The Burger Chronicles #10 – Stokey Bears

Stokey Bears

I’d been dying to revisit Stokey Bears ever since that hazy night I proclaimed it one of the best burgers I’d ever tasted. In the world! Perhaps my mind had played tricks on me. Maybe I’d built it up in my head. How good could it be, really. I mean, it’s just a burger, right?

Again, Stokey Bears had me at “bacon jam.” On my adventures, I’ve learnt that it’s fine to splash out on crazy over-the-top burgers for variety when you’re a frequent visitor, but the true test of a burger joint is how well it does the classic: the bacon and cheese. And at Stokey Bears, that’s the Grizzly Bear.

On top of its pink and blue, ’80s-California Games, Rude Dog and the Dweebs-tinged design, Simpsons mirrors, cool tunes and general nose-tickling aromas, another Stokey Bears perk is its excellent beer selection. And tonight’s guest beer is Magic Rock‘s Highwire Pale Ale; a rich, hazy, fruity, hoppy amber nectar with a crisp, bitter finish – the perfect taste bud tantalizer while my tongue does back flips re-reading the menu.

First things first. Chicken wings. And loads of them. Juicy, sticky, with just enough of a kick to get the party started, it’s all in the award-winning Orange Buffalo, New York style sauce they’re smothered in. Trust me, Teressa Bellissimo would be proud. And then the main event…

Stokey Bears - Grizzly Bear
the Grizzly Bear

The first bite is conclusive. All the evidence I need, really – but I keep going. Cheese and oak-smoked bacon give way to a perfectly cooked burger patty loaded with flavour. And then, the sweet bacon jam aftertaste swirls around my mouth as I chew in shocked disbelief. Instantly, I start to calculate how many bites I have left, switching back to my beer and perfectly topped cheesy fries to prolong the experience.

I don’t know if it’s the idyllic-sounding, grass-fed East Sussex beef, the custom “Burger Bear” blend courtesy of gourmet Peckham butchery Flock & Herd, or simply the way they cook ’em – or if owner Tom Reaney and his team are putting crack cocaine in the burgers – but what Stokey Bears crams between a sesame seed bun is a decadent, fast-food work of art. And in a town saturated with upmarket burger joints, so far, Stokey Bears stands head and bear claws above the rest.

A new addition, since my last Stokey Bears visit, is swanky cocktail bar Original Sin, a low-key looking (at first) establishment next door. The bar is the brainchild of the team behind sophisticated Hoxton good times purveyor Happiness Forgets. I felt like I was retiring to the drawing room, as I sank into the luxury of the gold-and-brown-finished (rich mahogany?), candle-lit basement bar.

I know it means nothing to you now, as tonight’s the last night it was on the menu, but my creamy, delicious Marakame (I think that’s what it was called) cocktail is the perfect after-burger treat. Featuring ingredients like egg and blow-torched raisins, it tastes like a liquidized Christmas pudding, or mince pie. Tonight was a good night…

Stokey Bears 2

Leftöver Crack – Constructs of the State (Fat Wreck)

Leftover Crack - Constructs of the State

Leftöver Crack – Constructs of the State (2015)
Fat Wreck Chords

I’ve never been a massive Leftöver Crack fan. Sure, they’ve got some awesome songs – “Gay Rude Boys Unite,” “Rock the 40 Oz.,” the under-appreciated pop gem “World War 4” – but nothing that really sucked me in for an entire album, from start to finish… on repeat… for days. Leftöver Crack’s third full-length Constructs of the State, however – their first since 2004 – is the real deal, showcasing a band at the height of its creative powers.

By now – from Choking Victim to Star Fucking Hipsters – frontman Scott “Stza” Sturgeon and his band of merry anarchists know exactly what works. They’ve developed, and refined, their own sound, and Constructs of the State dips into that back-catalogue with confidence and flair, cohesively swinging from straight-up anarcho-punk, to pop punk, ska, thrash metal and back again.

The songwriting’s accomplished and eclectic (eccentric, even). The production’s badass. And technically, it’s the best Leftöver Crack’s ever sounded. Stza’s vocal range is amazing. Even when it sounds like he’s singing through the side of a busted throat, there’s just so much melody and feeling in his voice – the result of screaming his lungs out for the past 26 years.

With former Intro5pect members Donny Morris (drums) and Chris Mann (guitar) on board, the drumming’s knuckle-tight and the riffs are perfect. There’s also an unshakable soulfulness that pulses from song to song – linked with secret interludes, banjos and epic gang intros. But most of all, Constructs of the State sounds intelligent, soaked in been-there-done-that, matter-of-fact sense of reflection.

