Tag Archives: pub

toujours strasbourg

Au Vieux Strasbourg Winstub

Here is the final post with my sketches from Strasbourg, though there will be one epilogue with a map. This might end up being quite a long post, so if you like long posts with a few sketches and a lot of talk about things from previous trips that I can barely really remember properly, then this is for you. Or if you prefer just looking at the pictures, you can do that by scrolling past the text, looking at the sketch without all of the barely related context, and you get the same effect. I do like to offer an insight into what might have been going through my mind when I sketch though, which is basically the side of the drawing that I see when I look at it, but you as the non-Pete can’t see. To be sure, you have the undoubted advantage of seeing a sketch just for what it is, while if I post a sketch of, for example, a bike shop in Davis, I can say that it reminds me of a podcast about the Peasant’s Revolt that I was listening to at the time, or the music that was playing in the bar down the street, or the smell of the food someone was eating as they walked past, or it reminded me of the time when my bike broke down and I had it fixed, or the time when and so on and so on.

Take the sketch above, which is of a winstub/bierstub (it’s what they call cute little places where you can drink beer or wine in Alsace), “Au Vieux Strasbourg“. This is just down the street from the Cathedral on what is very much one of the main tourist runs. I stood against a wall and sketched as all nationalities walked by. To my right was a man selling little paper puppets in the street. These puppets would dance, all by themselves, making people (mostly kids) laugh and give money to buy one. At one point, the vendor sat at a table and had a drink at Au Vieux Strasbourg, and another man came long, and tried his best to figure out how the puppet was dancing. He looked at me, a glint of excitement in his eye and said “it’s on a line! I can see it, it’s on a line!” Obviously this was in French. “No,” I replied, “it’s magic. See?” “No, no, no,” he said, “it’s on a line. It’s hard to see, but it’s there.” “It’s hard to see because it’s magic,” I insisted. I don’t know how I became the spokesperson for dancing paper puppets but if there’s a cause I’m willing to stand up for, then well. He scratched his head as if he had made some revolutionary discovery but still didn’t quite believe it. ‘Sacre bleu’ I thought, and just carried on drawing, while the puppet master, still sitting with his cold drink, just shrugged. I actually couldn’t see the line, so it might have been magic. Further down the street, two musicians who had been playing an accordion and, I don’t know, something else, were joined by a middle aged American who decided it would be brilliant if he whistled loudly and in great tune along to their music. It reminded me of the guy Walter from the Muppets movie a few years ago. More puppets. When I was done, I had a cold beer at Au Vieux Strasbourg, and watched the world go by, and the little puppets kept on dancing.

Les Aviateurs, Strasbourg

This is the interior of “Les Aviateurs“, an American-themed bar I had heard of years ago but I don’t think I ever visited. There are model airplanes on the ceiling. As I was walking back to my hotel from the Cafe Atlantico on the Sunday evening, thinking about dinner, I happened across it. So after dinner I made a point of coming here to do a sketch. I was pretty exhausted, so I just had one drink and sketched furiously until my purple pen expired. There was only one other person in there for the most part, other than the barman, who chatted to me in English because, as he said, one needs to practice a foreign language otherwise you really do lose it, it”s not like riding a bike. Amen to that my friend, that’s exactly how I felt with my French on that trip. This bar is cool, and has been here since 1984, so I am glad I was able to find it and sketch it (here is their website). The music was all British indie music from the mid 1990s which was very appropriate.

Rue des Orfevres, Strasbourg

There are a lot of municipal flags of towns from all over Alsace hung above the streets of Strasbourg. At least that is what I presume they are, and I think it’s a fairly good guess.I like that green one that looks a bit like a pair of y-fronts. This was on the rue des Orfevres, also known as Goldschmittgass, and this Foies Gras vendor that I stood next to had a golden goose as its shop sign. Strasbourg however loves its storks, they are the symbol of Alsace and the mascot of tourist shops everywhere in the city. I never sketched those.

