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Friday, 31 May 2013

Cryptic Covent Caper - Vestal Voyages - Simmons Bar

Saturday 25th May - Two months on from my epic weekend trip to visit Tim "French-shaw" Henshaw in Paris, Timotei came back to London with List legend Shannon and List debutante Miranda for another weekend of adventures.  I will split them in to separate posts this time since various people were involved and I wasn't with them for the whole Bank Holiday weekend.  Tim and I had discussions for a few weeks to come up with some ideas but a solid plan only really materialised a couple of days before.  We decided to start by recycling a couple of old favourites - Skyroom and In The Hidden City.


We all met at 11 (with extra Londoners Will, Tom and Cath) for an early morning brunch with The Good Egg at The Hangover Club in Skyroom.  They had all been out until 4am at O'Neils so they did very well to make it that early, and Bloody Marys and Egg Burritos (plus alka seltzers on every table!) were just what everyone needed.  Steak and Eggs has been added to the menu, though I couldn't resist going for the tasty Shakshuka again.  It is open tomorrow from 10-4 - don't miss out! Read more about The Good Egg at Skyroom here.


Next we did a cryptic clue hunt with In the Hidden City (same company as the Easter hunt that I did - read more here) around Southbank and Covent Garden.  This was perfect for tourists (though hard without Londoners or rather Tom, who basically solved it all himself) as it took us to Somerset House, National Portrait Gallery, St.Martin-in-the-Fields Crypt etc.  A new discovery for me was the excellent Stanford Cartographers shop with a giant map of London covering the whole of one floor.  We also spent about 15 minutes trying to count the number of dials at Seven Dials (it's tricky walking round in a circle looking up at the sun with a hangover), eventually solving it by placing someone underneath each dial.  It turns out that there are only six as the pillar was commissioned at an early stage of planning when there were only going to be six roads coming out of the centre.  There are several other interesting trails on their website in different parts of London (and different cities!).  It's only £16 for a team, all run by text messages, and you can start whenever you are ready - highly recommended for some innocent (sober) fun!

"Be the map!"
Six Dials and the sun on a rare outing
Tim regretted being "too tired" to shuffle for Big 2 at the end of our hunt
After speeding through the hunt in record time (88th place is good right?) we hopped on a tube up to King's Cross and made our way to the canal to go on a Vestal Voyage.  I read a couple of weeks ago about this floating pop-up bar from the team behind Vestal Vodka on Twitter and Barchick and instantly started courting Captain James with a flurry of emails so that our group could make it on to his barge, Disco Volante.  They need between 8 and 12 people to make their trips viable - they set sail up to five times on weekends, and twice in the evening on weekdays.  We only had 7 people - so close!  Just after the Captain offered me an incredible open-bar based deal if we paid a bit more, two more people signed up for trip.  We forgave latecomers Louise and Sam though and in retrospect, an open-bar might have been a tad unnecessary.  For £25 each you get two cocktails from your personal barman and a whole barge to yourself (although we did have two of the Captain's friends aboard, who stayed out of our way and bizarrely weren't interested in the drinks!).  If you don't  have enough people for a trip, there is a Doodle Poll buddying up system for small groups - email the Captain for more info.



When we reached the canal, there was no sign of Captain James and his crew.  I gave him a quick call and discovered that they were stuck behind a barge full of drunk girls who were holding up everyone at the lock round the corner.  Thankfully they managed to get past them and were only 10 minutes late.  We were welcomed aboard, given our two drinks token bottles and shown round our barge by Tom the barman as the Captain set sail.  Music was left in our hands (via Bluetooth) which led to a mix of songs about boats (obviously including this) alongside the finer works of Shaggy.  Even without the drinks, it would have been an interesting trip, particularly with the eerie section spent in the 960-yard long Islington Tunnel.



