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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 November 2005, 13:53 GMT
An early drink with Freddie Flintoff
By John Brunsdon
BBC News

Freddie never had this much trouble getting a drink in London
As new licensing laws come into effect allowing pubs and bars to stay open 24 hours a day, I tried to get an early morning drink in central London.

With the impeccable timing of a Freddie Flintoff cover drive, the first day of 24-hour opening coincided with the final day of the gripping second test in Faisalabad.

So what better way to mark the occasion than to watch England's best-known early morning drinker take on Shoaib Akhtar & co in the comfort of a central London bar?

That, at least, was the theory.

"Sorry, we don't open until 11, and I don't think you'll find any pubs around here that open at this time", Daniel Williams, landlord of the Pillars of Hercules in Greek Street, said.

Half a dozen pubs nearby in Soho gave the same response. One landlord said: "I don't think anyone is daft enough to open at this time - there just isn't the demand.

"We actually already have a licence to open at 10am, but we don't open until 12 because there is no point.

Polite refusal

"It is hard enough to get a new licence to open until midnight; we tried and failed. There are 13 clubs around here with licences to open until 2am, but we don't get a licence for 12."

He did helpfully suggest the Sports Cafe in Haymarket might be a better bet to catch the early morning cricket.

Outside it looked promising - a neon sign advertised late opening hours and sports memorabilia plastered its facade.

But inside, it was chairs on tables, televisions off, and a polite shake of the head from the manager.

A quick check via mobile phone on events in Pakistan suggested the search for a barside view of the game was becoming more urgent - England were being sunk, pints less so.

Putting on the Ritz

The nearby Hand and Racquet had the sporting credentials in its name - but it was the same old story - a polite but firm request to leave the premises.

No early morning drink, but the record for the earliest anyone has ever been thrown out of a London pub may now have been broken.

Things were getting desperate, I saw a well-dressed woman trip over as she walked along Shaftesbury Avenue.

"Sorry to ask, but have you been drinking?"

After a morning of polite rebuffs, it was almost refreshing to get a more honest one.

If New York is the city that never sleeps, London was still looking like the city that doesn't get out of bed until lunchtime.

Maybe going up-market was the answer. The Rivoli Bar at the Ritz hotel would surely be open for the more discerning early morning drinker.

Rain stops play

"No we don't open until 11:30 I'm afraid," the doorman said. "As far as I know there are no plans to open any earlier - just as well, really, I can only drink so much!", he joked.

If upmarket was the wrong direction, maybe downmarket was the answer. Just a short walk from the Ritz I finally found a place to catch the game with a beer.

Andy, a homeless man in his 40s, was enjoying the match on the widescreen TV in the window of the Trocadero, Shaftesbury Avenue.

His can of Fosters, he explained kindly, came from the local Spar store on Haymarket - open from 8am every morning.

So, stood in the drizzle, one can for me and one for Andy as a thank you for the tip, we caught the highlights of the day on Sky.

"I think we got best seat in house", Andy said.

I'll drink to that.



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