Monopoly pub crawl? Boring. Circle Line pub crawl? Banned. It's high time someone developed a few new drinking tours around the capital. We started off with a sojourn around the variable boozers of London's train stations. Our conclusion? Nice, grim, grim, oooo, not so grim, grim, grim, ug.
Now, to mark the opening of the Royal Institution's plush new bar and restaurant (more on that later this month), we decided to raise a glass to Newton, Darwin, Faraday, Jenner, and all the other great scientists of this fair city. So pack your travel hadron collider, don your best white coat, and join us for a scientific pub crawl around the West End.
Start: The Jeremy Bentham, University Street
Ah, Mr Bentham. The social reformer, philosopher, economist and mummified box dweller may not have been a scientist, but he did help found University College London, an institution that is world-renowned for its scientific and medical research. The eponymous pub sits right amongst it all, neighbouring the UCL Cancer Institute and the Cruciform Building—once a hospital, now a biomedical research facility. The clientèle are drawn from such places and you'll readily overhear conversations about tumorigenesis and western blots. Plenty of real ales on tap, although sadly no 'Man in box' lager, which would have been so beautifully apt to those in the know.
The Museum Tavern, Great Russell Street
Given that the British Museum is stuffed to the glass and steel rafters with historical relics, its namesake pub might be considered more suitable to a humanities pub crawl than a scientific one. The link here is the chap in the pub’s hanging sign—Sir Hans Sloane. You may remember him from such places as Sloane Square and Street, and the fin de siècle Rangers, but the man himself was an accomplished physician and President of the Royal Society after Sir Isaac Newton. He was also a stupendous collector of artifacts and botanical samples, and his hoards laid the foundations for both the Natural History Museum and the British Museum. He also invented milk chocolate, and this is why we like him. And we like his pub. The Museum Tavern is unusually cosy for such a tourist hotspot, and it's normally possible to get a seat.
Ben Crouch's Tavern, Wells Street
It's three-for-one happy hour on scientific themery at the Ben Crouch. First of all, it's named after an 18th Century bodysnatcher, who sold cadavers on to the physicians of the day. Mr Crouch would have approved of this mock-goth necrocopia of a pub, whose schizophrenic theme culminates in the toilets, where patrons are treated to the sound of buzzsaw tearing into living flesh. But back to the science. The main bar area is festooned with cobwebbed distillation apparatus and mildewed conical flasks–mad Baron von FrankenCrouch was not one for a spring clean, it seems. If you seek a third objet de scientifique, order one of the shots, which are, of course, served in test tubes. You know you have a new definition for 'drinking problem' when your liquor invites a litmus test.
John Snow, Broadwick Street
The normal, healthy response to this pub's name is to snigger and enquire why a Channel 4 news reader gets his own hostelry. So, go on, get it out of your system now before we move on to the real celebrity. Because this neat little Sam Smith’s pub is named after the doctor who first identified the water-borne nature of cholera, and thereby founded the field of epidemiology. Sounds a bit eye-glazey today, but back in the 1850s this disease was killing thousands, and no one knew the cause. Imagine if 10 of your friends dropped dead, and no one could tell you why. Snow suspected that cholera was passed on through infected water. By plotting Soho deaths on a map, he saw that fatalities were concentrated around the water pump on Broad Street (now Broadwick St). The local authority removed the pump handle and the disease was contained. Or so the story goes. The chain of cause and effect may not have been so clear as this, but nevertheless, you can today drink a deep yellow Sam Smith's ale while contemplating fecally tainted drinking water. The perfect end to an evening.