interest that both Londonist and the TimeOut blog showed to me over the journey. Now as good an idea as I thought it was, I’ve really been taken aback by the press coverage I’ve had over the last couple of weeks. While daunting, they were an incredible experience in their own right where I hope my own enthusiasm for the journey came across to those who interviewed me. I also must thank them for taking the blog to audiences’ way beyond my expectations.
Now it’s over, what’s next? Well I’ve had so much fun doing this so it’s definitely not the end! I don’t want to rush into the next project. It will definitely involve pubs of London but I’m open minded on the hook. It would be very easy to jump straight on the Overground but I’ll give it some thought first. If anyone has any good ideas, please let me know!
Equally I’d also gladly take the idea on the road if any benevolent types in different parts of the UK or foreign cities are reading this would like to fund such an undertaking! I can imagine having a great time out in Berlin or Budapest. I think it would also make a great TV show, BBC4, you know it makes sense. I’d also love to turn the INNside track journey into a book so if there are publishers reading this, please get in touch.
Finally, thank you to everyone whose been reading over these last three years and sending over pub tips. I hope you’ve enjoyed the reviews almost as much as I enjoyed visiting the pubs. Cheers!
TimeOut Blog – 10 of my favourites from the first 100
TimeOut Blog – ’10 Most Surprising Pubs’
Munchies(Vice News Food/Drink blog)