The Bull

Not so long ago we visited Fox & Hounds, with its Greene King “Meet & Eat” branding – and found it to be surprisingly reminiscent of a casino. Perusing the web site, we noticed that GK has one other pub in Bedford under the same branding – so on a warm weekday afternoon, we head over there to check it out, perhaps slightly wary of finding much the same as we did in Goldington.

The Bull – front

It looks attractive enough from the outside, with its painted white walls and black timbers, leaded windows and hanging baskets. It’s set back from the road with a few tables out front, a beer garden down the side with a mixture of decking and grass, and with ample car parking to the rear. Out front are the usual signs promoting the presence of televised sport.

Inside, pop music plays at a comfortable volume; there are a few locals here, and a few out in the beer garden too. The presence of three men in their twenties, playing with the two fruit machines, occasionally swearing, means that we’re slightly on our guard at first, but they’re fine. The Bear, it is not.

So, to the bar: there’s Green King IPA, GK Abbot, and several empty handles; on the taps, Fosters, Coors, Strongbow original, Stella, Carlsberg extra cold, John Smiths extra cold, San Miguel and Guinness. We both select the GK IPA, at £2.40 per pint. The beer is lively, a new barrel, the bar woman tells us; she does a decent job of keeping it under control and eventually we take our pints and sit down.

It’s actually rather nicely presented here: the room is L-shaped, going across the front of the building and down the left; the carpet looks fresh, there’s plenty of natural light, the furniture’s in good nick. In the area on the right, beyond the bar, there are lots of mirrors mounted on one wall, which is an unusual feature, and all the better for it. Next to the loos are some gumball machines; there’s a TV on the wall, silently showing a loop of GK-selected adverts. Bonus points for the loos here in that they are (a) easily findable, (b) together, so you don’t have to head one in one direction for one set, but the opposite direction for the other, and (c) clearly labelled without trying to get smart.

The Bull – seating area

Moving back round to the right: there’s a cash machine, and then the bar, with Union Flags mounted above – maybe a seasonal thing, because of the rugby Six Nations? Would be interesting to see if those flags are always here, actually. There’s plenty of space and seating in the main bar area, with a fruit machine near the front door, and another TV, larger than the one at the other end, mounted on the wall facing the bar. It’s showing cricket, but with the sound turned off. Further round, there’s a log fire; and then those fruit machines I mentioned earlier, a pool table, and a dartboard.

Both Sky and BT TV sport are advertised outside, and here and there are lists of upcoming fixtures, for football and the Six Nations. Perhaps on a more sport-focussed day it could get noisier here. But today, we just have the silent cricket, and the music.

And older gentleman of obvious ill health sits at one of the tables near the larger TV, slowing supping on his pint of bitter. Nearby at one of the fruit machines, a man his fifties holds his pint while he plays. At the bar, a man his his forties discusses the pub Wi-Fi with the bar woman; apparently it only works for three hours at a time, which seems to be as per design. With him is a man in his thirties. He takes a phone call at the bar; the conversation isn’t particularly disruptive, but nevertheless I’m glad that it’s brief. Afterwards, someone – the phone call man, I think – is hammering more flags to the bar.

The music plays: Madonna, UB40, U2. Then later, Mike & The Mechanics, which someone turns up, unnecessarily. Thankfully the volume returns to a better, lower level for the next song.

There’s a reasonable mix of people here, including now a woman in her thirties with a young girl; a couple in their twenties; and a family group, sat at the back near the pool table. A man in his fifties enters, and before ordering a Guinness, he greets the bar woman – not by name, but it’s clear that they know each other.

It’s approaching the end of the afternoon now, and time for us to move on. The beer selection didn’t dazzle here – GK’s two omnipresent brews, but alas there were those empty handles where a guest, or even more GK such as Speckled Hen, would have really helped. The atmosphere was relaxed, the place was clean, and as luck would have it, we happened to get the benefit of a lovely warm early Spring day too.

There are very few pubs in this part of town, and given that lack of choice, if we happened to be walking past, then we could pop in again, sure. But we don’t often find ourselves down here, and given what we found today, it doesn’t seem likely that we’d often make the effort to come here if we weren’t already in the area. It’s not terrible, it’s just not drawing us in either.

Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0