Here is Stanford’s, a fantastic shop on Long Acre, Covent Garden (London) that ha slong been one of my favourite shops in, frankly, the entire world. It is primarily a map and travel book shop, founded by Edward Stanford in 1853, moving to its present spot in 1901. I used to come here when I was in my teens and just look at maps, maps of anywhere and everywhere. I wanted to travel the world, and literally everywhere was exotic. I would look at street maps of nondescript German towns, maps of the Colombian highlands, plan routes across Siberia, imagine barren rocky island hopping in the north Atlantic. Once I bought a map of Sydney, Australia, to put on my bedroom door at home and I would just learn the names of all the suburbs. I’ve still never been. Well, I ended up living across the world, and my love of maps has not really dimmed, I still get a kick out of flicking through a road atlas. Yeah, Stanford’s was one of my favourite shops, and it’s still great now, so I had to sketch it. It was a nice bright London morning after Christmas, and once I was done I met up with my friend Simon and we popped to a little old pub around the corner, the Lamb and Flag. I didn’t do a particularly detailed sketch, just capturing an interesting doorway, but its a small place and there were lots of people in and out. And I sketched Simon too! It’s fun being back in London from time to time.
This is – or was – the Railway in Edgware, north London. For those of you unfamiliar with where Edgware is, look at the tube map, and look up at the top, it’s there at the end of the Northern Line. No, not that end, that’s High Barnet, the other end. There we are, just past Burnt Oak. I was born in Edgware Hospital (which is more Burnt Oak), and went to Edgware School, both my sisters have lived in Edgware at some point (one in an actual haunted flat), and it’s where we go when we go shopping in real shops, or at least used to. Edgware was that place which was a bit more upmarket than Burnt Oak, I always looked up to it. Again, that was the tube map, you had to look up to see it. I used to walk to school, down Deansbrook, through the alley into Fairfield, through the other back alley into Station Road, right next to this building here, the Railway. It looked like something from the Middle Ages (it was built in 1936 in neo-Tudor style, I was clearly a history idiot) (I wasn’t by the way, I was actually really good at history) (and I never ever thought this was medieval, and would have probably laughed at anyone who said it looked like it) (I wasn’t very good at history A-level though, it was all ‘the nazis’ and ‘the 1848 revolution’ and that sort of thing, I struggled with the reading, actually I know for a fact my Edgware School history teachers thought I was a ‘history idiot’ and they pointed it out) (in the end I got a Masters degree from King’s in Medieval English and you can’t do that if you’re a history idiot). So, this is a neo-Tudor building. “Neo-Tudor?” Sounds like a Stuart-era political thug. I read this description of this building somewhere but I think it’s more mock-Tudor. (History idiot) So…this is a Mock Tudor building, and was once a great pub called the Railway Tavern. No wait, it was the Railway Hotel, not the Railway Tavern (that was up Hale Lane I think? History idiot). Let’s start again.
The Railway Hotel was built in 1936 and is not, I repeat not a Listed Building. My source of this information comes from random local people telling me that back home, and they are never wrong about such things. The side part of it apparently is Listed, but the main part isn’t. I don’t know if it was ever an actual Hotel, and the Railway it refers to is really just the Tube line – back in the 30s Edgware was this glamourous place referred to as ‘Metro-land’, the new world opened up by the expansion of the London Underground. Big buildings such as this were built in the Mock-Tudor style in these burgeoning and now-connected suburbs almost as if to emphasize the ‘rural’ appeal of these now less than rural areas. Edgware itself goes back centuries (Middle Ages! Yes!) and is on the historic and vital Roman Road of Watling Street (actually called Edgware Road from here to central London; you’ve seen Edgware Road on the tube map, it is miles away). There are some genuinely historic buildings here, one around the corner being an old tavern that the famed highwayman Dick Turpin is rumoured to have stayed at. Right across the street from the Railway is St.Margaret’s Church, whose tower dates from the 15th century, with the building dating from the 18th century. And while it’s not particularly historic, George Michael’s dad used to own a restaurant a few doors down from here called Mr. Jack’s. The Railway Tavern may not be so old, but it is beloved locally. I remember the pub being a nice, warm place, friendlier than many other more raucous pubs nearby, with a lovely carvery restaurant upstairs. I remember going to that restaurant for my friend Terry’s 18th birthday, all those years ago. Some nice memories here.