Place de l'Homme de Fer

The Place de l’Homme de Fer (above) is the central downtown hub for the Strasbourg tram. It literally translates as Iron Man Place, and the large circular structure above the tram station reminds me a bit of an arc reactor. Twenty years ago when I first saw it, I had no idea what an arc reactor was (and barely remembered anything about Iron Man) so I never made that connection then. This was however, with the exception of the cathedral, the thing I was most impressed with about Strasbourg. Coming from London which at the time had the very old rolling stock of London Underground trains (the old grimy greying trains with the ghostly front face and the partially wooden interior, not the shinier more colourful ones you get now, with their LED screens and automated “the next station with this train is Colindale” announcements), the Strasbourg trams and their futuristic downtown station were a glimpse into the space age. This is what life could be like. I enjoyed riding the tram so much, arriving at ‘Langstross’ and other exciting locations. I’m a bit less easy to impress with futuristic technology now, in this age of smartphones and holograms and teleporters, but on my last day I did take a ride on the tram again just for old time’s sake. I went down to Neuhof, which was where, in 1995, I had been on that exchange trip to the Lycee Jean Monnet. I walked about the neighbourhood for a little while, remembering all the old fun of that trip, all the people that I met. It hadn’t changed very much, though to be honest I could not remember enough to say what would have been different. There was a lot of that in Strasbourg, turning a corner and another distant memory popping up, much in the same way that you remember last night’s forgotten dream the moment you hit the pillow, and then it’s gone again. I passed by the street where my old friend Roland used to live, who I last saw when we watched the 1998 World Cup semi-final on TV, France beating Croatia. There were lots of celebrating fans on the streets that night.

I was hungry, so I didn’t sketch around Neuhof, and just jumped back onto a tram and headed to Les Halles for a Quick and some more shopping (or rather, leche-vitrine, window shopping – my backpack was too small to buy all the cool things I wanted to buy, such as big new Ninjago and Marvel Lego sets at the toystore which even now are not yet available in the US, much to my son’s annoyance).

Place Kleber

And then it was time to go home. my flight back to London was late on a Monday evening (and very cheap too, about $15, plus it took just a few minutes to get to the airport from Strasbourg train station). The Monday was my day of exploration, so I spent time in bookshops such as Librairie Kleber (I love the smell and feel of French bookstores, even if the spines are all upside down), and of course the big store FNAC. The FNAC in Strasbourg was the first ever FNAC I had been to and it hasn’t changed much. I spent ages in their BD section – that’s Bande Dessinee, or comic books. French (and Belgian) BD is amazing, especially the artwork, and often comes in large hardbound volumes. There were a good number I would probably have bought, had I not brought such a small backpack with me (Ryanair carry-on friendly). I did buy one small-ish new piece of Ninjago Lego for my son though, so clawed back a few Daddy Points for all the other Lego and Playmobil I didn’t get (I did buy him some French ‘Pokemon’ cards in Monoprix though, his friend apparently had some German ones from his dad and he wanted to go one better). I bought biscuits in nice little Alsace tins, had a take-out curry dinner which I ate on a bench on the Rue du 22 Novembre, before finishing off with one last sketch of the large Place Kleber, Strasbourg’s big central plaza. The cathedral poked above the rooftops, looking towards Rue des Grandes Arcades. The Marks and Spencer that used to be here is gone, but the McDonald’s is still here. Why mention the McDonald’s? Back in 1997 they gave me a Big Mac instead of a Chicken Sandwich. I didn’t realize until I was already on the coach back to London, so I couldn’t change it (me not being an eater of the hamburgers). My friend Terry ate it instead, and we’ve basically joked about this ever since. We agreed that if ever I went back there, I would go to that McDonald’s, slowly walk up to the counter like a bounty hunter in an Old West saloon and say, “1997, September. You gave me a Big Mac. I asked for a McChicken sandwich. That was one long, hungry bus journey. I’m here to claim my debt.” I didn’t, but it would have made a brilliant BD.

