I'm Nicky Roden, a second year currently studying abroad at London Business School. I'm excited to share my experiences with you this quarter. I'll keep these posts fairly light - but for anyone still considering studying abroad with questions like "is it worth the money?," "will I have FOMO?" or "what if I'm still recruiting next winter?," feel free to email me, and I can try to provide some useful perspective (beyond "yes!," "yes!" and "you'll be FINE! ...I hope...").
To kick it off this week, I'd like to share one of my favoUrite stories from London so far. As I mentioned in my intro, one of my goals for my time here is to work my way through the numerous charming, quirky and classic pubs that London has to offer. Thanks to the book of 161 "usual and unusual" London pubs that my sister got me for Christmas (which comes complete with a map!), I'm making great progress on this goal. And, I've only been teased a few times for busting it out of my purse like it's the Bible while everyone else is on phones cruising yelp.
During one of my first weeks in London, I was out shopping in Knightsbridge/Chelsea (the posh area around Harrods) on a Wednesday afternoon, when I decided I needed a break. It was 15:00, so I figured it was late enough to justify a pub. According to my handy book, I was near a place called "The Nag's Head," which was listed in the "You have to see it to believe it" category and described as "Gulliver's Travels-esque" because of its sunken bar and wonky decorations. Plus, it was supposedly "a great place to hide away with your shopping bags and enjoy a pint." Perfect! I navigated down a tiny alleyway (aka mew) to the address, took a quick photo and popped inside.
As I opened the door, the proverbial record stopped. Eight heads turned to face me - among them, the 70 year-old bartender, the village priest (who looked like a cartoon character with his round spectacles, perfect monk-like hairline and tiny Jack Russell Terrier), and a handful of mostly male regulars all at least 20 years my senior. They were seated around the low bar amidst loads of antiques and relics - so at least part of the bar description was right! With my shopping bags in hand, I paused in the doorway momentarily stunned. Then a patron left and the bartender, Kevin, motioned me to the open seat.
From there, the rest of the experience could only be described as a sitcom - it was "Cheers: England." To my left, I met the town postman. To my right, there were the other sharply dressed retiree regulars, who I soon found had gathered there to honor a friend who had passed. His picture had been lovingly hung behind the bar, on a wall apparently filled with pictures of other deceased patrons past, and the crew referenced it many times as they regaled me with tales of their friend.
I hadn't planned to stay for more than a drink, but I found myself being included in the group's subsequent rounds. I didn't have anywhere to be, so I let the quirky afternoon continue to unfold. At one point, my right hand neighbor (a 65 year old gentleman with the worst teeth I've ever seen) offered me a Café Nero's punch card so I could try a coffee there and compare it to Starbucks (my summer employer). One drink later, he admitted he got the punch card filled when he found a stamp lying around at the airport. Two drinks later, I was invited to come back for a special table at the monthly Sunday jazz performance, and countless other hilarious little moments transpired in between.
After a couple hours, it was time to meet a friend. I said my goodbyes, took one last look at the pub behind me as I left to confirm it was real, and hopped on the big red double decker bus towards home. I have visited many excellent English pubs since and have found them to be more welcoming, generally, than bars in the States. But the incomparable Nag's Head is truly the new bar (pun intended) when it comes to an authentic pub experience.