Tag: Pubs

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Sheffield gets a fantastic new pub. As if it didn’t have lots of those already

Day three of “Let’s Be Nice On Pete Brown’s Beer Blog Month” and boy, it’s tough. A real test of will. If I was arrogant enough to believe that people with influence ever read this blog, I could conjure up a fantasy that they were being as annoying as possible simply to try to get me to break my resolve. Naming names would be tantamount to having a go, but from the government through the industry and the media to the blogosphere, Christmas joy seems to have got delayed, stuck behind an enormous cartload of twattishness. I’m rising above it. I will maintain my resolve. I will be nice.

It was very easy to think nice thoughts on Tuesday night. Thornbridge’s latest Joint Venture is with Pivovar – a company that imports foreign beers – and it’s a joy: ladies and Gentlemen, say hello to The Sheffield Tap, Platform One, Sheffield train station.
To paraphrase the immortal John-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, a train station without a pub is like a beautiful woman with only one eye.
Sheffield station did have a pub – kind of. In 1904 a set of refreshment rooms was opened for first class passengers. It was beautiful, with tiled walls and a long wooden bar. In 1975 the bar was closed and it was turned into a waiting room. Soon after, it was used for storage. And after that it was closed up, and this listed building was left to rot. The roof fell in, the tiled disappeared behind layers of grime and six-foot drifts of rubbish.
Why Network Rail and their predecessors were perfectly happy to let this happen, to forego the chance of a little goldmine in a beautiful building at a busy city station when they’re continually putting up fares because they don’t have any money, is speculation that will have to wait until after the end of Let’s Be Nice On Pete Brown’s Beer Blog Month. Network Rail were also apparently indifferent to Pivovar’s plans to renovate the place. They have ‘endorsed’ the move, but given little if any practical help.
No matter: Pivovar’s Jamie Hawksworth got in touch with Thornbridge, and between them they’ve created one of the most pleasing bars you’ve ever seen. It combines the grandeur and pride of a classic Victorian architecture, the quiet beer worship of a Belgian cafe and the snug intimacy of a British boozer. Eight Thornbridge Beers on tap, hundreds of bottles from around the world in the fridge, quality Czech lagers, the works.
On the downside there’s one hand drier in the gents that’s like a child’s toy hand drier, and if they don’t put a departures board in there soon I promise you you’ll miss your train. Apart from that, it’s a perfect pub.
(With one slight caveat: apparently, when they got into the place and made their way through the mounds of refuse, on one of the walls was the legend: “Barnsley Skins”. The bar has of course been restored to its original glory but to me this is a vital piece of period detail that has been removed, and I was upset that the guys seemed unwilling for me to scrawl it back on the wall where the big mirror is.)
Thornbridge’s Kelly Ryan, Beerticker movie cameraman Dave, and me – just before it got messy.

It’s only two hours from London to Sheffield, as Simon Webster from Thornbridge kept reminding me. From our house, it’s sometimes touch and go whether I can get to the White Horse in Parson’s Green in that time. The Tap may just be a regular haunt – it’s well worth the travel time.

One bit of advice to anyone thinking of drinking there: if you haven’t done so already, when you discover Raven, the new black IPA from Thornbridge, on no account treat it as a session beer. Your tastebuds will tell you it is. Your beer drinking instincts will tell you it is. If you succumb to these voices you will wish yourself dead the following morning.
Trust me on this.

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More goings on down at the Red Hand

Back to 1955, and there’s an element of schoolboy humour behind this post.

The fact that the word ‘gay’ has changed its meaning over the years is an endless source of amusement to anyone with a juvenile streak. And I sniggered at the headline to this feature before I could stop myself:
But what strikes me about the Bedford – and what makes this worth publishing here – is just how un-gay this newly refurbished pub looks in any sense of the word. Here are the six – count ’em – meanings of the word ‘gay’ according to Dictionary.com:
1. having or showing a merry, lively mood: gay spirits; gay music.
2. bright or showy: gay colors; gay ornaments.
3. given to or abounding in social or other pleasures: a gay social season.
4. licentious; dissipated; wanton: The baron is a gay old rogue
5. homosexual.
6. of, indicating, or supporting homosexual interests or issues
The only recognised meaning of the word that applies to these two pictures is the highly contentious one that’s not covered by dictionary.com, but is mentioned at www.urbandictionary.com. It’s the one I hear mostly in London streets and on the bus in the morning, and while it may have developed as a separate strand, it does nevertheless have its roots in homophobia.
So if you exclude that one, and just go by any of the six definitions above – does this pub look gay to you?
Which ever way you look at it, our ideas about gayness have changed an awful lot over the last 54 years.