I don’t remember when it actually closed. Was it before I left for America or after? I remember writing a blog post in 2006 on my first trip back from the States lamenting the passing of two of my favourite spots in Edgware, Music Stop the guitar shop and Loppylugs the record shop. I was sad that Edgware was changing so much, and it struck a chord, because somehow people from all over the world – well, from Edgware but living all over the world – were commenting with their memories of Edgware, of the school, of the old cinema and the record shops, that general old nostalgia thing we all do when we get online. You’ve seen it, the old nostalgia thing, you know what I’m talking about, “Like if you had one of these space hoppers”, “retweet if you remember what a flake in an ice cream is”, “share if you remember Daz Ultra” that sort of thing. The Railway must have been still open, or I would have mentioned that as well. It has been closed for some time now, with no chance of reopening. These days pubs close, and that is that. So many old pubs are falling by the wayside, not profitable in these modern times, once great centres of community (ah remember that, it was great when everyone was drunk, Retweet if you Like). Remember the Pub, the old Rub-a-Dub-Dub? All gawn now mate, all gawn and never comin’ back.
Who knows what will happen to the Railway. I’m sure someone does; I was old it would be knocked down to make way for a big block of flats. These statements are usually correct, but I’ve learned to proceed carefully (as they are often book-ended with statements like “too expensive for the locals, they’re going to give them free to all the asylum seekers,” a phrase I have actually heard said). The truth is that land is owned by someone, usually someone less concerned with building communities and more concerned with building profits. There was last year a pub in Kilburn, the Carlton Tavern, that was illegally demolished a week before it was due to be a listed building (knocked down with all the tenants’ possessions inside and against the orders of the council), because the landowners CLTX, a company based in Tel Aviv, wanted it out of the way. Well, didn’t Westminster Council only go and order CLTX to rebuild the Carlton Tavern brick by brick within the next 18 months! A victory for the old pubs, perhaps, but we’ll see if it happens. I intend to sketch the site some day, maybe on the next trip. I wonder if a hundred years ago the Edgware locals will probably have lamented the loss of all their lovely green space, demolished so that houses can be built, along with these ugly mock-Tudor pub buildings (“Mock-Tudor?” they would say, “Medieval more like!”). The world keeps on turning…
This is the Blue Posts pub in Soho. No, not that one, that’s on Berwick Street. No, not that other one, that’s down on Rupert Street. This is the one near Carnaby Street, on the corner of Kingly Street and Ganton Street. I sketched it a couple of days before Christmas, as the sky got dark early, and people rushed around getting last-minute Christmas presents. “Where is Hamleys?” they would ask me. I would tell them, and they would just run in the opposite direction without looking back. Here’s a pro tip – don’t go to Hamleys on a Saturday afternoon before Christmas and be on the top floor when all the escalators break down. Yes, we did that. Well on this particular Wednesday I had an afternoon to spend sketching (and shopping), so I came up to the craziness of the Regents Street end of Soho and found the Blue Posts pub. This particualr Blue Posts pub anyway. I’ve sketched the one on Berwick Street, and the one on Rupert Street is on my must-sketch list, but this is a nice pub, and I’d had the pleasure of coming in here the Saturday evening prior. That night I had been out with a few friends at a pub on Beak Street called the Old Coffee House, which I did not sketch. Two of them had not yet seen The Force Awakens, while me and my other friend Roshan had been to see it the day before. When you see The Force Awakens, you want to talk about it, but we couldn’t, for the whole evening. Oh we had a great time talking about comics, but the Star-Wars-talk was just busting to come out. So when the other two had left, Roshan and I went to the Blue Posts, as it was open later, to finally talk theories and spoilers. It was packed, so we stood by the bar, where we met a man who was in a similar predicament. However he had promised to keep his mouth zipped, because