“The Union Jack. On Shaka’s back. Zulus at dawn ah! Isandlwana!”

It’s one of those albums that sounds considered from every angle, agonized over for years and put together with blood, sweat, tears and hangovers. A place for everything, and everything in its place. “My only concern… was… it had to be as good as our first two full-length efforts. I wasn’t going to put a new record together until I felt like that standard was met,” explains Sturgeon. It might have taken him 11 years but he got there in the end (and then some).

Adding to the decade-long-wait celebration feel of the record, there’s a host of famous punk rock cameos as well. Most noticeably, perhaps, Operation Ivy frontman Jesse Michaels ignites the flames of nostalgia on ska-punk stomper “System Fucked.”

Mixing synths, gang vocals, mad punk-rock and metal into a foaming frenzy, “The War At Home,” an Intro5pect cover that Sturgeon sang on originally, is the perfect way to end things – and perhaps a taste of what’s to come in 2026.

L.O.B. vs Anon – Keep Playin’

Keep Playin'
The latest third-person account of my weekly attempt to play eight-a-side football – we wear grey… Keep playin’

Technically, last week Friday’s no-show meant the Greys were on a one-game winning streak – hey, they all count when you lose 6-1 to Hazard US the week before. Kicking the ball around before the game, tonight’s lineup – which boasted the long-awaited return of Prophet Rob – looked sharp, hungry and ready to double that run. Playing in all Red, however, Anon had a familiar-looking thorn up front; Rick-ay the angry one-man show.

The Greys sprung into action as soon as the whistle blew, streaming forward and setting up camp deep inside Anon’s half – and the early pressure paid off. Anon’s keeper ran out to deal with a routine back-pass. He swung his right foot to clear the ball but before it got there his left foot bumped it out of the way. And when his right foot finally got there all it found was fresh air and embarrassment. Alert to the situation, Greys winger Karim kept his cool and stuck the ball in the back of the net.

Karim was soon involved again, this time as provider. Charging forward, he knocked a dangerous-looking ball into the box and Alex rose well to head it home and put the Greys 2-0 up just before half-time. The Greys looked fired up. Alternating from defence, to midfield, to attack, Adam was all over the place – at one point, I swear he slid in for a tackle, shouted “Man on!” to himself and ran on to his own through ball. As usual, Manu called the shots in midfield. And Karim was relentless. Just before half-time Alex limped off after he rolled his ankle taking a shot. He was replaced by Samuel, who slotted in at right-back.

Soon after the restart, Anon clawed their way back into the game. Making the most of an excellent corner into no-man’s land, Rick-ay jumped higher than everyone else and smashed a textbook header straight into the ground and in: 2-1. Not to be outdone, the Greys fluffed up their two goal cushion almost immediately, as Manu leapt and headed Karim’s perfect corner past Anon’s diving keeper to make it 3-1.

At this point, the Reds turned the screws on our heroes in Grey. But Greys centre-half Pat was rock at the back, charging down shots and working with Samuel to stop Rick-ay getting another shot on target. Rob was moving a bit tenderly towards the end but he definitely still had it; sticking a leg in, holding the ball up well and spinning to shoot when his options dried up.

Regaining the momentum, the Greys launched another attack. The ball fell to Karim on the left-hand side of the box. He wound up and smashed a half-volley straight at Anon’s keeper, who did well to keep it out. But the rebound fell to player-manager Thomas, who wound up and smashed his half-volley into the empty net to put the Greys 4-1 up.

Just as the Greys were starting to relax, the ball fell to Rick-ay on the edge of the box. Without even stopping to think he smashed a thunderous shot past Greys keeper Yusuf at the near post: 4-2. But luckily, all that did was spur the Greys back into action. Driving forward again, Karim laid the ball off to Adam, who tucked it in the bottom left corner to seal a memorable 5-2 win for the Greys. And if you count the rebound that fell to Thomas, it was Karim’s fourth assist – throw in his goal and he’s definitely in the running for Greys Player of the Month…

L.O.B. vs HAZARD US – Keep Playin’

Keep Playin'
The latest third-person account of my weekly attempt to play eight-a-side football – we wear grey… Keep playin’

The Greys lined up against Hazard US with a strong but relatively unfamiliar-looking team. On top of that, dribbly Konstantin was back from a bad back injury and midfield general Manu was nursing a twisted ankle. So the empty subs bench was a bit of a concern – could the Greys hold it all together?

