We're big fans of overly complicated pub crawls. We've all heard of the Monopoly pub crawl, the Circle line crawl and we even created our own crawl for the 12 days of Christmas, but they all lack a certain geographical challenge. So how about a crawl round the pubs of London's airports?
We have to stick to the pubs before security because we didn't want to buy a plane ticket — or go through x-ray — just to get a pint. That still leaves eight to get around and yes, it is possible to do them all in one day. Find out what we think the best route is after we've taken you on a tour of the pubs.
Remember: airports are full of security people wielding guns and on rather high alert right now, so maybe best to stick to half pints. Also remember that it's an offence to be drunk on an aircraft. Sensible bit over — let's get crawling.
The Five Tuns
Head to Terminal 5, towards the south side, for the bright and cheery Five Tuns. If it's a sunny day, the glass-roofed terminal building almost (almost) makes sitting 'outside' the pub feel like a beer garden, but let's not get carried away. It's still an airport.
For all the declarations of London Porter above the bar, the most interesting ale was a pint of bitter (at £4.25): this is a Young's pub. Still, the menu's a cracker. With a full breakfast range before 11am and mains including ox cheek chilli con carne and a tempting salt beef sandwich on sourdough, this is an excellent place for a refuelling stop.
Terminal 3 has two pubs. Once you've navigated what could be a half hour trip from Terminal 5 (beware the potential eight minute wait on the tube), find The Globe at the far end of the claustrophobically low-ceilinged arrivals hall. The pub is dark, open-sided, a bit 90s: in short, everything you expect of an airport pub. It's definitely the poor relation of Heathrow's hostelries but we still quite like it.
A pint of Doom Bar set us back £3.95 and we were cheered to see Brewdog's infiltration of non-craft beer pubs continue with Punk IPA in the fridge. If you're here on Tuesdays you can get two main meals for the price of one, and it's curry on Thursdays. Yep, it's one of those pubs.
The Three Bells
Tucked away round a corner near Pret up in Departures is the airy and handsomely decorated Three Bells. Pick a tome from the book swap and sup a pint of Young's Bitter (£4.10 a pint, 15p cheaper than its sister pub in Terminal 5). Even a fire alarm couldn't disturb the sense of peace — and we were gratified to find our beers untouched on return.
The menu's the same as The Five Tuns, and is definitely a more convivial atmosphere than a sandwich in one of your high street coffee shop outlets. The fire might be a TV screen (probably not a good idea to have naked flames in an airport) but how cosy is this?
The Flying Chariot
Here is Heathrow's pub piece de resistance, in Departures of Terminal 2 — an easy stroll from T3. The Flying Chariot is a Wetherspoons, but there can be no other Wetherspoons in the country with a view like this. Grab a pint of whatever craft ale's on offer (we bagged two pints of Irish Peated Ale from Revisionist for £3.80 apiece) and go upstairs for a glorious view of the runway — which, sadly, we were a bit too tipsy to photograph successfully. Still: here's a photo of the pub's miniature control tower.
The beer choice here is unrivalled within the airport (or at least the bits you can get to without a security check). Hogstar, Hogs Back, Crafty Dan and Einstök were available on our visit, and the website claims a choice of at least four ciders. There's also an impressive range of spirits. This place is a real reason to choose your airline by who flies from T2.
By contrast, Gatwick's Wetherspoons is disappointing. Situated on the mezzanine of the South terminal, it's dark, low-ceilinged and a bit depressing. Its website claims the same beer range as The Flying Chariot at Heathrow but the only ale out of the ordinary when we rocked up was a Cardiff Resin from Celt Experience. Food is, you know, alright. Much better to hop on the inter-terminal shuttle to the North.
The Nicholas Culpeper
We'll be honest, we didn't pay much attention to the beer range at the North terminal's Nicholas Culpeper — though the website claims a varying selection of draught ales and a reasonably interesting range of bottles and cans. We were much more interested in the gin, which they distil on site. It costs £7.50 to buy a G&T with selection of botanicals, or a gin cocktail, but they're delicious.
The food menu is ambitious, too, and made us irritable that we'd eaten in the 'Spoons. Because frankly we'd rather have snacked on a chorizo scotch egg or a chicken katsu burger, and we've heard people rave about the smoked salmon. The open nature of the downstairs bar can feel a bit like you're drinking right in the middle of the departure area, but it's light and airy enough to offset that particular niggle.
