OK: permit me to do my “pub historian” bit, since I don’t get to do it very often. Ready? Here we go: The Standard used to be a Wychwood outlet, called The Hobgoblin. One Summer’s day several years ago, after a pint or two at The Red Lion in Luton, RealAleRocks and I popped into The Hobgoblin on our return to Bedford, only to turn up our noses at the disappointing selection on offer; we promptly left without touching a drop. Well, you’ve got to have standards, haven’t you? And until today, that was our only visit to this venue.
Now, it has to be said that generally we’d tend to avoid the cluster of pubs at the bottom of the High Street: The Standard, The Rose, Wodka Live!, Yates, Vogue, Cross Keys and probably more are all within a minute’s walk of each other. And that’s door-to-door – hell, you can probably even do bar-to-bar in less than a minute between some of them. In this part of the world, Friday and Saturday evenings are noisy affairs, and security guards stand watch at each pub’s door.
But today, it’s a sunny Sunday afternoon, and all is quiet. We’d heard good things about The Standard, so here we are, seeing how it has fared since its transformation from its previous form. The front looks not dissimilar to its previous incarnation: previously black and white and dark green, now the front of the ground floor is completely done out in that dark, somewhat oppressive green, with the upper floors white with green trim. Whereas the The Hobgoblin had its pub sign with its rather grotesque titular character, now The Standard has life-size Laurel and Hardy figures flanking the front door, something I personally find almost as off-putting.
But, let’s head inside. The front door is centrally placed, so as you enter, you dodge around a pillar just a few feet in, against which stands an antique clock, and above, a TV showing black-and-white CCTV footage of You, Entering The Pub. Beyond the pillar, the main bar area opens up, and red is the dominant colour: red chairs, red walls, red pillars, red sofas, red stools, all on brown stone flagging. The music plays Amy Winehouse, at a comfortable medium volume. The bar fills the right-hand side of the main area, and that’s where we’re headed.
On the handles today, we find St Austell’s Proper Job, St Austell’s Tribute, and Lilley’s Mango Cider; a fourth handle is empty. The taps serve up Caledonian Coast to Coast, Guinness Hop House 13 Lager, Stella, San Miguel, Carlsberg, Fosters, Aspall’s cider, Tetley smooth flow, and Peroni. The fridges have a reasonable selection of ales, too, including various offerings by Brew Dog, Howling Hops Pale Ale No. 1, and Guinness Dublin Porter. We both start with the Proper Job, at £6.80 for the pair.
Above the bar are some chalk boards, advertising “Open mic” on Wednesdays, and live music on Fridays and Sundays, and various other messages of the kind which don’t need changing terribly often. Above the right-hand end of the bar, a trio of copper kettles adds a nice touch.
A selection of punters occupy about half the stools at the bar: a man, 30s; a woman, also 30s; further along, a man in his 70s chats with a man and a woman in their 40s. Opposite the bar, there’s a fireplace, surrounded by a brown leather sofa and two leather chairs; next to this, the door to the stairs, and then a large TV, currently showing football, with the sound turned off. To the rear, a raised area, with a range of comfortable-looking sofas, and a standard lamp. Oddly, a curtain on a pole hangs here, and can be pulled across to cover this area. Maybe this is used as a stage curtain sometimes? It looks quirkily out-of-place at the moment though.
On the edge of this area is what appears to be a pulpit, holding a flight case for the resident DJ’s kit. In the main floor space are a couple of perching tables, some of which are made out of barrels. On a lively evening, these probably get cleared to one side to make way for a dance area. A series of chandeliers supplement the light entering via a skylight.
To the left and right of the front door, up a step, are seating areas. On the left, a long table, to seat about 10 or 12, with a throne at each end; in the window, a green leather sofa; at the opposite end of the table, an upright piano, and selection of old wireless sets. A Wychwood-branded barrel stands on the floor; a barometer, and a series of oil paintings and flickering electric lanterns, hang on the walls. On the wooden flooring, some old tatty rugs. At the table, sat in one of the thrones, sits a man in his 40s, eating a burger. In the right-hand raised area, a series of smaller tables and chairs, and a couple of sofas.
The juke box continues to play: Macy Gray, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Oasis.
Later, we head through the side door, and up the wooden staircase to the stone-flagged first floor area. Above the stairs hang the mounted heads of stag and hog, and fish mounted in a case; but by way of incongruous contrast, there’s also a skittles table, table football, and a fruit machine. In the front window (which barely lets in any light here) are a small table and a pair of ornate chairs, providing the only seating here. On the side wall, between the entrances to the ladies’ and gents’, are “Wychwood Brewery” engraved mirrors, hung on those oppressive red walls.
Head out the back door, though, and you find the roof terrace, a very pleasant and quite large area, with a variety of seating (soft benches, hard benches, metal chairs, wicker chairs, cushioned wooden chairs …), low tables, and high tables made from barrels. Most of the length of the terrace is under the cover of a tarpaulin roof, under which is mounted a chandelier or two, above a rather interesting circular ironwork structure. On the wall, a small TV, showing the football, with the sound off; the juke box music is piped up here too, but quieter than downstairs. Now, it plays Alanis Morissette, Lisa Stansfield, the Shamen. In the centre of the rear part of the terrace, there’s the upper part of the skylight to the bar below; I imagine it provides a view of the dance floor, when such things are underway. In the wall to the right, a closed hatch suggests that another bar sometimes opens up here.
A man and a woman in their forties sit chatting; and another couple, with a Brew Dog, and a coke. In the chairs, a pair of men in their forties, with coffees; a man and a woman in their 30s sit at the barrel-table; near the TV, a man in his 60s smokes, his lager sat nearby. A pair of men in their 30s sit at the very rear.
RealAleRocks and I stay for another round (I switch to the Coast to Coast – £4). Oh, and another (this time, the Howling Hops Pale Ale No. 1).
The Standard has pleasantly surprised us, and has far exceeded our experience of it as The Hobgoblin. I’m sure there are times we’d definitely want to avoid coming here, but on a quieter day, it was very agreeable, and with fair weather, the quiet relaxing space provided by the roof terrace was most welcome. And as long as you can overlook Laurel and Hardy, that grim red and green paintwork, and the hunting trophies that loom over the stairway, then the rest of the decoration is rather interesting and adds character. It’s an odd mix, to be sure.
Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0