unfortunately the barman at the Blue Posts, a lovely chap, had not seen it, and any Force-based chat was again off-limits. Dammit! Respecting the fact that the universe was still inhabited by people who did not know that [SPOILERS EDITED OUT!] and that [SPOILERS!] is in fact [SPOILERS!] who [SPOILERS! SPOILERS! SPOILERS!], we kept quiet and talked comics (we had no problem spoiling those). So when I came back to sketch the pub a few days later, I popped in to see if the barman had seen Force Awakens yet, but alas I couldn’t find him. Now it is January, there really is no excuse, so next time I go back it will be in the full Kylo Ren costume, exclaiming loudly that [SPOIIIILLLLLERRRRSSSSSS-LALALA-NOTLISTENINGGGGG]. I won’t discuss the film here, not right now anyway, except to say that it was awesome, amazing, beautiful, and that I am totally on Team Rey, but that I do miss George Lucas’s storytelling. Anyway, the Blue Posts. I think I have mentioned before the fact that in centuries past Soho was a hunting ground? Well, it was, before all the buildings, before all the clubs and bars and strip joins and hang on they are hunting grounds too, of a sort. Well, those royal hunting grounds were bordered with blue posts, which is (we think) why several pubs take their names from them. There is another Blue Posts pub in Mayfair, not too far from here. You can make out the bright pink lights strung above Ganton Street on the right, as well as the large metal banner marking the entrance to the Carnaby Street shopping zone, which I photographed below I would love to sketch a panorama of Carnaby Street some day, but only if that day is actually about twenty or thirty years ago, when it was still interesting. It doesn’t even have Soccerscene any more, the once great football shirt shop that I spent too many hours in in my youth, where I fell in love with the Sampdoria shirt, the Fluminense shirt, the 1991 CIS shirt (the red one with the little squares and lines on it), and all the metal badges. Back then the shops were all punk t-shirts and Bowie and leather and loud music. These days it’s all Muji and Puma and mobile phone shops. But it does have beautiful Christmas lights.
Well, it’s now 2016, January 10th, and I’m writing an hour or so since I learned that David Bowie, that cosmic super-being, has died aged 69. I’m stunned. He was a hero of mine since I was a kid, there’s never been a part of my life when I didn’t hear his music, and now he’s gone. I just want to say rest in peace, Mr. Bowie. Give our regards to the cosmos.
Last year at around this time I Amtrakked it down to San Francisco to sketch North Beach, and as I mentioned in my last post that’s what I did again a couple of weeks ago. Now last year I spent some time sketching the bars and cafes of the area, so that’s exactly what I did again this time. Above is Mr. Bing’s, a little cocktail dive that I’ve always wanted to go and have a drink in but have never plucked up the courage. Well, I’m not here very often. I have always wanted to sketch it though, so it was the first thing I sketched that day, while eating an early-lunch panini at the cafe across the street. North Beach has those little green white and red bands on the lamp-posts to signify that this is the Italian neighbourhood, but just on that corner there you can catch a glimpse of a Chinese-themed lamp-post, as that is the border with Chinatown.
This is Caffe Trieste, a little further uphill and around the corner from here. Caffe Trieste is an old San Francisco favourite, in business since the 1950s and popular with the artists, musicians and poets of the area. As a passing Big-Bus tour-guide (not on the bus with walking with a group) mentioned, this was a regular haunt for the famous Beat poets, such as Kerouac, Ginsberg, all the Beat poets. The tour guide (who I sketchd quickly, right) felt obliged to read some Beat poetry outside, I couldn’t understand what it was about though. It’s not just the Beat poets who sipped espresso here, apparently Francis Ford Coppola wrote much of the screenplay of The Godfather here. I never went into the Caffe (I don’t drink coffee, nor write poetry) but I would love to sketch the interior some day, soak in the beat-lit atmos. Did you know, Caffe Trieste was probably the first Espresso house on the West Coast? Its founder, Giovanni Giotta (Papa Gianni) came from Istria (near the city of Trieste; I’ve been there, nice place) in the 50s bringing a little piece of home with him.
