Around a year ago, Sam Cullen embarked on a project to visit pubs near every London tube station, keeping track of it all on his blog, INNside Track. He recently visited his 100th boozer. No strangers to an epic pubcrawl ourselves, we had to find out more.
Sam, how did you ever come up with such a mad idea?
I’ve always loved exploring London and going to places slightly off the beaten track. Early last year, I started thinking of doing a blog of pub reviews but I couldn’t quite think of a hook for it. I was watching one of the documentaries on the tube’s 150th birthday and then the idea just hit me.
As you rightly say, it’s a bit of a mad idea as it is, so adding the twist of doing the stations in the order they opened just seemed to fit the mood well. When you have set yourself the task of visiting 270 stations, travelling from Hounslow to Northwood on a session pales into comparison really…
Do you pick the nearest pub to each station, or the nearest one that looks like it'll be any good?
Initially I operated on a bit of a random selection. However, after going to a rather mediocre pub in Bayswater and finding out there was a far nicer one nearby, I decided to do more research before setting off. I've also been fortunate to get a lot of decent recommendations via Twitter (@Innsidetrack).
Seeing as I have 270 to visit, I want to avoid bad pubs as much as I can, otherwise the whole thing could grind me down. Plus I hope the blog can help steer people towards good places. I like to think of it as being a go-to resource if you find you have an hour to kill somewhere and fancy a quick drink. Stuck in West Brompton for an hour? I'll send you to the right place!
You must have been to some fairly out-of-the-way stations. Which ones are truly worth the journey, for having a really good pub nearby?
I had a good run towards the end of the Met line, which definitely ticks the box for far out. I'd say Pinner, Rickmansworth and Chorleywood all had cracking pubs that are worth the trek. Its rural enough out there for you to get the country pub vibe and yet you can get home on the tube. One even had an apple tree growing in the beer garden. I suppose you could do all three in some sort of Outer London pub crawl. They all feel a world away from tight, compact pubs in the city, where the only outside space is a tiny smoking area.
What, for you, makes a 'good pub'?
Authenticity! I don't have a preference towards either traditional or modern pubs, as long as it is done well and it fits.
I think traditional pubs are great, they help evoke such a sense of London’s history. Places like the Viaduct Tavern do that, as well as lots of Sam Smiths pubs. The latter also have the bonus of being cheap! But, equally, you can come across modern pubs done really well. The Brown Derby in Oval impressed me because it wasn’t like anywhere I’d seen before. All the elements come together perfectly and it works.
Where I think pubs fall down is if they try and fake it — tourist pubs in central London which whack a few photos of 'Old London' on the wall and try and pass as historic. It's the same with places that have rushed to jump on the gastropub bandwagon. If it's not original, it's not interesting — it just feels like an excuse to ramp up the food prices.
There also has to be a decent variety of ales. I wouldn't pretend to have the expertise of a seasoned CAMRA member but I know what I like. Doombar is always a sure-fire winner for me. It is nice to have a few options but sometimes a massive beer list can leave me feeling daunted.
100 stations/pubs into the mission and you're not even close to half way. Feeling daunted?
No not really! Like anything, there are peaks and troughs depending on the places I've visited. Often when it gets to the point of starting to feel like a chore, I suddenly then hit a run of three or four great pubs in a row and my morale comes back. I'm just about to head out Uxbridge way on the Piccadilly Line, so I'm not really sure what to expect there. I think some suburban stations will pose a challenge but that’s part of the fun really.
Psssst...we're building our own website of the very best pubs in London. Like the Death Star in Return of the Jedi, it's still only partially constructed, so we're not putting out a fanfare just yet, but you can take a look at our first 200 'best pubs' on the beta site.