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The Red Hand Part II

Later in the same magazine from which I scanned yesterday’s pictures, there’s another side entirely to the Ind Coope & Allsopp estate.

Yesterday’s pics seemed to offer a window onto the golden age of the pub as a centre of the community. But this age was passing even as it was being recorded. A few pages on, we get a big feature on the new jewel in the company’s crown: the Hotel Leofric in Coventry.
The magazine uses the word ‘splendour’ to describe it. What word would you use?
While it was being prepared for opening, the manager slept on a mattress on the floor. 300 men were working on it, and their wives were bussed in from Burton to do the cleaning.

Pride and joy is the silver grill, where you can select your steak and watch it cooking:
If you don’t fancy that, there’s the snack bar, boasting a quick counter meal and “the longest bar in the Midlands”. This huge room is windowless, but “modern lighting and air-conditioning give it an all-the-year-round summer atmosphere”.

My favourite bit though is the cocktail bar, with its “unusual wall decoration”. Yes. Unusual. That’s a good word. This “intimate yet opulent” setting features a “cosy lounge atmosphere with a delightful Emmet-type mural.”
The thing is, last year I stayed in a hotel in Sheffield that looked pretty much identical to this one, clearly untouched for at least thirty years. It was so appalling, I went all the way through anger and disgust in a second, and came out the other side and actually enjoyed the tackiness, the sense of desolation, the broken dreams of mid-century modernism, the short-sighted folly of the architects who sought to build a brave new post-war world, futuristic and yet, at the same time, with no provision whatsoever for surviving in any decent shape beyond the present moment it was built.
Funny how the average boozers featured elsewhere in the magazine would still look appealing today, innit?

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The Red Hand cometh

I got my scanner working again. This means I can scan in some pics from a couple of magazines I picked up from a tat stall (sorry – “breweriana” emporium) at the Great British Beer Festival in August.

Since doing Hops & Glory I’ve been fascinated by Allsopps – the forgotten man of Burton. By the mid-fifties they were Ind Coope and Allsopp and their days as the brewer of the first Burton IPA were almost forgotten. The industry was undergoing massive change, and you get a snapshot of this change in the pages of The Red Hand, the staff magazine they published. Some of these are fascinating, others unintentionally funny more than half a century since they were published. I’m going to mix them up and post a few over the next few days.
Here’s the opener, from a magazine published in 1956:
There’s all sorts happening in Ind Coope & Allsopp’s pubs. The barmaid at the Fox and Hounds has been “televised as one of the prettiest girls in the Leeds area”. It would be beneath you to make a crack about what this says about the standard of prettiness in Leeds.

Next, Mr and Mrs Parker enjoyed their Golden Wedding Party down at the local:
But my favourite has to be the Admiralty Tavern’s Easter bonnet parade:
The serious point here is that this all challenges the idea that pubs were until recently the preserve of blokes. These pics show the pub as the obvious place to go for any event, the beating heart of the communities they inhabit. Landlords – come on, we talk about all these pub closures and declining attendance – you can’t get an Easter Bonnet Parade with your 24 pack of Carling from Tesco’s can you?

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England Ukraine update

There was a bit of debate the other day about how pubs might stream the internet-only game tomorrow.

Well tough shit to everyone who thought there was a way. According to The Publican, pubs are actually BANNED from doing so. Venal bastards Perform – the rights holders to the game – have mandated that the game cannot be screened for “any commercial purpose whatsoever” and will be checking the IP addresses of people who fork out for the game to ensure that pubs are not accessing it.
According to the greedy C***-in-chief at Perform, they looked at the possibility of streaming the game into pubs and decided it was “not viable”. So if you’re one of the people who said it could be done quite easily, Perform say you’re wrong.
No doubt rubbing wads of tenners around his scrotum while he did so, the git claimed that England fans have responded to the company’s sucking out the soul and spirit from our national game in a way that he is “encouraged” by.
If you’d like to discourage them future highway robbery, please go here and tell them how wrong they are.

