After the Horse & Groom almost opposite, we wander across to The Star.
Outside, sandwich boards advertise “Xmas Crazy horse karaoke, Sat 18th Feb” (so that was some weeks ago), and “Logs, £3.50 per bag”; another chalk board reads “6 Nations rugby today, Come on England”. Hung on the fence that marks the edge of the pub’s property, and covering up a banner advertising Charles Wells Bombardier as being just the thing for St George’s Day (so that was lots of weeks ago), is an English flag of St George, complete with “three lions” shield, Carlsberg branding, and the legend “Official Beer”.
There’s just enough space in front of the building to squeeze in a few picnic benches, but it’s not the day for it, and drinking on a busy street pavement has never been my thing anyway. So we go into the vestibule to find an old off-sales hatch, a door to the left, and one to the right – so we randomly select the right, which, as it turns out, was probably the better choice.
The lounge here is a small room, carpeted, and very much has the feeling of a Working Men’s Club, perhaps (let’s give it the benefit of the doubt) from the 80s. The bar here is tiny, about 5 ft wide; there are three smaller tables and one larger, a handful of chairs, and a comfortable bench in the bay window. Mounted in the corner of the room, facing the bar, is a small TV: it’s a Saturday, and England are playing in the rugby Six Nations. And whereas in the last pub the TV was silent, here the TV’s on at a perfectly comfortable volume.
So, to the bar. The larger part of the bar is in the other room – we happen to have selected the smaller, quieter option – so there’s a little bell hung just above, for attracting the bar staff’s attention should they be away. One of the locals rings the bell for us. It’s a Charles Wells gig here, and on the handle (I think there might have been literally one handle here, hidden behind the vase of daffodils – well the bar is tiny), there’s the “guest” ale – Director’s. Ah yes, that sort of “guest”. On the taps: Kronenbourg, Guinness, Carlsberg cold, Strongbow, Eagle extra smooth, and Fosters. Two pints of Directors it is, then, for £7.20.
On one wall, there’s a large, old juke box. On another wall, between the bar and the exit to the ladies’ loos and the back door, is a brick fireplace, with a mirror placed off-centre on the mantelpiece, along with a highly unrealistic stuffed vole and a kingfisher. Around the lintel to the left, above the door where we came in, is a row of photos of men, each of whom is wearing a tee shirt that reads “old git”. Next to the fireplace, a cartoon picture of a badger, with the words: “Health tip: don’t eat the badger”.
Two men sit at one of the tables, with their pints of Guinness and Kronenbourg. At another table, a woman in her forties; she’s drinking Carlsberg. A man in his forties stands; everyone is watching the rugby, yet it’s not killing conversation – people are actually talking to each other too. Another woman in her forties arrives with a young girl, presumably her daughter; the standing man appears to be the dad. Every now and then, fractionally ahead of the action on our TV, we hear the reactions of those watching the same game on the TV in the other bar. “Get in there!”, a man shouts, for the umpteenth time.
Someone produces a plastic bowl of crisps and peanuts, which is passed around the bar, and the locals invite us to join in, which we do. After a while, the family group leaves, and everyone says goodbyes by name. Later, RealAleRocks sneezes, and one of the locals replied with a “bless you”. It seems really friendly here.
Outside to the front, at one of those picnic benches, a man in his sixties sits, smoking. On a visit to the ladies (sign on the door: “Women only. No men allowed”) I poke my head out the back door to find a tiny beer garden – a small concrete paved area with tables and a sofa, on the edge of the car park.
Before we leave, I show my face in the other bar: a rather larger room, where a woman, a girl, a boy, and about seven men are watching the rugby, on a rather larger TV than the other room, that’s turned up rather louder – but still, not uncomfortably so. There’s a dartboard here, and a fruit machine; England flags hang from the ceiling. I ask the woman – who turns out to be the landlady – to “Remind me, where exactly was The Swan – this side of the Horse & Groom, or the other?”. The other, she tells me – she took on this place on 18th December 2006, just over ten years ago; and The Swan closed the very next day.
I find the contrast of this place with Horse & Groom interesting – it’s far more everyday, working class, unfancy presentation here. The beer selection is, if nothing else, smaller – but given that the most exciting thing we found at Horse & Groom was GK Abbot, I hesitate to say that the beer is better or worse at either place. But The Star was most definitely friendly and welcoming – the most friendly we’ve encountered so far in this series. As someone who spends most of their life these days in towns and cities, this welcome made for a rather refreshing change.
Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0