a night out in aix

aix o sullivans
Aix, part 3…I had dinner by myself at La Pizza, a restaurant my wife and I always enjoyed (but which is a lot less charming than it used to be), and strolled about spotting old places I used to know. The Red Clover, a pub I never could like, is now called something like O’Shannon, and looks just as inviting as its predecessor. Le Manoir, a cheesy knight-themed club, is still there too, but I didn’t go in to see if they still have those hole-in-the-floor toilets. Happy Days, a place I’d never been to but would always prompt me to sing the song in French every time I passed (“Dimanche, Lundi, Heureux Jours…”). The Loch Ness, long gone. Le Sunset was still there and I always enjoyed it there, but they were having a karaoke thing and while it’s my lifelong dream to sing Johnny Halliday’s “Allez les Blues, on est Tous Ensemble” in front of people I decided against it. Le Brigand is still there, down at Place Richelme, and I did stop by there for a pint, siting outside (becasue there are no seats inside now) as in the olden days, everyone just sat about on the steps drinking and talking. I remember one night back in 2002 shortly after the first round of the French elections (when Le Pen’s Front National came second, making it to the play-offs), sat here with lots of other students discussing politics, and football (the World Cup was coming up), and my future wife who I had recently started dating was very impressed at my ability to hold conversations in French and German simultaneously, and getting better at each language the more beer I had.

I would only be able to sketch one pub though, so I went to O’Sullivans, which if any pub could be called my ‘local’ in Aix, this was it. I probably went here more than any other because it was convenient, friendly, and they served Leffe. It hasn’t changed in the slightest. I took a seat by the bar and sketched the tall taps – I recall I had drawn them once before in 2003, but I’ll show you the comparison sketches in a different post (basically sketches in Aix from the early 2000s compared to now. It’s fun). I didn’t converse a lot with people except the barman, but mostly because my French is just pantalons now. Honestly, I do really have a degree in French, but I am struggling to speak it these days. When I was in Strasbourg I was trying to describe something really cool I had seen to some other sketchers, and ended up saying, “Well, there are no words to describe it,” before adding quietly, “…because I don’t know them.” Over the years my French has developed into a kind of Del-Boy-esque patois, where it is more amusing to me to actually get it wrong than right, but I can’t get away with saying “Mange Tout, Mange Tout!” before every meal over in France. My French was not so bad however that people assumed I can’t speak it (which used to happen here), so they would speak normally and quickly to me. I’ve decided I’m a good listener in French, and mastered the art of nodding and saying “D’accord” and “Ah, ouais”. I also had to listen very carefully, because they would say things only once.

One thing that is different now is that people don’t smoke inside French pubs any more. I am very pleased about that (coming from California), but they do smoke outside and it just wafts in anyway. It reminded me of the ‘Zones Fumeurs’ (smoking zones) they would have at the University in Aix when I worked there, which would just be the corridor next to the corridor where you couldn’t smoke. It made no difference because smoke would just waft through, and into the classrooms. I remember being on a train from Arles with a friend and the carriage was supposed to be non-smoking, but someone was there in their seat with their Gauloise, so we asked the conductor. He just shrugged (a Gallic Shrug of course) and said, well this carriage is ‘mixed’. Which makes no sense, but summed everything up. Well now people can’t smoke in pubs, so things are changing, but I was still surprised at the sheer number of smokers walking around the street, and very young smokers too. Coming from California where it seems like hardly anyone smokes any more it was a culture shock; did they not get the memo?