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Losing the plot

So the England Ukraine World Cup qualifier this weekend is only going to be shown over the internet. And if you only decide to watch it on Saturday, it’s going to cost you £12.99 for the privilege.

Given that England have already qualified, no broadcaster wanted to pay the asking price for the rights to show it.

This must be one of the most ugly, stupid, venal, blinkered, cruel, callous, cynical, nasty, plain fucking daft decisions ever taken in sports coverage.
Apart from the obvious social exclusion here – if you’re not affluent enough to have a decent computer and broadband internet connection, tough shit – this move will cost pubs millions in lost revenue. Not everyone likes watching a big match in the pub, but many of us do. When places are rammed with fans, you get a special atmosphere that simply can’t be replicated in the home. You get a sense of community and companionship that’s all too rare these days. I’m not sure if pubs would even be permitted to try to show the game through a laptop. But it would probably be pretty rubbish even if they did. Anyone who wants to watch the game will have to do so sitting at their pc.
Given that England have already qualified, can I suggest that every England fan who cares goes to the pub when the match is on anyway, and spend your money on beer instead of with these greedy bastards?

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It’s a Dog’s Life

What better way to spend a Tuesday afternoon than visit the nicest pub you never knew about, drink some fantastic beers over a hog roast and watch your dog be utterly humiliated?
Meet Captain PBBB – the final member of the PBBB family:

Captain is a rescue dog, and we’re not quite sure of his progeny – we think he’s a Yorkshire terrier mixed with a Shitsu or laser apso. In other words, Yorkshire with a bit of ponceyness mixed in – just like his master.
On the scale of doggie hardness, Captain marks out one end of a continuum of which the foam-flecked, wild-eyed hounds of the Flying Dog Brewery‘s labels pin down the other:
But the two ends met yesterday at an event to mark the launch of an expanded range of Flying Dog beers in the UK, including two of their best sellers – Doggie Style Pale Ale and Gonzo Porter – now being listed in over 300 Tesco branches across the country. (Of course, in Tesco it won’t have the words ‘Doggie Style’ on the label – after all, that would bring about the collapse of civilisation).
I’ve always liked Flying Dog and have visited the brewery when over at the Great American Beer Festival. We went out drinking with them one night and all I can remember is my sides hurting from laughing. Their beers are excellent – not the most envelope-pushing ever, but American craft brews don’t always have to try to reinvent the wheel. A small range has been available in the Uk for a few years, and when I was touring Three Sheets to the Wind three years ago, doing events with a selection of beers from around the world, Gonzo Porter – inky like alien blood, full of spicy chocolate malt and yet at the same time a Cascade hop bomb – converted a surprising number of women to beer for the first time. It’s great news for any beer lover that this and the pale ale – zingy, hoppy, but light and perfectly balanced – now have such wide distribution.
And it turns out that Flying Dog are more experimental than their limited (till now) range in the UK would suggest. I’m looking forward to trying my bottle of the 11.5% Double Dog Double Pale Ale I scrounged from lunch. We tried a German-style smoked lager that can be enjoyed even when you’re not eating bacon – so an improvement or a ‘dumbing down’ on German smoked beers depending on your point of view – mine is certainly the former. And we heard great things about a new Belgian-style IPA, which isn’t bottled yet. Good luck with the Portman Group over the name of that one when it does get over here, guys.
The event was in the Spaniard’s Inn, on the north-west side of Hampstead Heath. I’ve never been there before but it instantly became one of my new favourite pubs. It’s an M&B place, and within that group it’s the only pub other than the famous White Horse that has free rein over its beer stocking policy. A great range of draft and bottled beers – Doggie Style was on tap, along with the great and good of English cask beer and a few new ones I’ve never seen before. And a fantastic food menu with dishes like slow-cooked lamb shank, pearl barley and creamy mash and organic pies at prices that are lower than some really dreadful wannabe pubs I’ve visited recently.
And my new test of a pub menu – a Ploughman’s should have ham and cheddar in it. So why do pubs normally ask you to choose between the two? Why do they not even give you an option of paying a quid extra and having both? A good pub is one that does both on the plate. The Spaniards goes better: a choice of two from rare roast beef, honey roast ham, Cropwell Bishop Stilton or mature Cheddar – for £7. I’ve paid more than that for some pretty dire city centre Ploughman’s before now.
The building itself is centuries old, and rumoured to have been a haunt of Dick Turpin. Dickens visited, but Dickens seems to have visited every single pub that was standing in the Great London Area at ay point in the ninteenth century. Whatever, The Spaniard’s age, affluent location and basic pub infrastructure combine to make it a blend of gastro and traditional boozer you rarely see pulled off so successfully. Other nearby pubs have gone down that infuriating route where they still insist on calling themselves a pub even though they ask if you’ve booked a table as soon as you walk through the door. The Spaniards is definitely, 100% a pub – albeit a pub that did 700 covers for food last Sunday. As pubs that Dickens has visited go, just thinking about how this place compares to the Anchor on the Thames makes me want to cry.
The location means it’s popular with dog walkers, and you can even buy boutique, artisanal dog food and treats at the bar. Sounds a bit poncey, but if you believe your dog deserves as nice a meal as you’re getting, well there you go.
Proximity to the Heath means some of the dogs must be a bit muddy sometimes by the time they get here – and that’s why, at the bottom of the car park, there’s a Doggie Wash. In goes the dog, up go the screens. A few tokens from the bar and your dog has the pleasure of shampoo and conditioner, rinse, cold air blow down and warm air blow dry.
So yeah, nice pub, great beers and everything. But the true highlight of the afternoon was this – a mutt who won’t be inspiring any Flying Dog beer labels any time soon:
Heh heh heh.

