Nothing beats an evening down the pub… apart from an evening down the pub packed with fun and games. Andy Hill picks the best boozers in London for saloon sports and tabletop tomfoolery*.
Crack open a cold case
Forget Cluedo: there’s grislier fun at The Grove (39 Oldridge Road, SW12 8PN), which was the backdrop to a real-life unsolved killing back in 1876. Victorian high-society lawyer Charles Bravo (pictured) was poisoned nearby and the bobbies never nailed the culprit. You can pore over the clues in the pub’s library, enter your findings into the journal of evidence and perhaps finally bring the blighter to book. It’ll be like ‘CSI: Balham’!
Neck one, purl two
What could be more wholesome than sitting in a pub sipping pinot noir, transforming a ball of wool into a lumpy scarf? ‘Stitch ’n’ Bitch’ nights have become quite the thing recently, cheerfully reinforcing Les Dawson stereotypes of ladies clacking needles and spitting vileness about friends and neighbours. London’s best is at the Earl Ferrers (22 Ellora Road, SW16 6JF), on the second Tuesday of the month. Men are welcome, but only if they can stomach the language.
Catch the buzz
It’s a fact that no sound is funnier than that of the kazoo. And that includes your housemate having sex. The geniuses at the Old Queen’s Head (44 Essex Road, N1 8LN) have devised a round in their quiz night (first Tuesday of the month) based on the classic ‘Name That Tune’ format. But for kazoo. It’s every bit as puerile – and brilliant – as you’d imagine, and all the more mirthful for being in such stately mock-seventeenth-century surroundings.
Have a wail of a time
Karaoke has – thankfully – come on a bit from the days when office ‘legends’ would do ‘Born to Be Wild’ with their ties around their heads before the free bar had even run out. Friday I’m in Love at the Phoenix (37 Cavendish Square, W1G 0PP) is a stellar example of a next-generation singalong: participants enjoy the backing of a live band as they belt out hits from the likes of the Clash, Queen and Erasure. With their ties around their heads, if they really must.
Janet Street-Porter once described Scrabble as being more addictive than cocaine, champagne or group sex. We’d like to add that it’s also (respectively) cheaper, less pretentious and more hygienic. For a proper night on the tiles head to the Kings Head (33 Moscow Road, W2 4AH), where the peaceful ambience and thoughtfully selected guest ales provide the perfect setting for a sesquipedalian skirmish.
Originally conceived by Englishman David Gill in the 1930s, bar billiards is a way of bringing the refined art of the gentleman’s game into smaller spaces. The idea is to pot balls into various high-scoring pockets while avoiding knocking over the wooden mushrooms. As barely anyone plays it any more there’s a good chance that with a bit of practice you can be world champion by teatime. Try it at the sumptuously Victorian Royal Albert (460 New Cross Road SE14 6TJ) or the Pelton Arms (23-25 Pelton Road, SE10 9PQ) just down the road in Greenwich.
Eyes down, two fat ladies, legs 11 *wolf whistle*… Remember your nan taking you to bingo? Well it can be a lot more fun than that. Especially when you win. Chelsea’s Hollywood Arms (45 Hollywood Road, SW10 9HX) incorporates this timeless British staple into its regular Tuesday night quiz. Show that you mean business by investing in a proper ‘dobber’ and dob away like no one’s watching, in this beautifully done-out west London watering hole. House!
Game of throwings
Darts is one of the all-time classic pub pastimes, although who first decided that the hurling of needle-tipped metal missiles should be combined with heavy drinking is anyone’s guess. It’s banned in some countries, including Austria, so consider the ‘thwack’ of tungsten into cork as nothing less than the sweet sound of freedom. Aim for our double-top: the three rarely occupied boards at the Duke of Wellington (12 Toynbee Street, E1 7NE) or try the relaxed Angel (61-62 St Giles High Street, WC2H 8LH).
Always longed to be a DJ, but haven’t yet found the right edgy sunglasses for your face-shape? Well yearn no longer, as the Secret DJ app allows anyone to release their inner spinner, while remaining incognito, at around 250 participating venues across town via their smartphone. We recommend you pitch up with your imaginary flight case at the super-friendly Exmouth Arms (23 Exmouth Market, EC1R 4QL) or the People’s Park Tavern (360 Victoria Park Road, E9 7BT). Check it!
Make mine a double
Don’t be fooled by the superficially humdrum vibe of this tabletop trial of wit and cunning. Dominoes is said to have reached Europe via Italian missionaries returning from China in the eighteenth century. Seasoned veterans of the game employ an arsenal of sledging techniques to intimidate opponents. For a chilled-out introduction to the noble art of ‘bones’, the Baring (55 Baring Street, N1 3DS) offers a complete set in a downright amazing venue, with lush grub and tasty guest ales.
*As it’s Boxing Day, call before to check they’re open!