It was a Thursday night, but it was really busy in Aix, there were a lot of people about. Aix was always a popular place to go out and I remember this about it now. In O’Sullivan’s (a nominally Irish-themed pub) it was mostly French people, but just as in my day there were a lot of Americans and several English too. Aix is very popular with visiting American students and I met many while I was there. There was another group seated in the back who were all French and kept breaking into La Marseillaise. that’s nice, like Casablanca, I said to myself. Some wore berets and others had light blue shirts on, so they were probably just young cadets on a night out from their national service. On closer inspection however a couple had Confederate flags draped from their belts, while others wore large heavy chains, and some had a gothic-font phrase on their shirts in English about “Honour, Tradition, Strength” or something to that effect. Hmm, I wondered, but decided not to ask what it meant. The atmosphere in the bar was good, just as it always had been in the past, and the beer was cheap. I realized that I could not remember ever having an evening out by myself in Aix, I always knew a lot of people when I lived here and previous visits back had always been with friends. It felt unusual to be out in Aix by myself! I kept on with the sketch, which took me over two hours total and was drawn in a burgundy pen. It was nice to be back.

the pubs of st. martin’s

Salisbury pub
Another London scene, another London pub. I sketched this on the same day as the last post but am posting it separately because that was about Soho, and this being a few blocks away on the other side of Charing Cross Road is really not. Plus I got to draw a different map (in a sketchier style, though in retrospect the colour scheme, the splatters and the near-total illegibility makes it looks like it was raining, when as you can see it really wasn’t) (I don’t care, I like it). So here we are in St.Martin’s Lane, which winds down from Long Acre to William IV Street, looking towards the church of St. Martin in the Fields. Roughly in between Charing Cross Road andangel & crown Covent Garden. This above is The Salisbury, located on the corner of St. Martin’s Court. Now several years ago (2008 as it happens) I did sketch on this corner before. On that day it was raining, and hard. Nothing pleased me more; we had been in the middle of a very dry period in Davis, so any London rain put a huge smile on my face (going through the current historic Californian drought, I now look upon that period in Davis as the wet one). I stood beneath the shelter of the theatre opposite and sketched this pub on the corner, the Angel and Crown (see right), I’m glad I did; it was closed this time. It wasn’t clear if it was closed for good, but it was all boarded up, and when I walked past a week later it had even more boards up around it, and seemed as if it might be given a different name. So i am glad I sketched it then. This time I stood outside the Angle and Crown (right where that lady with the umbrella is standing in the older sketch) and drew the more ornate black and gold exterior of the Salisbury. This pub dates from 1898 (actually it’s much older, and was previously called the Coach and Horses, in a nice callback to my last post). The name refers to the Earls / Marquises of Salisbury, landowners in this manor, the first of whom was Robert Cecil (Cecil Court is around the corner) who was a political bigwig in Elizabethan times. Right, enough history. This pub is in the heart of Theatreland, and has long been associated with actors, though theatre-going tourists flock here too for its authentic interior. After doing the inkwork and some of the wash, I popped in for a pint and to add a little bit more paint. I chatted to an old Irish builder nursing his Guinness while I painted, while groups of tourists perused their maps. I wrote a note in my sketchbook, “£4.60 for a pint!” and exasperated at the price of beer in modern London. This, I told myself wisely, is why so many London pubs are closing, nobody can afford to drink out any more. After visiting a couple more pubs in London, where a pint of beer tended to be above a fiver, £4.60 seemed like a golden age (comparison, when I left London £3 a pint was considered expensive). Alas, with London rents and property values skyrocketing, a lot of pubs can’t afford to exist (especially when developers see more value in luxury flats than places of historic community value), so it’s nice to see the old ones that still do and if the price of beer has to go up to enjoy them, well so be it, I suppose. This was never one of my usual stops in London, but I appreciate the hell out of it now.
map, st martins lane sm

