One thing that I really do miss about being in the UK in the summer is the ability to sit having one-for-the-road in a riverside drinking establishment. Obviously this Brit Out Of Water is a complete tee-totaller (ahem), but the opportunity to drink a nice pint of, erm, ginger ale in a pub garden overlooking rowers and marine life as the sun gently sets is one that should never be turned down.
Britain’s river banks are littered with boozers, and the river has played a key part in my social upbringing as a result. My earliest days of boozing with The Beancounter et al saw us frequent places like The Boathouse in Chester, although we were admittedly in part attracted by their flexible approach to the legal requirement that you be 18 years old to get a drink. At university, lost afternoons might be spent at The Mill or The Anchor watching punts sail by as we collectively and conveniently overlooked the fact that we should probably be sat in the library. And then to London, where I never looked back after a first job that saw the nearest boozer located next to the water. Sadly it’s been demolished now. Rumours that its revenues never recovered after I moved on have yet to be confirmed.
I’ve already talked at length about the great difficulty in drinking outside in the US. But the fact is that it’s difficult getting a meal or a drink even in sight of the river(s) in New York. Sure, there is the occasional exception to prove the rule, but it’s almost as if the health and safety police have decided that anybody drinking (heavily or otherwise) near a river will automatically feel duty bound to leap into the water at the end of the evening. And just to make sure, New York has put some its major roadways next to the water, in the shape of the FDR Drive and the West Side Highway, making sure that anyone tempted to build a temple to hedonism anywhere near the Hudson or the East River is put off by the fumes and incessant car horns.
Desperate for some waterside relaxation this Friday, The Special One and I made our way down to South Street Seaport at the base of Manhattan, and one of the few areas of the city to combine the words ‘river’ and ‘food and drink’. I had images of the gentle breeze coming in off the water as we quaffed a deliciously dry Pouilly Fume and ate mountains of impossibly fresh seafood. I was, quite literally, in my element.
When we got there, it was like a cross between Covent Garden and Blackpool, with thousands of tourists combining with local office workers to create an atmosphere more redolent of an overcrowded amusement park than a peaceful riverside paradise. We walked straight past the chain restaurants, had a lukewarm glass of chardonnay in a plastic glass as we looked at the New York waterfalls, and quickly hightailed it out of there.
Next time I get the urge for waterside drinking, I’m buying a paddling pool and putting it in the back yard.