However, what made the trip was our talented barman, Tom (BYOB take note).  Louise (drunk with barge power - later with drink power) instantly put the Captain hat on and rang a bell she found in the corner of the barge to which Tom replied "that must be last orders then".  He started us off with a round of refreshing citrus based vodka cocktails (using Vestal Vodka) before allowing us to come up and ask for anything for our second free drink (all cocktails £5 after or £3 Asahi beers but you'd be a fool to take that option).  Once Tim and I went up for our second drink we didn't see the outside world again as we just got stuck at the bar chatting away, drinking "promotional" free shots (tasty Vestal Amber elderberry flower liqueur, fantastic creamy Podlasie Vodka and direct to mouth Vestal Vodka - all great) and requesting weird drinks.

What could that marmite be for?
He was very competent at making high quality stuff up on the spot including Tim's request for a drink with Port, Tequila and Tabasco in.  He also let us in on a Tabasco secret - on the bottom of the bottle is a number which represents the strength, with 1 being the strongest, although the Tabasco website says the number is in fact connected to the glass mould type.  Anyone know the answer to that one?  There was an interesting concoction with a marmite rim which Sam found to be a bit too sticky.  When Will asked for some kind of Long Island Iced Tea, he poured lots of spirits in with some ginger beer and said "That won't taste anything like a Long Island Iced Tea", clearly understanding that Will was just after as much alcohol as possible - it was named the Long Tunnel Iced Tea instead.  In between drinks, there was plenty of entertaining barman flair with straw catching, ice cube littering out the window and throwing cups into bins (better than it sounds) with Tom clearly enjoying his time in his tiny bar (compete with temporary, fairly unstable crates stuck to the walls holding up his spirits). The time flew by and we were sad to leave him behind as £5 was a bargain for anything he created.  Hats were given back, The Lion King soundtrack was turned off and we stepped back on to dry land and said goodbye to the crew who were about to do it all over again.

I'M ON A BOAT
Tiny beer or giant man?
Most of the group were heading off to a masked ball (snakes, nude waiters, giant jenga and waltzing anyone?) whilst I was going to Soho with Team List Leader Natalie (I'll save Soho times for the next post or else it'll be too long!), but some of us decided to squeeze in one more bar in King's Cross since we were in the neighbourhood.  Simmons Bar is a crazy little place that has a 5 hour happy hour (4-9), affordable sharing cocktails in teapots, a giant skull shaped disco-ball and a downstairs Sega Megadrive room! A SEGA MEGADRIVE ROOM. The decor is bonkers with tonnes of different lamps, a wall of beer cans, school desks and a fireplace adding to its charm.  




The Teapot cocktails (G&Tea, Mar-Tea-Ni etc) went down easily alongside some craft beers.  Obviously, the main attraction is the Megadrive which has all the classic games available to play - Road Rash, Street Fighter etc.  Tim and I got hooked playing Micro Machines on a suitably tiny screen in the odd downstairs disco/games room, making him later and later for his masked ball pre-drinks.  Eventually (after a crushing 10-2 victory for Emilio over Jethro), we made a move via the lovely Burrito Café that we discovered in our last King's Cross adventure (Burrito number 2 for some) and went our separate ways.  Simmons is a great find and somewhere I will definitely be revisiting in the future, especially with Drink, Shop & Do and VOC opposite.



So ends part one of Tim, Shannon and Miranda's weekend trip to London.  Points for new places so far - 2.  We agreed to meet at 14.00 the next day giving us time to recover from our respective nights out.  Stay tuned for the next instalment, plus a separate post on the rest of my evening out in Soho with Natalie.  For more instantaneous/annoying List-themed entertainment, follow me on Twitter:



Coming up this weekend:

Toast festival in Shoreditch - food, drinks, workshops, talks and more on Saturday and Sunday.

Craft Beer Battle in Haggerston on Saturday - £10 ticket gets you 8 beers to taste and vote on - many more beers also available to drink and the wonderful Gin Store bar open upstairs.


Square Meal

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