As the only pub on Castle Road, I’m not sure what I expected of this place before we went. Within a stone’s throw of The Gordon Arms lies all of the rest of the Castle Road community shops – several hairdressers, convenience store, bookshop, antiques, butchers, bakers, candlestick makers. Well OK I didn’t actually see the last one but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in there somewhere. The Devonshire Arms isn’t far away, but it’s tucked away down one of the many side streets, making it easy to miss … hence the focus on the Gordon.
Though I’ve not been here before, by the way, RealAleRocks has. One evening on a works night out with colleagues of varying degrees of tipsiness, they ended up at the Gordon, ordering a round of tequila shots. One of the younger, perhaps more inebriated members of the group accidentally knocked over one of the shots. “The salt did it”, she protested to the barman, who obligingly replaced the lost beverage at no extra charge. He knew how to keep his customer, it seems.
We arrive on a sunny Saturday afternoon. As we enter, we pause briefly to look at the Cask Marque badge next to the front door. I’d never noticed before that they sometimes have expiry dates – and this one’s date reads 31st October, 2016.
The bar is roughly L-shaped; in the front area are round tables, comfy chairs and a couple of large leather sofas, with ceiling fans above. It’s comfortable today, but I imagine in the Summer, with the sun coming in through those large South-facing windows, it could get quite hot in here. But today, the sunlight streams in lazily onto the wooden floor and the stone flagging near the bar. The bar runs round to the left, where on a rather tired-looking carpet, there are plenty of tables of varying sizes, including a large circular table at the back that could probably seat 10 or so. A couple of the tables, in the gloomier corners, include table lamps. Outside there’s a beer garden, with a barbecue, concrete tiles and some tropical trees.
This being a Charles Wells pub, we’re not expecting miracles (or indeed any guest ales): on the handles, we have Young’s Bitter, CW Firsty 15, and one empty handle; on the taps, CW Estrella, CW Dry Hopped Lager, Guinness, Strongbow, Fosters, and CW Triple Hopped IPA. RealAleRocks orders the Young’s Bitter and I have the Firsty 15 (total: £7.55), but for me, it’s past its best; so she graciously swaps pints with me. At the end of the bar is a “Cask Ales” board, with 6 slots: the first three slots read “Young’s Bitter”; “This week’s guest ale” (yes, that gets a slot to itself); and “Firsty 15” (which is, in my book, not really a guest ale). The remaining three slots are blank.
Pop music quietly plays from the speakers. There’s a big TV in the front room, a small TV above the side area, and a big TV above that large circular table at the back – but they’re all turned off today. There’s a dartboard at the back. On a table near the bar, a selection of papers: The Times, Daily Mail, The Sun, and last week’s Bedfordshire On Sunday. Above the bar, a sign advertises a selection of wines. A nearby sign tells us the “Gin of the month”.
A woman sits with a young man who is perhaps her son; a man in his 60s sits at the bar. At a table in the front, in a sunny spot, sits a man in his 50s doing the newspaper crossword, his unfinished latte nearby.
A man in his 30s sits at the bar, with his small white dog on the seat next to him. Apparently the landlady doesn’t like it when his dog is here, though, because it means she has to keep her own dogs locked away upstairs; when he’s gone, her dogs appear. Later on, another dog is around – the bar staff and the regulars know this dog well, it seems. She’s full of energy, and excitedly gets us to play “fetch” with her.
As the afternoon draws on and we enjoy our beers, people come and go: two women in their 40s, sitting at the bar; another woman, perhaps slightly older, at the front bar. Then yet another dog (something large, fluffy and beige. Sorry. Dog breeds aren’t my strong suit); and, as we leave, a baby buggy.
While it seems unlikely that we’d seek out The Gordon Arms in particular, principally due to its location, if we do happen to be passing we’d be more than happy to pop in again to sample the friendly local atmosphere. We won’t be expecting miracles on the beer selection, though.
Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0