So: The Park. Or is it The Park Inn?
I’m sure it used to be the latter, but these days both the signage on the building, and the pub sign at the edge of the property, use the former. And yet, there was a period a few years back when this place had a particularly ill-advised refit and rebranding, reopening neither as The Park nor The Park Inn, but as “tpi”. To which I say: “wtf”. Thankfully, I don’t think I had cause to visit many times during this abomination; RealAleRocks was less fortunate. I think it was around this time that it also became more gastro-pub, and the bar prices rose significantly – both features that have outlived that ill-advised branding.
Entering via the front door brings us straight to the bar, a relatively small cramped affair, considering the size of the pub as a whole. The handles today offer CW Eagle IPA, CW Bombardier Colonel’s Reserve, and CW Bombardier Pale Ale. On the taps, there’s CW Estrella, CW Kirin Ichiban, Aspall’s cider, CW Eagle Smooth (off), CW Triple Hopped IPA, Young’s London Stout, CW Dry Hopped Lager, and Fosters. The woman serving us tells us that the tap is broken, though watching another punter served later, it seems that it’s not so badly broken that a pint can’t be summoned up. In exchange for £8.30 though, we come away with a pint of Young’s London Stout (me) and one of the Bombardier Pale Ale (RealAleRocks).
The bar itself is a simple affair, with its front painted grey, and a series of lamps suspended above the bar along its length. The ceiling is a light green colour, beamed and pleasingly irregular, not too low. On the wooden flooring, a few bar stools with a neat modern design, the bracing provided in each by a black metal band inscribed within the legs. On each table, a candle; music plays quietly.
At one table, a man in his 60s drinks Bombardier; he sits with a woman in her 40s, and a young girl. A man in his 30s stands at the bar with his phone, and a coke. Next to him, another man in his 30s with his phone too. In one of the bay window tables, two men in their 60s sit, with a Kirin Ichiban, and something pale, but I can’t tell what it is. A man in his 50s orders the Bombardier Pale Ale, and two packets of crisps.
At the left hand end of the bar, the wall is painted that grey colour, same as the bar, and is decorated with a variety of metal trays and plates. The opposite wall features an impressive large stone gothic fireplace, next to which sits a man in his sixties, with his pint. Much as I’d love to see a proper fire, this fireplace instead features tea lights.
Behind the bar, next to the wines and spirits, are a selection of pump clips reflecting a variety of ale that used to be available here: Hook Norton Lion, Black Sheep Special Ale, Wadworth Swordfish, Holt Two Hoots, Butcombe Crimson King, Hydes Lowry, and more. There’s no sign of such variety on the bar today, though. (On the plus side: at least no handles were left empty).
Heading past the fireplace and turning left, there’s a dining area behind the bar, with a series of booths and tables – the booths are all full this evening. There are also a few odd tables here and there, tucked in the edges: a pair of women in their fifties here, a man and woman in their thirties there. To the right, a doorway leads to the conservatory, with plenty of sofas and low, comfy chairs – and this evening, just a man and a woman in their sixties. Past the booths, there are more dining tables, which again are well-occupied this evening, in four or five separate groups.
Beyond this, there’s an entire extra dining room, neatly presented, and completely empty (hence the opportunity to get a photo). To the side, the patio doors (presumably at least some of the time) open out to the enclosed beer garden, where red-stained wooden chairs and tables lie on stone tiles, with a lantern on each table.
Back at the bar, more people come and go – nobody who seems to be under 30 or over 70. Three men in their forties order Fosters, Aspall’s, and Bombardier; they sit at a table by the front window as the last of the daylight fails, and as RealAleRocks and I start to get properly settled in for the evening.
Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0