City Airport does not, technically, have a pub landside. This is possibly because the whole airport is only slightly bigger than your average two-bedroom flat, but the woman on the information desk assured us they're building a pub after security. (We're sure there used to be one several years ago, but evidently that's been sacrificed to the Duty Free gods.)
We were directed to sandwich shop Panopolis, where we were surprised to see Meantime on tap. This just about qualifies as a pub, then. You can buy bottles of Peroni, Tiger and Old Speckled Hen for £4.50 and small bottles of wine for £6. We had a half pint of Meantime Pale with a prawn and avocado wrap, perched on a wobbly stool while staring at an escalator. It is the saddest beer we have ever drunk.
In contrast to City, Luton does have a proper pub before security. Though just barely. The Bar Des Voyageurs (or Bar Des Voyagers, its name is not consistently applied) describes itself as 'French-style'. In fairness, it does have the word 'boissons' etched onto the window. Someone has scratched out a couple of letters and it actually says 'bois on', which we think is the reflexive French verb 'to have an erection'. Otherwise, the place is about as Gallic as Mablethorpe Poundstretchers.
Ale drinkers are not really catered for with a keg offering of John Smith's. Otherwise, one must make the giddy selection among Fosters, Heineken, Guinness and Amstel. Turn instead to the wine list, which extends to almost six different varieties.
Bar Des Lynam (as we're now calling it) is a small place with only a handful of tables. On our visit, perhaps a third of the patrons were wearing nappies and throwing half-chewed rice cakes on the floor. A few of them had babies in tow, as well. The discarded snacks seemed to be the only food available.
The bar was enlivened by a soundtrack of tinny teen pop, which got all the babies screaming along. At least somebody was having fun. We downed our Fosters and trudged back to the shuttle bus, the crackle of spent rice cake a constant companion beneath our feet.
As far as we can tell — and we've had a quick scout in person — Stansted doesn't have a pub before security. So we can skip this one guilt-free. We're also ignoring 'London Southend', just because...
Taking in four airports in one day might seem like a stretch but it's really quite do-able. We took in all four pubs at Heathrow within four hours, but The Flying Chariot stays open until the last flight departs so you don't need to rush it. This route assumes travel on a Saturday.
0700: Start at Gatwick, hit up the first two pubs
0903: Catch the train to London Bridge. You can then either catch the Northern line to Bank or walk across the river; then take the DLR to City Airport
1015: Arrive City Airport
1117: Take DLR and tube to Blackfriars
1154: Train from Blackfriars to Luton Airport Parkway
1250: Bus from Luton Airport Parkway to Luton Airport (buy a train ticket all the way through to the airport, it includes the bus)
1300: Arrive Luton Airport
1415: Shuttle bus back to Luton Airport Parkway
1432: Train to St Pancras, then the tube to Paddington
There's a bit of a wait at Paddington, and a decision to make to catch either the Heathrow Express (expensive) or Heathrow Connect (cheaper)
1555: Heathrow Express to Heathrow T5, arrive 1616
1603: Heathrow Connect to Heathrow T5, arrive 1631
Cost: around £65 — and doesn't include your fares to Gatwick in the morning and home from Heathrow (how you get there is up to you).
The cost of transport on this pub crawl is a killer. You can save a bit by buying some train tickets in advance, or you can do this version — which in some ways actually looks less stressful (depending on traffic). Again we've assumed travel on a Saturday and you'll really need to buy tickets for easyBus in advance as the price goes up the closer (and more popular) the departure.
0600: Start at Gatwick, hit up the first two pubs
0800: easyBus from Gatwick South to Stockwell
0905: Arrive Stockwell, then tube and DLR to City Airport
0950: Arrive City Airport
1114: DLR and tube to Liverpool Street station
1200: easyBus from Commercial Street/Liverpool Street station to Luton Airport
1300: Arrive Luton Airport
1415: easyBus from Luton to Golders Green
1455: Arrive Golders Green, then tube to Heathrow T5
1620: Arrive Heathrow T5
Cost: from £18.55 — again, that doesn't include getting to Gatwick in the first place and then getting home at the end.