where the streets have a slightly different name

Streets pub Sacramento
This is the midtown Sacramento pub called ‘Streets’. Click on the image to see it in closer detail. This pub was formerly known as the ‘Streets of London’, but they decided to drop the ‘of London’ part presumably in an effort to appear more inclusive to the other metropolitan centers of the UK and indeed the more rural counties. They could have gone further and called it ‘Lanes’ or ‘Highways and Byways’. They have an actual National Express Coach-stop sign outside the pub, and still have a number of British-themed (specifically London-themed) objects in the pub, but not as much as they used to. When I first came here back in 2006 or whenever it was, they had football shirts and scarves hanging from the ceiling. Those are sadly long gone (and you know how much I love football shirts). Otherwise though the pub really hasn’t changed a lot. One TV ahead of me was showing the Giants baseball, another was showing French football (which these days just means ‘PSG and someone else’, you know how much I don’t like seeing PSG). It’s been a long time since I was in here last, but I have wanted to do a panorama sketch of its brick walls and cozy layout for ages. I hadn’t planned on it; we spent the morning in Arden Fair mall, mostly at the Lego store (and you know how much we love Lego). I then took the opportunity to go to midtown Sacramento, to look at all the goodies in the University Art store on J Street. I picked up a ‘Cathedrals of the World’ colouring-in book (and you know how much I love drawings of the Cathedrals of the World). I then wandered about looking for something new to sketch, but by now it was hot, very hot. Very very hot. I considered sketching the historic Governor’s Mansion (which I last drew in, um, 2007) but could not find the right angle, what with all the big trees in the way (stupid trees, providing shade from the oppressively hot sun and the air we breathe). Maybe I will come back in winter.

By this point, the searing heat was giving me a headache, and I had to cool off urgently. So I went back over to Big Brother Comics on J Street, bought the latest issue of ‘Thors’ (one of the very fun and inventive books from Marvel’s ongoing ‘Secret Wars’ event; the ‘Thors’ are like the cops of Battleworld, and this plays like a classic cop drama, but, you know, with more hammers and lightning), and popped into the Streets of London pub to cool off and read. Sorry, ‘Streets’. No more humming Ralph McTell. After finishing ‘Thors’, I thought, ah what the hell (sorry, what the ‘hel’, Thor joke) and started to sketch a panorama. I sketched quickly and drank my two beers slowly (one after the other, not slowly at the same time). It wasn’t particularly busy, but the staff were friendly and the atmosphere nice. At one point a large party of Sunday pubcrawlers came in, had a pint, and left. I remember this being a thing the last few times I have been at this pub. There are a bevvy of boozers in midtown now, and I imagine an afternoon pub-crawl with all your friends on a hot Sunday in mid-August would be quite a lot of fun, but you don’t get to spend long enough in any place to enjoy it before the fastest drinker in your crowd claps his hand loudly and orders you to move on (that’s what happened here). They do have these pedal-powered contraptions now that groups of people ride on, all pedaling, drinking water, being directed from pub to pub, while yelling ‘wooh’ and ‘yeah’. The pub returned to quiet Sunday afternoon peace very quickly, but I had to get the bus home to Davis. I finished off adding all the paint the next day. Another pub sketch checked off the list!

going back to cally

The Cally, London

This is Caledonian Road in north London, more commonly known as The Cally. It’s been called the Cally for ever, but they felt it necessary to write it in big bold letters on the railway bridge in case people forgot. The Cally is not the area of London where I am from (I grew up in Burnt Oak), but is very much my Dad’s manor. He grew up around here, living up the near the Nag’s Head in Holloway. When I was a kid my dad would occasionally drive me over here when he had to visit his mates or my uncles, who still live locally. I remember him driving his Citroen full speed around narrow streets, shouting the ‘occasional’ swear word, his tools rattling around the back of the car. I was always scared of this area to be honest, it seemed a lot more dangerous than my neighbourhood (and I’m from Burnt Oak!), so even as an adult I never came down the Cally, except passing through on the bus from Crouch End, where I lived before moving to California. My dad moved from here in the 70s, and I knew several other friends in Burnt Oak whose mums or dads had ’emigrated’ from Holloway. This is still a pretty rough area, despite the trend of Islington gentrification. A couple of months ago though I had to come here for a meeting with a publisher (news very soon!), and so I just had to sketch the place. Actually, I think this would be a very interesting place for a sketchcrawl.

HM Pentonville prison
This is HM Prison Pentonville, the ‘big house’ which casts an imposing presence over Caledonian Road. Pentonville was opened in 1842 and has had many famous residents, such as Éamon de Valera, Dr. Crippen, John Christie (and Timothy Evans who was wrongly hanged for Christie’s crimes), Oscar Wilde, and George Michael. I sketched it from a cafe across the road called, appropriately, the Breakout. Condemned inmates were executed here at Pentonville until 1961. Prisons are horrible places.
Blundell St, London

From the Jail house to the Free House…this is actually at the back of the Breakout Cafe, which looks like it was built in the space of a closed-down pub. This is part of the old pub signage around the corner from the Cally on Blundell Street. My dad actually went to school on this street, though the school is long gone. I wanted to colour this in, but left it as it is.

Queens Head pub, Kings Cross

Now this last one, my pedigree chum, is not on Caledonian Road or even anywhere near it but I’m including it anyway, because it was my last sketch of the day (and of my trip to London, unexpectedly). I got a bus  that went all the way down the Cally to King’s Cross, because I still had some of the afternoon left to kill (actually to sketch, just sketching, no killing goin’ ‘ere guv). I was going to meet my mate down in Farringdon for a beer before we were meeting another mate later for another beer. It was an ‘ot summer’s day in London. Rather than get the bus the whole way I stopped in King’s Cross, thinking, oh I’ll just draw St. Pancras, no biggie. Piece of piss. There was definitely a lot of that about. After ignoring a very drunk woman shouting “Oi! Chris Evans!” at me I picked a spot opposite the magnificent St. Pancras International Station and decided actually, no, this is too big and too complicated, and life is too short to stand around King’s Cross drawing the same window over and over again until your hand hurts. Sorry St. Pancras, some other time perhaps. I wandered in a vague southwards direction (the back streets of this part of town are a little uncharted to me), and sketched this pub, the Queen’s Head, on the way. As you can see, I miscalculated the length of the sign when writing the pub’s name in there and so the word ‘Head’ is squashed up, and this is something I pretty much never do. At the end of a trip full of complicated and pretty well-thought-out sketches, I took this as a sign to say, yeah let’s call it a day, and go and have a beer. Until next time, London, until next time!

wunders never cease

G St Wunderbar, DavisLast month I decided to get out one evening to downtown Davis and sketch. I haven’t sketched in the G St Wunderbar for a few years so I wanted to give it another go. It wasn’t very busy (because it was early), and I sipped a beer at the back of the bar and ran down the black Pitt pen I’d bought in Aix (I don’t use them very often, the nibs wear down too much after like one or two drawings), but I wanted to do some crosshatching, and play with sketchg street pubing light in dark interiors. I’d thought about sketching the room at the other side of the bar, full of pool tables, but there’s never a good vantage point for an urban bar sketcher, so I stuck to the main bar which had plenty of table space. “G St Wunderbar”… I first sketched this view when it was the plain old G St Pub. There it is on the right, a sketch from six years ago; I even sat in the same seat.

As I drew, it got later (funny how that happens) and more people started coming in. The music started getting louder and more dancier, and the people younger (funny how that happens), and so rather than stretch this to a panorama, I called it an evening and went home for a cup of tea. Another one for the ‘then-and-now’ section of the bar sketch series.

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