My first full-time permanent job was based in Covent Garden, in the heart of London. I was able to leave the office at lunchtime and walk around the square near the opera house, watching the street mimes and eating my sandwiches. I worked in advertising, and it was a small office. Advertising salesmen have a tendency to let their hair down at the end of the week, and if business went well a boozy pub lunch – on the boss – rounded off the week on Friday.
Sometimes business didn’t go so well, so colleagues might join each other for a quick drink after work to substitute for the missed pub lunch. One time, a colleague who knew the area really well (we’ll call him John) asked me if I was up for a bit of an adventure to an original bar. So there I was one Friday following him up towards Holborn tube. Round the back of the tube entrance was this seedy looking, dimly lit Polish Vodka bar. I’d never been in a vodka bar before, and I was transfixed.
Behind the bar, there were hundreds of bottles of vodka. Smirnoff, Dubrowka, the usual stuff. But also loads of brands I’d never heard of, or couldn’t read because the labels were in the Russian/Cyrillic alphabet. Lemongrass, coffee, raspberry, chocolate flavoured vodkas. Spicy, pepper, chilli vodkas. As for food, there was just polish sausages and salads based mainly around cabbage. The vodkas were, of course, all in fridges. Vodka doesn’t freeze until it gets well below zero, so it might be better to call those freezers. It was served very cold (as it should be).
Once we’d ordered our vodkas, they would all arrive on a tray in little shot glasses filled right to the brim. Given the fact that the liquid could be drunk in a single gulp, you soon need a refill. And another. With a different flavour each time. It’s a dangerous place.
We left after about an hour to get home – we rarely stayed out very long after work, just a quick drink. The vodka bar left us a little worse for wear than the regular pub of course. Because I was going into the west end afterwards, I was following John. He hated the tube, so we were going to catch the bus. He knew all the routes and you had to keep close to him, because the double decker buses at the time – the last one just recently retired – could be caught just by jumping on them. Even if they were moving at the time.
So there I was behind John, after a session in the vodka bar, when suddenly he runs and grabs the pole behind a bus and jumps on just as it begins to accelerate. I had to sprint to catch it, jumping and grabbing the pole and dragging myself up. Luckily, I both caught the pole perfectly and John was there to stabilise me. Even more lucky really was that the vodka hadn’t kicked in.
Goodbye London double decker buses with the platform and the pole to grab. Hearing the news recently made me wonder if that Polish vodka bar is still there behind Holborn tube.
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