Straight after kick-off, Alex charged a ball down on the left that fell to winger Karim. Taking the ball in his stride Karim exploded into action, smashing his shot in off a Hazard US defender to put the Greys 1-0 up. Karim punched the air triumphantly and for a moment it really felt like our heroes in Grey were all set for a big win and a great end to a long week. But that’s where things all fell apart…

Soon after the restart, a long ball beat all the Greys defenders and keeper Yusuf came out to pick up the pieces. But suddenly, what seemed like a routine clearance became a major threat when Hazard US’ right winger somehow beat Yusuf to the ball and tucked it over him to level the score.

Two minutes later the same winger beat everyone in Grey to a near-post corner, sticking his gangly leg out and putting Hazard US 2-1 up. Then two minutes after that, Hazard US were back at it again. This time their left winger ran through everyone, gave Yusuf the eyes and broke Greys hearts with a neat finish in the bottom right corner; 3-1 Hazard US.

The second half didn’t bring any respite for the Greys. They looked tired, slow and lethargic. Every once in a while someone would slide in and make a bone-crunching tackle that fired everyone up for a bit. But the tempo would die down almost immediately, as Hazard US went straight back to strolling through tackles, beating the Greys to the ball and out-numbering them all over the park.

It also didn’t help that Hazard US were horrible opponents, diving all over the place at the slightest touch, constantly kicking the ball away to waste time and shouting “Barca, Barca” every time they scored – are you kidding me?

For some reason the Greys kept diving in too early and constantly left an attacker unmarked in the box. And soon it was 4-1 – “Barca, Barca.” Then it was 5-1. “Barca, Barca… Rayo Vallecano, Rayo Vallecano.”

At this point the Greys realized the ref wasn’t giving anything, so a few players took their chance to exact some kind of revenge on the annoying antagonists in red. But it was no good. The Greys were already in the pub and midway through their Saturday morning cup of coffee. Hazard US, on the other hand, weren’t quite done.

Just before the final whistle, when the Greys finally managed to stop Hazard US’ left winger – who kept suckering them in with the same dribble over and over again – the ball fell to a midfielder in red, who thumped it in from way out. To be fair, it was the goal of the game. And that’s how it ended; 6-1 to Hazard US. Ouch…

L.O.B. vs N.N.D. – Keep Playin’

Keep Playin'
The latest third-person account of my weekly attempt to play eight-a-side football – we wear grey… Keep playin’

The Greys were already one down before kick-off, when only seven of the confirmed eight showed up to face NND. Luckily, Greys defender Paolo found an able recruit kicking about before the game – named Tiano, no less!

Despite the last-minute shakedown the Greys started well. They were organized at the back, creative in midfield and relentless in attack. And for the first 20 minutes they were all over NND, like a Rashford.

Like most ringers, defending was not part of Tiano’s game, so there was always one man spare down the left wing. But his attack play was exceptional and his powerful left-footed strikes more than made up for it.

The Greys were on fire, and before half-time it felt like everyone had had a shot cleared off the line. Then, completely against the run of play, NND’s token fat guy broke through the Greys’ defense with his surprisingly nimble footwork.

Off the ball he was wheezing, coughing and spluttering like a Sunday leaguer, and his balance looked shaky as well. But as soon as he had the ball at his feet he spun through players like a ballerina.

He cut in from the left and laid the ball off for a teammate, whose return cross fooled everyone, including Greys keeper Yusuf, who could only watch as it dropped neatly in the top corner.

Before the whistle blew for the second half referee Ash Pedantic earned his pedantic stripes when he wouldn’t allow Tiano back on the field in his preferred black Nike compression shirt – even though NND play in assorted yellow Norwich kits. Then he penalized NND’s goalkeeper for time wasting (now that’s a first) – maybe he just didn’t like his leopard print goalie shirt.

The second half was a lot like the first; the Greys on all out attack and the ball constantly being scraped off the NND goal-line. At one point midfield maestro Manu even had an NND player on the deck with his trickery. Our heroes did fall away a bit towards the end but the Yellows didn’t get any better either. And somehow, that’s how it ended: 1-0 to NND.

But the stats – and the shocked looks on the Greys’ faces coming off the pitch – told you everything you needed to know about the injustice of the result. The Greys must have had more than 65% of possession and managed around 10 shots on target. NND, on the other hand, had one shot on target (and that’s not including the miss-kicked cross that went in). Sometimes, perhaps, it’s just not meant to be…