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Where not to go in Corfe Castle

I dunno… should the profusion of chalk boards have given it away?

I don’t do that many pub reviews on this blog, but whenever I’m either amazed or appalled by a pub experience, I feel a duty to share it.
Sadly, the appalling experiences seem to be winning at the moment, though I do have an amazing one I’m way overdue writing up.
Was on the Isle of Purbeck around Swanage at the weekend for a friend’s 40th.  We visited Corfe Castle, actually an idyllic National Trust tourist trap village sitting in the shadow of said ruined castle. A brilliant model village was terrorised by Captain.  It was a model of the village we were in, and sure enough, on the model we could find our location and there was a tiny model village, and inside that, at the same spot, was a microscopic model village, and that made me wonder whether we were in fact inside a giant model village ourselves, with someone looking down on us…
So anyway, metaphysically confused, we skipped the (fantastic looking) cream tea and went straight to the pub for lunch.
Now, you’re going to get all wise on me and ask me what I expected, going to an old stone-built pub in the middle of a touristy village owned by the National Trust.  Well, I was expecting something roughly equivalent to what you get in, say, a Nicholson’s pub in the West End of London – indifferent, little atmosphere, nothing very inspiring, mildly overpriced, but perfectly OK quality and not that much you could actually complain about, and every now and again you get one that for some reason is actually quite brilliant.
The Bankes Arms Hotel, on the other hand, cynically takes the piss, knowing that only tourists drink there, so it doesn’t matter if you leave feeling angry, ripped off, and probably still hungry.
The beer was fine actually – a couple of brews from local brewery Ringwood, which were perfectly well-kept.  But alarm bells should have rung when the only wine available was in little 175ml bottles – one red, one white, one rose.  Mrs PBBB had the rose.  It tasted of petrol.  
Undaunted, we ordered food. 
You may think it’s impressive that three different meals could be served just five minutes after ordering, on a busy Sunday lunch time.  I don’t – you can’t cook three meals in five minutes.
BLTP’s crab sandwich cost £8.  The bread was stale.
Mrs PBBB had a Sunday roast for £9 which was quite clearly a packet/boil in the bag affair.  This meat had not been cooked or carved on the premises – and maybe not even that year – and the vegetables were a mushy mess.
But I made the biggest screw-up: as we were on the coast I went for one of the seafood specials.  The scallops were utterly tasteless and served up in so much butter I felt sick after eating.  The chips they came with were dry, hollow, oven chips.  And the salad was drenched in so much cheap, sweet, bottled French Dressing it was utterly inedible.  And what did I pay for this?  £17.  Seventeen.  Fucking.  Pounds.  That’s more expensive than half of the main courses at J Sheekey’s, one of the most famous fish restaurants in the world, in Covent Garden.
One of the most grimly satisfying aspects of being in the privileged position where people actually read this blog is having the chance to name and shame those who are an insult to the pub industry.  Do go to Corfe Castle, it’s lovely.  But don’t go to the Bankes Arms Hotel.  And do feel free to point to this blog as the reason why.
Oh yes, the other place to avoid – the Ginger Pop shop is an Enid Blyton themed shop that sounds just about perfect.  I desperately wanted to go in, until BLTP showed me the photos he’d taken of the window display… featuring golliwogs.  Even the Blyton estate have removed golliwogs from her books, recognising that they belonged to an earlier, less enlightened age.  The only other people I know still selling golliwogs are the racist BNP.  Go figure.

