As many of you may already know, my star sign is Cancer and thus I exhibit such well-known Cancerian traits as infallibility, physical prowess and good looks. But of course it is one’s ruling planet that really defines a person, and mine is the Moon, goddess of the tides, the rivers and steady drizzle.
In practice this means that not only am I drawn to water but that I also get extremely thirsty. Given this irresistible inclination what could possibly be better than a waterside tipple? That’s easy, fool. Booze upon the water, that’s what.
On the Thames there is ample opportunity to seek refreshment afloat, offering you the chance to see the city from different angles and enjoy an otherwise elusive sense of space, slap bang in the middle of the capital of the world.
Sitting up on deck you can enjoy fresh mineral vapours in your nostrils, the wind in your hair and fag ash in your lap as unusual and soul-calming horizons present themselves for your inattention. Inside you’re cosseted from care in low-ceilinged snugs and lounges, alone perhaps and feeling like you’ve stumbled across the best thing in London, again.
And of course you can get muntered. There is no cask-conditioned ale, I grant you – all that delightful bobbing up and down would play havoc with the settling – but otherwise you get everything you would get from a landlubber pub, except slightly less change from a round.
So here is my pick of London’s floating boozers. I re-visited them all in a single afternoon and, since there is no time to lose, I recommend you do the same.
I started at the Tamesis Dock, a converted Dutch barge tied up [moored – Ed] at Vauxhall’s Albert Embankment, a short amble north from Vauxhall Bridge. At low tide it sits at a slight tilt on its timber support, which can be mildly alarming after a few, and then starts to float as the tide comes in.
It somehow manages to do a decent Guinness and even shows the football, but it’s up on deck where it gets special, with dreamy views of the water and across to the Palace of Westminster.
Next I crossed the river on the Hungerford footbridge and paid a visit to the Tattershall Castle on Victoria Embankment, which isn’t a castle at all, the idiots, but a retired paddle steamer that once ferried people across the Humber estuary.
In its time it has carried more than a million passengers, but today there was just one – me. Plus a friendly barman, thankfully. It offers several different bar areas and I looked in at one called The Cove which offers curtained privacy and where I fondly recall once walking in on a flame-haired member of staff fellating a young man dressed as a Smurf. I still see the occasion sometimes, in dreams.
Next door (or whatever it is) is the Hispaniola, which now styles itself, disappointingly, as a ‘restaurant ship’. But at lower deck level there is a nice little bar with timeless red velvet upholstery and a seating area that allows you to look out at the water and over to the London Eye.
For reasons lost in the smog of time, I usually drink red wine here and today was no different. Sitting gazing out absent-mindedly at the water it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that you are actually on a passage to somewhere and you find yourself patting your pocket to check your passport’s still there. The more so if you should also have taken a mind-altering substance just before boarding. I would imagine.
In the toilet [head – Ed] I discovered I was more inebriated than I thought and struggled to stand still long enough to aim into the urinal. Never trust a man who pisses on his own shoes, my father used to tell me, apropos something or other. Then I realised the reason I was so unsteady wasn’t wholly down to boozes, it was the rocking of the boat. Relieved (doubly so), I ordered another Cabernet Sauvignon to celebrate.
Further along the north side of the river, towards Blackfriars Bridge, lies HMS President, an anti-submarine boat [ship – Ed] built during the First World War.
For a while Deserter chums, Dirty South, Spider, Ivan Osman and I belonged to a club that was located on board and due to being on first name terms with the doorman we were on occasion able to persuade hot, gullible girls that in fact we owned the thing. If you’ve never convinced girls that you own a fucking great ship in the middle of London, then you’ve still some living to do.
More recently, according to another friend (yes, that one), the President has hosted swingers’ parties at which full-on orgies take place not just in, but on, the very bar at which I was leaning.
Feeling filthy, I decided to take a cleansing ride on a Thames Clipper to Greenland Pier, Surrey Quays from nearby Blackfriars Pier. Do not think of this section of the jaunt as dry, though. Would I do that to you? No, the Clipper is, brilliantly, a licensed vehicle. Used primarily by commuters, this makes it akin to being able to buy booze on the Tube, except much, much more dangerous.
Licensed commuting is a tremendously civilized idea and hats off to the old soak who came up with it. Osman used to commute daily by Clipper and liked nothing more than kicking back on board with the crossword and a glass of red. Sometimes he’d do it on the way home, too.
I like to sit out back, beer in hand, and enjoy the thrills of the ride, especially once past Tower Bridge, where the drivers [captains – Ed] are allowed to really put their foot down [I give up – Ed]. Sure, you may still be overtaken by the ‘Rib Experience’ guys all whooping and hollering in their motorised dinghy, but just wave your beer at them. They’ll know who’s winning.
The last stop is also the best. Until now the places we’ve dropped into have all been boats with bars added. The Wibbley Wobbley, moored in Greenland Dock, Surrey Quays, feels like it is a pub that someone has somehow magicked into a boat. It’s all wood panels and banquettes and if it wasn’t for that perpetual fucking bobbing you could fool yourself that you’re in an old school back-street boozer. It certainly adds a bit of colour to an otherwise determinedly residential area.
But the Wibbley Wobbley is tinged with sadness, too. It was once owned by maverick comedian, Malcolm Hardee, who also ran comedy clubs in South East London and gifted the nation the naked balloon dance (see below).
He lived on a houseboat just a few metres away and on the last night of January, 2005, he got blootered in the Wibbley Wobbley and didn’t quite make it home. He was discovered the next day in Greenland Dock, drowned. Police reports stated that when he was found he was still clutching a bottle of beer – truly an inspiration to us all.
Knowing Malcolm, he probably had his knob out as well.
UPDATE, October 2015
We are sorry to report that at the time of writing it would appear that the Wibbley Wobbley is closed. Despite repeated phone calls and visits we have not been able to ascertain the reason for this other than a rumoured (and unlikely) ‘summer refurbishment’. In the bar, the fridge lights are on but the bottles sit undisturbed on the racks and the doors are padlocked.
If anyone reading has further information on the future of this fine floating establishment, please let us know.