I was feeling pretty Beat myself after all this sketching (do you see what I did there? Did you see that? Read it again) so as the Sun was quickly dashing westwards I chose to do my next sketch from the comfort of a pub table. One of my favourite haunts in the City is just around the corner from here, Specs, an interesting North Beach bar with walls and ceilings full of memorabilia and stuff to look at. I do love this place. Last time I was here I sketched a panorama of the busy bar area and was one of several artists dotted around the pub, unconnected but just doing what we do. I sketched over a couple of pints, listening to conversation, people watching, dreaming of anything. That might have been a Beat poet in front of me, perhaps a young Beat poet, I wasn’t sure. A young lady shared a laugh with a silver-haired man at the bar (I sketched them too, below), while a group of British fellows unseen to the left enjoyed a weekend pint while reminiscing about San Francisco in decades gone by. Or they might have been talking about something else, rugby or something, but I hear what my ears choose to hear. I like Specs. Years ago I came here with my friend from England and played chess and got drunk and laughed and did impressions of Brick Top. I like Specs.
I have another post of sketches from that day – stay tuned. So, do you remember when I posted my North Beach sketches last year, over two posts? One of the posts (“Leave the Pen, Take the Cannoli“) got a ridiculous number of comments, 223, possibly my record. The second post (“A Bright Centre to the Universe“) got a very respectable 11 comments, which is pretty good, but clearly not quite as good as the first. I actually prefer the drawings in the second, but according to everyone else the first post is more than 20 times better, but that’s fine. Anyway on that note I will leave you with the chronologically-out-of-place first sketch of the day, which I did on the Amtrak at around 9 in the morning. The train from Davis was crossing the Delta, with the golden brown landscape dashing by in the chilly morning sunlight. It was even colder when I got back to Davis, cycling my bike home in the near-freezing dark. It’s a long day out, sketching in the City.
In our first evening in Portland, we went to a couple of different brew-pubs, the first being Burnside Brewing, where we met with a couple of old friends we haven’t seen in years, Robin and Chris. I didn’t sketch there, but I did have a nice red ale called “Too Sticky To Roll”. After leaving them, we across the river to the Deschutes Brewery, as I really like their beers. I had been there once for a pint in 2010, and while it can be busy it’s a nice place. I got an Octoberfest beer (I can’t remember the actual name), and sketched the above scene with the barrels and the giant bottle opener. I added the wash later. At Deschutes we met with Rita Sabler, fellow urban sketcher and one of the most prominent contributors to the Creative Sketching Workshop book (her drawing and storytelling style is awesome), who I first met at the Portland Symposium in 2010, and again in Barcelona in 2013. We were joined by her partner Jim, and we had a nice dinner, sketching and talking. I had the Black Butte Porter Mac and Cheese with Chicken, it was delicious. Afterwards, my wife and I spent a bit of time mooching around Powells before heading back to the hotel (waiting a long old time for the MAX as well).
