London: Cask, Cake, Cabaret & Cats

The Carpenter's ArmsAs I’ve already mentioned the top-notch work stuff from my London trip, it’s on to the fun stuff – cask ale, book shopping, prehistory and theatre. Beer Twitter did not steer me wrong when it came to pubs near my hotel; although I have lived in and/or spent considerable time in much of north London, south London, the East End as well as student accommodation around otherwise-unaffordable Bloomsbury, I’ve rarely spent time around what I think of as the ‘other end’ of Oxford Street or points further west. Although it was handy for stocking up at Postcard Teas, eliminating the need for another order with a mystery import duty (at least, for a while), it was clear from strolling around that this particular part of London is…not aimed at me.

That said, the recommendation of The Carpenter’s Arms was spot on for great cask ale – which makes sense, as it’s the HQ for CAMRA’s London branch. Alas, there was no food on, so I had to have a ‘meal’ of (fortunately) low-ABV ales and very expensive gourmet crisps, though that’s no complaint. I enjoyed an always-reliable/always-welcome Harvey’s Sussex Best Bitter, but the new-to-me standout was Wantsum Brewery’s 1381, a session IPA. I was already very much here for a Peasants’ Revolt-themed beer, and the fact that it was also good was a nice bonus. This Kent-based brewery names its beers after local people and history – rather like our own Hope Beer here in Dublin – so that was pleasant to see.

I also got in a lot of book shopping, hitting up some old favourites like Treadwell’s and Skoob, and I am thrilled to report that both the book selection and cakes at the London Review of Books Cakeshop/Bookshop are still fantastic. My real reason for wandering around Bloomsbury, beyond getting some pictures of the now-very-tidy-looking-despite-construction UCL Student Union and Institute of Archaeology buildings (not how I remember them if, indeed, ‘remember’ is the most correct word to employ here), was to see the World of Stonehenge exhibit at the British Museum, and it is outstanding. I wish it were running longer, as I would love to get back to see it again, and to bring the family with me, but I’m thrilled I got a chance to see it. While I ‘know’ many of the pieces from the National Museum of Ireland and the British Museum quite well already, I was very, very excited about getting to see the Nebra Sky Disc, and it did not disappoint. On a side note, did I buy all possible tea towels and wallets emblazoned with said disc? I did indeed. I’m pretty sure that counts as using my archaeology degrees.  And while I always feel I *should* try something new, when nearish the British Museum, I always seem to end up at The Lamb – can’t miss their mix of Victorian snob screens, cask ales (a lovely Young’s London Original) and an excellent burger. On my way back to the hotel, I stopped off at The Euston Tap, which was excellent as always – and the Anspach & Hobday Mild and Redemption Hopspur Bitter were perfect refreshers for the hot weather.

Here, life is beautiful...And so, on to the theatre…

My last visit to London was a flying one, pre-pandemic: a weekend trip from Seattle to see Company in the West End. Was that worth the flight and jet lag? Absolutely. This was much easier, general chaotic state of Dublin Airport notwithstanding. As soon as it was announced that Fra Fee would be taking over as the Emcee in the new production of Cabaret, I was sold. I’ve seen Cabaret many times, both with and without Alan Cumming (among others), but this version is in a league of its own. The entire cast is outstanding – I don’t think I’ve ever seen Cabaret directed/acted in a way that made me care about Cliff before – and the first time we see and hear ‘Tomorrow Belongs To Me’ is stunning and terrifying. I am now a fully-paid-up Fra Fee fangirl; he was simply phenomenal. There is a minor beer note here too: as it’s an immersive production where you enter the Kit Kat Club and watch a talented cast perform all around the lobbies and bars beforehand, there’s also Germany-appropriate food and drink on offer. The pretzel was top-notch, and it was paired with Radeberger Pils; I’ll take it.

o hai, james masonI was also fortunate enough to see 2:22 – A Ghost Story, and I made sure to stop off at The Harp beforehand; the Dark Star Hophead was beautifully kept. I will not give away any of the secrets, but I will say that fellow fans of Danny Robin’s podcasts Haunted, The Battersea Poltergeist and Uncanny will not be disappointed. Again, it’s a great cast, and I got to tick off seeing another Doctor Who companion onstage with Mandip Gill; it’s been a long while since I saw Arthur Darvill in Once on Broadway.

But where are the ghosts?Finally, I had a quick side trip to Salisbury for Good But Complicated Cat-related Reasons, but luckily, this trip was planned on a day when the trains were not on strike, so all went well. I stopped in at the HAUNTED (per the sign outside) Haunch of Venison for a quick pint, and was rewarded with a absolutely gorgeous Butcombe Bitter; I very much wish we had some similar options here. I will confess that I did come across two pints that I had to entirely abandon because they were clearly infected – not, I hasten to add, at any pub listed in this summary – but I suppose it does demonstrate that bad cask is, well, bad, and perhaps one of the reasons we don’t have it here is just that difficulty; finding experienced people to look after it properly and a clientele who will consistently finish off casks while they are in good shape is tricky. But let’s also give some demerits to the ‘Spoons at Gatwick; not for the high crime of ‘being a Wetherspoons,’ but rather, for having something like 15 hand pumps with some truly mouth-watering options displayed, but only *actually* having Doom Bar. Nope.

But to finish on a high note (see what I did there?) I am sorely tempted to go back for another flying visit just to see Cabaret again – I do have a few micro-trips planned to see The Divine Comedy and David Devant and his Spirit Wife over the coming months – but I may well need to extend one of those before it closes…

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