Let’s go out-out (while we still can)

For the joy of a good pub crawl


Why do we drink? Yes, I know there are lots of reasons, but if you had to pick just one what would it be? I’m betting most of you would say it’s to have fun with friends, and you’d be right. With the world as it is, we could all do with some fun. So the next question then is what kind of drinking is the most fun? Let me tell you: it’s pub crawls. Knock that drink back and I’ll tell you why as we walk to the next bar.

A pub crawl turns any evening out into an occasion. There’s an idea in films and books called the MacGuffin. Put simply, it’s an excuse that allows the rest of the story to unfold around it, like Marcellus Wallace’s briefcase in Pulp Fiction. Pub crawls have been used as MacGuffins by film makers (Edgar Wright, The World’s End) and authors (Muriel Spark, The Ballad of Peckham Rye), but they also fulfill this role fiendishly well in real life. There’s no real reason to traipse from one pub to another except that doing so elevates your night out into a story. Suddenly you’ve gone from sitting around a table talking shit with your mates to embarking upon a noble quest. There’s suspense and mystery along the way as you ask yourself what the next pub holds, and whether you’ll make it all the way to the end. That sort of narrative drive is the stuff dreams are made of.

A pub crawl also makes your evening more memorable. (Assuming you don’t drink so much you blot it all out.) The narrative aspect helps here, but there’s also the fact that you’re doing more, so there’s more to remember. More places and more faces make more memories. Good times like these don’t end until at least sundown on the evening after. Any great night out is at least fifty percent remembering and retelling it after the fact. The more you have to tell the poor sod who wasn’t there, the more you get to enjoy it all over again.

Imagine a pub that could do it all. It would be great at cask, have excellent craft beers on tap, and keep a well-stocked fridge of Belgian big-hitters. Maybe you live near a magical pub that can cover all these bases, in which case hats off to them and you should count yourself lucky. More likely you don’t, but there are probably a few nearby that can do the job between them. The whole point of a pub crawl is to vary drinks, people and venues. In doing so you create a sort of pub-chimera, a conceptual Frankenpub made from stitching together the best bits of the different watering-holes along your crawl.

We all have a slightly different idea of what makes a good pub, our own Moon Under Water. (I allude to George Orwell here, not Tim Martin.) Some of us want music, others don’t. Some of us like bumping into people we know, others don’t. If you’re in a group and keeping to one pub, at least one of you is compromising for the sake of the others. If you hit a few places in the same night, there’s more chance you’ll all get to tick off whatever weird little boxes you hold close to your heart.

Pub crawls, like stories, are better with a unifying theme

Pub crawls also mean you can hedge your bets. Any pub can have a bad night if the beer’s not quite on form or the wrong crowd have come in. Maybe the atmosphere’s just a little off and no one knows why. Rather than suffer through it or go home, with a crawl you get to move on after just one drink.

A word of caution though — deciding to go on a crawl is not a magic Konami code for a top night out. There are still a few things you have to get right first, not least the basics of making sure every venue you want to get to will actually be open, and that you actually know where they are. (Getting lost while a thirst comes over you is no fun.)

It’s also important to put some thought into who you’re crawling with. The size of your group matters. Too big and getting the drinks in becomes a tedious chore that only gets worse with each repetition. Too small and the whole thing can get a bit pressurised, especially if one of you starts to flag before the others. If you ask me, the ideal number lies somewhere between four and six people. You can still all sit around one table but you’re not stuck talking to just one person all night.

So where to go? All good stories rely on unity to achieve a satisfying structure. They need a theme that ties what would otherwise be a ragbag of disparate events together into a coherent whole. Pub crawls, like stories, are better with a unifying theme. If you’re outside the big cities, this might be as simple as getting around all the pubs in a given area. If you live somewhere larger, you’re going to have to start making choices. This is why, in London for example, you’ll see crawls based on the Monopoly board or the tube map (the Circle Line being the classic option).

There are plenty of well-known crawls. Cambridge has its King Street Run, Swansea its Mumbles Mile, Leeds its Otley Run, Nottingham its Seven-legged Crawl. It’s even possible to attempt these now as part of an organised group led by a tour guide. To my mind, though, pub crawls are best enjoyed as a roll-your-own adventure. That way you get to choose the timing, venues, duration, and company that suits you best. Yes, the burden of organising it all falls on your shoulders, but so too does the glory of pulling it all off successfully. The only thing better is pulling off a golden, spur-of-the-moment pub crawl, the sort that arises out of nowhere and takes you to bars you won’t find again once you’re sober. Nights like these brim with open doors through which adventure can be found. Let’s go into one now. Your round this time.

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