The last time I went to The Bluebell was probably about twenty years ago. It’s been a while. I don’t remember much of that visit – apparently it didn’t make an impression.
Today, it’s a weekday, and we arrive at about 5.30. The first impression is the smell: paint. I’ve no idea what’s been repainted, whether it’s just a touch up here and there or whether (as far as I know) it’s only just reopened after a refit. But, ignoring the smell (as we quickly do), the next impression is it’s rather agreeable here: welcoming, tidy, modern.
The pub is laid out in several distinct areas, with just enough separation, just enough walls. Too little separation, and you’d have just a single large room, where you can see all the way from one end to the other; too much separation, and if you’d just arrived to meet a friend, you’d have to poke your nose into each room in turn to see where they were, and I hate that – it can be very intimidating.
Aside from the central bar area, there’s a conservatory area (seating), a games area, and up a couple of steps, a few extra comfy chairs and sofas. The games area includes an impressive four dartboards, as well as a pool table, and bar billiards. There’s a beer garden, too, but it’s Winter, and dark, so I didn’t go any further than just confirming its existence.
On the bar, it’s a mixed bag, and I’m fine with that: to each their own. Fosters, Amstel, Kronenbourg 1664, Guinness, John Smith’s, Strongbow (original and “dark fruit”). On the handles: Greene King IPA, London Pride, and one empty (plus there’s Newcastle Brown, in the fridge). So the real ale choice isn’t great, but at least there is a choice. We opt for London Pride, £3.60 a pint.
As far as I can tell there’s just the single TV here, in the central bar area – and it’s facing such that, unless you’re stood in the bar area, you can’t see it. Now for me, I generally find TVs in pubs to be a distraction, so I’m fine with this arrangement; but given that outside, Sky Sports was advertised, it makes me wonder (later, as I’m writing this up) what I missed: surely there must have been another TV, or a projector?
As we drink and chat, I realise what’s not here: there’s no music. As you’d expect for this time of day, it’s reasonably busy: a couple of men in their 30s or 40s, and two men on their own, at the bar; an older group of six or seven people; a man and a woman, perhaps in their late 30s. A couple of younger lads are playing darts. It feels close to a 50/50 male/female mix here, which is (sadly) noteworthy.
It’s comfortable here, with sofas, cushions, plush chairs – or the less luxurious seating if you prefer. Trendy exposed filament bulbs providing the light, although they seem to have been turned down lower at the bar. The floor is mostly stone, with wooden areas. There are some newspapers are in a rack on the wall: Sun, Mail, Sport. There’s no WiFi here, as far as I can tell.
There’s a good background hum of chat, a nice level, but it does start to feel echoey as it gets louder. I wonder how full this place might get sometimes. The TV, which was off when we arrived, is later showing a sports news channel, but I think it was silent. There is a fruit machine, next to the TV, and again it’s placed so that it’s not really visible from the seating areas. It’s silent anyway, so it’s not a nuisance.
By now, the group of older people has gone, as has a group of three women and a man that was sat near us: the mix is becoming more blokey. Still, I’m quite prepared to believe that this was just a temporary phenomenon.
Would we go back? Sure, why not. The beer choice may not be dazzling, but sometimes GK IPA fits the bill just nicely.
Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0