down in old soho

Greek Street

I would love to draw the whole of Soho, if that’s possible. Like every single block. And I kind of want to do it immediately because it’s changing, year after year, but then it always has done. Centuries ago this was a hunting ground (“So-ho!” was a hunting cry, like “Tally-ho!”), its borders marked with blue posts (hence the two pubs called ‘The Blue Posts’, and when I was a guide on the open-top buses I used to wheel out the old chestnuts about it “still being a hunting ground, know wot I mean”, but I’m not even sure wot I mean now. In my 500-miles-away-ness in California, I’ve been concerned about pubs and other famous London landmarks closing down or disappearing, and I’ve been eager to record these narrow streets while they are still here. Above, Greek Street, at the junction with Romilly Street. Greek Street was so named because of a Greek church nearby, and former residents include the very same Giacomo Casanova. On the far left, past the Prince’s Theatre on Old Compton Street, is a Michelin-starred restaurant called L’Escargot, where a long time ago a friend of mine worked for a week before quitting. I recall it being a much funnier story at the time. The timber-framed pub is the Three Greyhounds, another name reminiscent of the royal hunting ground days, while the patisserie in blue is the Maison Bertaux, which has served tea and cakes since 1871. On the corner is the Coach and Horses pub, also known as ‘Norman’s’ (after the infamous long-standing landlord Norman Balon, who claimed to be the rudest landlord in London). This pub has a good claim to being Soho’s most famous, a haunt of well known writers and actors such as Peter O’Toole, Jeffrey Barnard (he of ‘Unwell’ fame), it’s about as Proper an old Soho Drinker as it’s possible to get. Further down on the right Romilly Street leads to Cambridge Circus, at the junction of Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue.

old compton street sm

For those of you who haven’t gathered by now, I am talking about Soho in London, not the one in New York, which is a contraction of the words “South of Houston”. Our Soho as I always told people is named for “South of Hoxford Street” of course, with ‘Hoxford’ over time becoming ‘Oxford’ due to the predilection of London English speakers to drop the ‘h’. No, not really. One of the thoroughfares that really defines Soho is Old Compton Street. Old Compton is well-known for its gay community, and in centuries past it was populated by the French Huguenots; there are still several French-themed places in the area. Above we see some of Soho’s other European residents, with the Spanish tapas restaurant Cafe Espana located next to an Italian deli. ‘I Camisa & Son’. I do love an Italian Deli.

And here is the map, showing where I sketched…

map, soho 2015 sm

drinkin’ at the mixer

Good Mixer, Camden Town

This is the Good Mixer in Camden Town. I was meeting up with my friend Simon, and while he dealt with the fun that is London Transport I came down here to sketch this old pub from the outside. It was pretty chilly, which I was not displeased with (writing as I do after several 100 degree-plus days here in Davis), but I just had to capture this old Camden warhorse. One day I will draw the unchanging interior; that place has stories to tell. The Mixer is well-known in Camden, in the 90s it was the haunt of many Britpop locals, and when I used to come out in Camden this would invariably be the place where we would end up. My mate Terry and here spent many Saturday nights in here playing pool (well actually he wad the one playing pool, I would usually lose a game then watch), met many interesting characters, saw the odd ruck, drank a lot of beer and cider. I still have a nice orange scarf that was left in here one night in the early 2000s; a woman (I think she was French) who was sat next to us had left it behind, so I held onto it until she came back. When she didn’t, I handed it to the barstaff at closing time, but they said they would just throw it away, so I should keep hold of it. It was a nice scarf, and a cold night waiting for the N5. Fun place, the Mixer. For years I didn’t realize the bar had two sides, I had assumed that it was a mirror behind the bar, but a mirror that didn’t work very well reflecting people (this gives a good idea as to the time of night we would usually end up in here). Lots of fuzzy memories. Admittedly my stories are not anywhere near as colourful as some of those who pass through here, but I’m not that interesting a person. Anyway, I finished up my sketch, and popped in for a beer (by the way London, wow, how can you charge so much for pint? It’s almost double what it cost when I last lived in London!), and added the colour while waiting for my mate to arrive, and we went to the Spreadeagle.