It was time for another bar sketch. After a Saturday of AYSO soccer, pirates versus knights battles, Disney Infinity super-hero smash-downs and the occasional lightsabre duel, I headed out in the evening to do some drawing, read some comics and have a few beers. I love being a grown-up. Since I have a new book out (available right now!) in which I talk extensively about drawing bars in low light, I felt I should add to the sketchbook a little more, so I popped into the City Hall Tavern, which I last sketched two years ago, to again attempt their bar area with the bicycle wheels on the ceiling. Ice Hockey was on the TV (they just call it ‘Hockey’ here; similarly they say ‘cubes’ instead of ‘ice cubes’, ‘cream’ instead of ‘ice cream’, and ‘stares’ instead of ‘icy stares’ whenever I make this joke). They get so aggressive and fighty in Ice Hockey. For a game in which you are essentially just skating around trying to hit a small disc that won’t stop moving, players seem to get unusually angry, angrier than in most sports. Perhaps it’s because they dress head to toe in armour and carry huge sticks, it brings out the medieval warrior in people. Maybe the sport needs to change its image a little, and rename itself ‘Nice Hockey’. Ok, from now on I am calling it ‘Nice Hockey’ in the hope that it catches on. And those stares I get when I do will be called ‘Nice Stares’. So, back to the sketch. I sat on the opposite side of the bar to when I last sketched this bar, for a slightly different angle. I follow City Hall Tavern on Twitter, and I notice that they are using one of my sketches of their bar as their header image (I think I said ok to that), but they have removed whatever was on the screen and replaced it with an actual shot from a real basketball game. Hmm, no, not really a fan of that. Replace it with a shot of Harry Kane scoring for Tottenham, maybe, or of Jose Mourinho huffing as Chelsea lose again, perhaps. Anyway, I tried a couple of different beers, one was a Gose Wheat beer (tasted like Strongbow), the other was a Sudwerk Aggie Cruiser, which was nice too. Lots of people were coming in drinking cocktails as part of some local bar crawl event that was happening. By the time I was done with my sketch, all the City Hall bar patrons were standing and chatting and dancing, and so I popped down to De Vere’s for a comfy seat and one more wheat beer to read a couple of comics (“the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl” if you’re interested, and it’s great) before walking home.
Here are my previous City Hall Tavern sketches (inside only; I’ve sketched the outside building since way before it was a bar):
Saturday afternoon meant sketching. I spent the morning coaching my son’s soccer team (did I mention I am coaching my son’s soccer team? We are called the Blue Torpedoes this Fall, and AYSO is a lot of fun) (I designed the badge again) (by the way when I say ‘soccer’ you know I really mean ‘football’ right, I’m only saying that because that’s what they say) (ten years in America won’t break me) (although I did in my weekly handout point out to the team that ‘soccer’ is in fact an English term derived from ‘Association Football’, it’s also a sport from England so you know, listen up, I know what I’m talking about), and then in the afternoon I opted against going to the UC Davis ‘Brewfest’ because ‘tired’ and ‘expensive’. The Aggie’s homecoming football game was on Saturday (obviously you know when I say ‘football’ I mean ‘American football’) (actually so people understand me, over here I always call it ‘American football’, or ‘gridiron’, or ‘helmet-ball’ or ‘space-rugby’), anyway my family all went to see it but I opted out because ‘sketching’. It was lovely weather. I cycled downtown with the intent of drawing something beautiful. I have a book out you know, so I’d better get sketching. I didn’t sketch enough in September (because ‘busy’ and ‘lazy’), and I didn’t want anyone buying the book and then looking up my site and it all being Lego that I drew two months ago. So I have been busy sketching the past week or so, and will be posting those soon. Well, I couldn’t decide upon ‘beautiful’ but this corner downtown of 3rd and F Streets had the sunlight hitting it in just the right way, with those two trees looking a lot barer and autumnal than other ones. Leaves were tumbling gently; fall is in the air (you know when I say ‘fall’ I mean ‘autumn’). This is the University of Beer, which I have sketched before on the inside a few times, and it was busy on a Saturday afternoon. I even saw someone wearing a USA 94 football shirt (alright, soccer jersey), the one with the wavy red stripes (think “Alexei Lalas’s beard”), which made my football-shirt-geek self jump up and down with excitement. Though I do have the USA 94 Ireland shirt (the one Ray Houghton wore when he scored the winner against Italy), I was actually wearing the 1995 Ireland Umbro shirt (the one Father Dougal used to wear to bed on ‘Father Ted’). The mid-90s, ladies and gentlemen, a high point for me. I should have sketched him, or rather his shirt. I did pop in for a pint post-sketch though, and decided to give my pencil a quick run-out with a five minute sketch of the afternoon drinkers cooling off from the heat. Yes, Autumn is coming, but it’s still in the 90s.