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Bank Holiday Pub Fun Part two: Pub du Vin

Been meaning to try Brighton’s Pub du Vin since it opened, and I’m very glad I finally got the chance.

They have a weird licence that mean s you can only order a drink if you have a seat, and this leads to a distinctly unpubby slew of ‘reserved’ signs on tables.  But we got there early – in fact we were the first customers.
Six hand pumps on the bar and a good range of bottles in the fridge.  Of the hand pumps, two were Harveys, two Dark Star and two guest micros.  I ordered a pint of Dark Star American Pale Ale and was very happy to see the barman carefully pull through the first pint and pour it away.  he talked knowledgeably about the beers when asked, and told me the range is constantly rotating, with local hero Harveys Best the only permanent fixture. 
To veer off the point a sec – the Dark Star pale ale was awesome, brimming with American hops but not too heady at a sessionable 4.7%.  And it was served in pewter tankards – a nice touch.
A chalkboard explains the concept – a pub from the award-winning Hotel du Vin chain – and that’s exactly what the vibe feels like – not a local, not a hotel bar, but a pub with its Sunday Best on.  “Beer is the new wine.  This is your new local.”  Finishes the manifesto.  So the only place they lose marks is when we ask to see the menu and are given a two page wine list, but no beer list.  This seems like such an easy own goal.  You wouldn’t expect to see a beer list if they hadn’t gone on about it, but with such a great range, and such a slogan, it’s mystifying that they don’t have one, and don’t make any beer matching recommendations on the menu – the food certainly begs for suggestions.
One thing I love about the menu is that it contains a range of bar food – single oysters, sausage rolls, pork pies, pickled eggs, cockles, bread and butter, all between £1 and £4.50.  It mystifies me that, as with wifi access, more pubs don’t offer this kind of thing.  We are seeing it a lot more now, but only in the poshest gastropubs, and yet it’s basic, down to earth, honest good pub snacks that were universal sixty or seventy years ago.  How many times have you been peckish in a pub, not wanted a full meal, but wanted more than yet another bag of crisps or nuts?  A higher spend and a longer dwell time guaranteed.
We had a full meal and it was beautifully served, excellent food.  It’s all locally sourced and while a bit fancier than average, it still feels like pub food rather than gastro – fish finger butties, bacon and egg baps, as well as stuff with chorizo and rocket – and you can hardly call a pub that serves cornish pasty and chips pretentious, though some would balk at the £8.50 price tag.
The toilets are worth a visit in their own right.  The tromp l’oeil mock-bare brick wallpaper is trying a little too hard.
We really were in there very early.  Half way though our meal, we were joined by a big family group at the ‘reserved’ table, who ordered a mixture of Pinot Grigio and pints of lager top to accompany their beer-battered fish and chips, smoked haddock fish cakes and steaks – aargh! That’s why you need a beer list!  And then a couple of elderly women sat down and started talking about the MPs’ expenses scandal. “When MPs were independently wealthy and did it part time we didn’t have to pay them. And back then we had the biggest empire the world has ever seen, and no expenses scandal.” Of course!  That’s it! Let’s simply roll back nearly two centuries of electoral reform and bring back colonialism!
So there you go – great food, great beer, pretty good surroundings, and moronic, ill-informed conversation conducted with great conviction.  Everything you could want from a pub.
And did I mention they stock one of my books in their little lounge?