back in the ship

The Ship (interior)
London! This explains my recent blog-absence, I have been travelling back to Europe. Not just to London, but to France as well, where I did a great many sketches, most of which were in Strasbourg at the 2015 “Rencontre Nationale” of Urban Sketchers France – more on that fun later. But London, it’s always a pleasure to come home, and it’s always so brief. I came bathe ship, sohock to surprise my dad for his birthday, which was fun, and we had a nice family get-together. On the second day, I went down into central London and took my mum to afternoon tea at Fortnum and Mason. It was pretty posh. Afterwards though we popped into The Ship, my favourite pub on Wardour Street, where I did this sketch above. I have sketched outside The Ship before (see left), but this was my first interior. I always liked this pub’s unchanging, yellowy, old-fashioned interior, so was surprised to find that it has been ‘done up’. Not demolished and converted into a gourmet burger restaurant or luggage store like everywhere else, in fact the interior hasn’t really changed much at all, except it has been nicely repainted and cleaned up considerably. It is still very much The Ship, just smarter. My mum took a picture of me sketching it, in case you wondered what I look like when I sketch a pub (what did you expect?). It was great to be back in London.

pete sketching in the ship

westwood ho!

westwood blvd
Short break in posting…but here are some more sketches from my recent trip to southern California. I was staying in Westwood Village, Los Angeles, which is a pretty nice neighbourhood around the slopes of UCLA. Apart from the rumour of a Sasquatch wandering about the place. A Sasquatch? In LA? I don’t know about that. I had gotten off the bus from Hollywood, and a middle-aged woman at the bus stop said to me, all concerned, “I’ve just seen something really weird, something I can’t explain.” Ok, that’s nice, bye. “No honestly, it was a large creature walking about, tall, really hairy, I think it was a Sasquatch.” I mean, this was LA, so I’m not saying it was impossible, but Sasquatches, well you think more of like the Rocky Mountains or Canada. Perhaps it was a Wookiee, I thought, but I didn’t say that, because I have a feeling she may have really thought that. I had just come from Hollywood Boulevard after all, where I’d seen Darth Vader, Spider-man, Charlie Chaplin, Marilyn Monroe and even bloody Deadpool, so Chewbacca isn’t out of the question. “Thanks, I’ll keep my eyes open,” I said and walked off really fast. The next day however I did actually see a tall hairy man, but he wasn’t a Sasquatch, as far as I can tell.

Hairy abominable myths aside, Westwood Village is a lovely place. The scene I sketched above was not far from the Fox Village Theater, a gorgeous old cinema built in 1931. Loads of people had lined up the night I first got there to see Age of Ultron, many in costume. On this morning though, I stood on the street corner sketching while hairy Sasquatch man passed by me yet again. I did start to wonder whether I was really seeing him or if he was imaginary, but I don’t like to think too existentially while I am drawing.  I liked wandering about Westwood Village. There was a really interesting candy store, with sweets from all over the world. On my second evening there, I went for a drink after dinner at Barney’s Beanery, which I chose because it was an enormously sketchable bar. Click on the image below to see what I was able to do while I was there. People were friendly, and I chatted to some folks at the bar once my sketch was done. There were some Indian dentists out having a drink, talking to me about the upcoming boxing match between Pacquiao and Mayweather, you know the one which was about a million pounds to watch but was ultimately – gasp gasp – not all that. I said I’d not seen boxing in years so didn’t really care about it. They asked what the last boxing fight I had seen was. “Rocky III” I said, which is true.

barneys beanery

And of course, a fire hydrant. This one however was sketched at 2 in the morning. After getting back to the hotel from the pub, I was feeling peckish, so popped down to the Denny’s on the corner of the street for a nice milkshake. I noticed this hydrant, with a very slightly different design to any I had sketched before (it has a slightly different top) so I just had to draw it. I’m officially a 24-hour-hydrant-sketcher. I sketched another one in the wee hours the next night too, but you’ll see that in another post…
hydrant westwood sm