I Went on a Commuter Town Pub Crawl to See Where Priced-Out Londoners Should Move to
Billericay, St. Albans, Sevenoaks, Slough - which is the best for the capital's movers and shakers to get to and from?
As I'm sure you're all aware – willingly or not – London is a very expensive place to live right now, and unless you have a lucrative Chinese pharmaceutical company among your roster of incomes then you probably can't afford to live there. And so the exodus from the capital begins.
But where is the best option for the capital's creative young people? Where can thousands of artistic future ad men and vacuous PRs allow their inner Pollock or Warhol to thrive before becoming addicted to the great pound note? And where can you just get fucking pissed as a fart? I went on a long as fuck road trip to M25 commuter towns to find out, and had a pint and a jäger bomb in each one.
The jewel in Essex's commuter crown, the town of Billericay is quiet and leafy, apart from the Wetherspoons that resembles a place deemed too depressing to film a torture scene in a gritty UK gangster movie. But I wasn't on some weird bleak tourism vibe, I wanted to have fun. I wandered into The Chequers pub, which boldly claimed to be the best pub in Billericay, to see what was what.
On entry, all locals and regulars were tightly fit around one side of the bar, even though there was a whole other section round the corner. The bar was replete with snacks and dips, and the beer was cool and fizzy and didn't taste like the pipes had Zyklon B in them for once. It even had one of those old school golf games with the big white plastic ball that you spin to do a sweet drive with, which I haven't seen since I was about seven, so that was a nice whack of nostalgia. The handsome barkeep routinely offered me snacks, almost as if I were in a friendly American approximation of an Essex pub as opposed to an actual Essex pub – but this is no insult. It was a warm and cheerful environment. I asked the barman about the amount of commuters he gets in the pub, and he said that usually they just go home, apart from on Thursdays. On Thursdays they "fucking love" coming in the boozer.
It was time for my first jäger bomb, so I popped along to Bar Zero, a fuchsia-themed club sort of place that had a worryingly large menu. I had to wait about 10 minutes to order my bomb as three women had three different very ornate complicated cocktails prepared for them, and then an extra one because there was a two-for-one deal on. I necked it quickly, but the glass was too small so most of it went down my top.
If set upon by graphic designers and vegan tattooists Billericay would be more than welcoming. It's full of lovely lads serving lovely pints, and is not to be scoffed at as a commuter hub for the discerning London millennial.
COOL FACTOR: 7/10
Sevenoaks appears to the Gavroche of commuter towns. It is adorned head-to-toe in Bentley and Range Rover dealerships. There is a Bang and Olufson on the high street, long closed by the time I got there. No £600 dildo house phones for this pub crawler tonight, then. It simply wasn't meant to be.
I came across a pub called The Black Boy, which had a sign outside giving a very non-committal answer as to how it was named (something about a teacher, maybe, or a Vita Sackville-West character). I got a pint of Asahi. It was freezing cold, and having to neck it due to time constraints was a grossly unpleasant experience, the icy hops swilling around my gut. The only people in there were gaggles of women and men, all posh (or at least rich) separated by the room like they were at a school disco.
For my jäger bomb I hit up The Anchor, a bit more of a pubby-pub. There was a darts night in there, with "The Undertaker" just stepping off the oche to be replaced by "Gavlar". The barmaid had never poured a jäger bomb before so left the honour to me, which I did wrong. I was watched by a pub full of disgruntled-looking old blokes, so I thought it best leave as soon as it had passed my gullet.
Sevenoaks is kind of how I imagine the House of Commons bar to be: if you're not a regular you might as well be walking around proudly showing off a hammer-and-sickle tattoo on your arsehole. It will be very difficult to show these people your films from Camberwell Art School on your waterproof iPhone 7 here.
COOL FACTOR: 3/10
It would seem that having pints and jäger bombs and then getting straight into a car for an hour's drive is not good for the old bladder, and I almost passed out with piss-pain before a services miraculously appeared on the horizon. But Slough beckoned, the home of David Brent and not a lot else, and I had to get there in good enough time to neck more arctic lager and roided-up aniseed liquor.
Slough: if hell was a real place, no cartoonish fire and brimstone, no screeching demons with molten tridents, but a functioning place with the departed and damned living side by side trying to get along under Satan's oppressive gaze, Slough would be the model. I went past a pub called the Rising Sun, which looked like where all the ghosts of the very worst SS officers would be sent after death, and decided to go to the 'Spoons round the corner instead.
My San Miguel was, again, cold as the teat of a witch. My jäger bomb was... well, a jäger bomb (fucking horrible nonsense that no one should be drinking).
Slough is no place for the young creative millennial. It is too entrenched in its own foul malaise to foster any sort of creativity. Try and show off your menstrual art here and people would probably just try and eat it.
Speaking of eating, there is, inexplicably, a completely empty Pizza Express in all of these towns.
COOL FACTOR: 2/10
And here we are, the Last Chance Saloon. St. Albans marks the final stop on my intrepid commuter town journey, and the late-closing Cock pub is my poisoner's medicine cabinet of choice. I drank my final jäger and pint in this inoffensive half-homely half-late-night-fight venue to the laughter of the bar staff. Is it a place for young people? Is this the commuter town of the impoverished artistes of the maligned capital?
No, in short. It's too bougie, much like Sevenoaks. It is too safe, according to the barmen, and far too expensive. There's no edge, nowhere for the self obsessed man-or-womanchild to occupy and make their own. It was a fine place to end an evening, but it wasn't what I was looking for.
COOL FACTOR: 5/10
Unquestionably, the town of Billericay takes the crown for commuter town most up for shit-mouthed kids to infect like Zika virus and make their own hub. Its pubs are filled with friendly locals who encourage new blood, it has a kind of shabby chic that dickheads would fawn over in an attempt to appear 'real', and it's close enough to that old chestnut of the unbelievably trendy east London to be a viable option. Billericay – congratulations, you are sure to have an avalanche of wankers dressed in fusty Kappa tracksuits bought from Wavey Garms pop-up descending on you like impossibly woke locusts. I hope you enjoy it.
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