Embracing your inner 1980s American stoner isn’t as easy as once it was, with air hockey tables falling out of favour despite being awesome. They’re not entirely limited to terrible out-of-town entertainment complexes, though. Rowans in Finsbury Park, the world’s premier bowling alley slash boozer slash arcade slash club slash best place ever has a table, as does the Four Thieves in Battersea (which also has an escape room, RC racetrack and loads of arcade games).
For those unfamiliar with petanque, it’s essentially lawn bowls played on sand with metal balls, and is named after a sound effect. It’s great fun, requires minimal physical exertion and sets you up for retirement – you’ll be the toast of the old folks’ home! Both Hay’s Galleria and Baranis are posh-ish City wine bars with the requisite sandpits, or you can play for free in Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens (but first, hit the Black Dog around the corner for a loosener and a Scotch egg).
Old-School Pub Games
Lots of genuinely fun pub games are tragically on the verge of extinction, usually for arbitrary reasons like “they take up too much space” or “nobody understands them”. Just like old people! The Railway Tavern in Crouch End has a great set of bar skittles, while Hackney institution the Pembury Tavernsports a too-rarely-seen bar billiards table. If you want to go truly old school, Burdock (near Moorgate) offers shuffleboard, a game so old that if you try to Instagram it, you create a rift in the space-time continuum.
You can’t beat a bit of bully, but you can certainly enhance it with, uh, drink and stuff. Flight Club has reinvented darts beautifully, with party-friendly oches, cocktails and a casual, beginner-friendly environment nobody minds being a bit rubbish in. If you thrive on pressure, the Prince William Henry in Southwark takes its arrows deadly seriously, so expect a few dirty looks if you miss the board entirely. If, on the other hand, you want somewhere low-key to perfect your skills, Williams Ale & Cider House in Liverpool Street has a quiet back room with a board.
Ah, pinball. A battle of reflexes against gravity, beloved by The Who and often appealingly action movie-themed. The Addams Family pinball machine is widely held as the best one ever made, and Pepper Saint Ontiodon the Isle of Dogs currently has what might be London’s only one. Four Quarters East is the Hackney spin-off of the Peckham retro gaming bar, with a World Cup ‘94 pinball table that you owe it to yourself to play.
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