It’s been a little over a decade since last orders were called for the final time at its nearby neighbour The Swan; but the Horse & Groom still has The Star for company, almost directly opposite. And variety being the spice of life, I’m happy to report that these two pubs are very different indeed, each with their own strengths.
So, first: Horse & Groom. It has the perhaps familiar style, but none the worse for it, of white painted walls, black timber on the gable end, with clean, modern Greene King signage. It’s a warm, hazy day today, but made a little brighter by plenty of hanging baskets and window boxes out front. After initially attempting to enter via the beer garden, and encountering a door which seemed unwilling to open (even though there were plenty of people here, nobody rushed forwards to explain in exactly what way I was obviously being an idiot), we returned to the street to enter instead via the front door.
Moving through the vestibule, with its bird-themed wallpapering, we enter the main bar: a small room with an attractive tiled floor, a large fireplace to one side, and doorways heading both left and right. The bar itself is surrounded by charming dark timbers, the upper edge decorated with fairy lights; in the ceiling, the timbers are perhaps wisely painted a much lighter colour.
I have to say, I find this pub rather visually attractive; and there aren’t that many people in the way, so I managed to get plenty of photos for you, dear reader:
To the bar. Above, the wine glasses hang down; on the bar itself are a couple of charity collection tins, and a jar marked “doggy treats”. Because it’s early March, the Guinness-branded promotional bunting is up in readiness for St Patrick’s Day. But, what to drink today?
The handles have Greene King IPA, GK Abbot Ale, and one is empty; on the taps, there’s Guinness (draught), (Guinness) Hop House 13 Lager, Aspall’s Cider, Moretti, Fosters, and Amstel. In bottles, there’s Rekorderlig cider and (GK) “Strong Suffolk Vintage Ale”, as well as Becks, Sol, and Desperado. We both opt for the Abbot, setting us back £7.80.
The tables here have heavy black iron legs, a pleasing counterpoint to the tiling on the floor. At the tables, there are wooden chairs, and a comfortable red leather bench running along the external wall; additional tables and seats have been made from barrels of various sizes. In the wide stone fireplace, a decent stack of firewood, as well as an advertisement for “Quiz & Burger Night”; above the fireplace, paintings of horses. In the corner of the room, a small TV shows the Six Nations rugby, with the sound off.
At the bar, a man in his forties stands and reads a paper, occasionally pausing to drink from his pint of lager. Nearby, two women in their fifties discuss phones, batteries, laptops, rugby team affiliations, and which dresses have been, and can be, worn to weddings. Meanwhile, the music plays quietly: Coldplay perhaps? RealAleRocks recognises Maroon 5. It’s too quiet for me to pick out, mostly.
The menu here looks rather good: roasts, pizza, sandwiches, steak, various mains. An attractive-sounding vegetarian option, the “Garden Burger”.
A large family group appears from the dining room on the right, and they leave; so I take the opportunity to go and have a look around. Converted from a barn of brick and stone walls, with the large arched door to the High Street now sealed up, this room is decorated with plenty of thought and character. The entire far wall is taken up by a series of shelves and alcoves displaying an array of horse-themed ornaments and other items. Illumination comes from some of the shelving areas, and from up- and down-lighters on the walls, and an interesting main lighting piece featuring a series of iron bands looped around the lights themselves.
To the other side of the bar,there’s a lounge area, featuring the other side of that double fireplace we encountered earlier, as well as a second, much smaller fireplace in the opposing corner. Crockery decorates one of the walls; there are a few tables here, but it’s notable how much space they’ve left: other places might have tried to squeeze in an extra table or two. At one table sit two women, perhaps in their thirties, and a child; if I had to guess what language they were speaking, I’d guess Polish. In fact, a different couple were sat at the bar earlier, and I think they were chatting to the bar staff in Polish, too.
Next to this room, there’s a short corridor, again with that bird-themed wallpaper; to one side, and a step down, there’s a small room with space for just a single large table, surrounded by maybe 10-12 chairs. Cosy if your group is just that size – but even then, a bit of a squeeze to be honest.
Beyond this room, there’s the door out to the beer garden. The same door that I singularly failed to open earlier – but now it opens just fine. There’s nobody out here now; just the rather attractive stone tiling with brick trim, and a mixture of round tables and chairs, versus tall wooden “booth” areas, all finished off with a street lantern and a few large pot plants.
We rather liked it here, and in fact we came back just a few hours later to try the food, which as it turns out was also most enjoyable. Yes, it’s a little walk out from Bedford town centre – but then, so too are quite a few parts of Bedford. I reckon it could well be worth an occasional trip out here for the visual appeal of the place and to enjoy more of the food; and if we have to have Abbot again … well that’s a price worth paying, I think.
Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0