The Sportsman

With the demise of the Queens Tavern a while ago, The Sportsman must be the nearest pub for quite a big part of Bedford – almost all of Goldington and about half of Putnoe too. It’s sited on the end of a small cul-de-sac row of local shops, squarely in a residential area. As we approach along The Boundary, there are neat detached houses on one side of the road, and terraced houses with football shirts hung in front windows on the other.

This is a Charles Wells pub, so there’s that familiar signage, with that gold lettering on that red background – fairly new signage, as with almost all the other CW pubs too. The front of the building is a cream colour, with white doors and windows and some brown wooden windowsills, some of which are showing their age. A few hanging baskets add a splash of interest.

The Sportsman - front

The front door takes us into a hallway with loos left and right, and a choice of two bars. We choose wisely, insofar as we chose to go left – more about the other bar later.

So, business first. There’s no real ale here, so for £6.60 we get two pints of Eagle Smooth on tap (even though it was badged as plain Eagle). Other taps provided Stella, Fosters, Coors Light, Guinness, Carlsberg, Strongbow, and Guinness Extra Cold. There is one handle here, but it’s empty, and in fact hidden well enough behind a box of straws and napkins that I didn’t notice it at first; I’m guessing it isn’t used much.

The bar itself is in one corner of the room, which is L-shaped; beyond the bar, the room opens out to accommodate a pool table, plenty of windows, and the door out to the beer garden. On the chalk boards above the bar, the messages look like they’re in permanent residence: “Like us on Facebook”; “Live sports”; “Live music”; “Functions catered for”. So far, so generic.

Behind the bar, a corkscrew in a lewd design, and signs about the “Meat raffle”, as well as posters for “Help for Heroes” and one promoting the upcoming live sports on TV. Next to the end of the bar, a fireplace with a log burner; mounted on the wall above, in a patch of stonework appearance (compared to the rest of the terra-cotta-painted wall), a TV, which is turned off. At the bar, half a dozen bar stools of assorted designs; opposite, a couple of tables and chairs, with Coors Light beermats.

The Sportsman - fireplace

On the wall next to these tables, there’s a large map, 12 feet or so across, showing the north of Bedford. It’s quite a recent map, it seems – new enough to include the bypass, and the Asgard / Thor Drive area, but not new enough to include that new road round the back of Waitrose (“Perkins Road”, apparently; I had to look that one up). For a moment we think the map is painted, but then RealAleRocks comments on how neat and accurate the wallpapering has been done – it’s in good nick.

We sit; music starts playing, quietly. It’s a weekday, just about half past five.

The Sportsman - bar

The carpet here is obviously a few years old, but not tired yet; plenty serviceable enough. There are two wooden flooring areas, one right at the bar, and the other centrally, for the pool table. The pool table’s in good condition, and rather unusually, in a pale wood – maybe beech? Round the corner to the left, next to the pool cues and a rest, there’s another TV – also turned off, with its accompanying satellite box on a little shelf above the window. Next to this, two signs bearing the messages “If only common sense were more common” and “I’m not arguing, I’m just telling you why you’re wrong”.

Immediately to the left of the bar, there’s a mirror with ornate silver edging, which seems rather out-of-place here. Then (rather more in-keeping), a fruit machine, a juke box, the door out to the beer garden (replete with Jägermeister branding on the glass). Finally, filling the remaining wall space, bench seating covered in a red fabric, going around two sides of the edge of the room. There are a few cushions, one smaller table and one larger, and some chairs and stools, again in a pale-coloured wood.

The music started shortly after we arrived, but now it stops again, after just one song.

Sat in a group by the window, around the larger of the tables next to the bench seating, is a group of 7 or 8 people, ranging in age from 20s upwards; a family group, I think. A man in his 70s, the eldest of the group, reads The Sun. The rest chat, play cards, then later dominoes; they drink Magners, Fosters, Koppaberg cider. One of the men calls over to the woman behind the bar: “Carol, could I have a Fosters please when you’ve got a minute? I’m not being demanding”. She pours it, and leaves it on the bar for when he’s ready to come over and get it.

First names get used a lot in this pub, while we’re there – and also several locals in quick succession offer to buy a drink for the woman serving. A man in his 50s arrives, sits at the bar, and orders a Fosters; now, two men and a woman in their 50s and 60s come in from the beer garden. Speaking of which, we didn’t actually go out to the beer garden, but it seemed to be a walled, concrete-tiled affair with a table or two, and a gazebo-like structure, decorated with miniature St George flags.

Before we leave, I quickly pop next door to the deserted Public Bar. It’s a similar style to the first bar, but a more formal feeling: no pool table, no bench seating, but with more tables and chairs, and an area with a couple of leather sofas. Round the corner, next to the bar, there’s a side room containing a dartboard, a scoreboard, and enough space for several people to stand around and play or watch.

The Sportsman - public bar

The corner of the bar itself, in this room, is of an old exposed timber style. There’s another TV here, and a mirror with a small shelf underneath, including coat hooks in the style of anchors. A series of photos from the 1900s or so hang on the wall facing the bar.

So, to summarise: this pub is in a working class part of town; it serves no real ale; nitro-keg lager, The Sun, and England flags feature strongly here. Combined with its geographic location, I think I’m struggling to see a reason why we’d make any effort to go there. But if you live in the area, why not? It’s a friendly enough place.


Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0

d’Parys

“Welcome to d’Parys– the home of premium d’rinking, d’ining, and d’reaming located in the heart of Bedford on De Parys Avenue”, proclaims their web site. Crimes against language and common sense, right there, sadly. Before the refit a few years ago, this place used to be known as the De Parys Hotel, and yes, it did definitely have more of a hotel feel about the place back then. I remain unconvinced about the merits of the new name, but in other ways, the change has served it well.

d Parys - front

It’s a weekend afternoon when we decide to pay it a visit. d’Parys is a large place, with a lobby area, a front room, booths, dining tables, and a garden area too.

After negotiating the slightly-confusing entrance area (glass doors and walls and a choice of directions), we head to the bar, on the left. Here there’s a relatively large range of Charles Wells / Youngs beers, some on draught, some bottled: Directors, Triple Hopped IPA, Dry Hopped Lager, Estrella, Kirin Ichiban, Banana Bread beer, Waggledance, Sticky Toffee Pudding ale – not as nice as it sounds, Special London ale, Double Chocolate Stout, London Stout. Also, there’s Aspall’s cider, as well as various other lagers and cider. Two of the handles were left empty, sadly. There’s also a small collection of gins, and of course a wine list. So we order: RealAleRocks has the Directors (£4); I get a bottle of Chardonnay, and two glasses.

In the entrance area, right by the front door, there are a couple of sofas, but it doesn’t seem to me to be a relaxing area sit and unwind – you’re right next to the front door, and the bar, and the front room, and the stairs up to the toilets. It’s a grand staircase though, I’ll give it that. Upstairs, as well from the loos, there are also the hotel rooms, which are named after CW brews: Burning Gold, Bombardier, Banana Bread, and so on.

There’s a front room area, with wooden flooring, a large window facing out onto De Parys Avenue, and a mixture of wooden and leather seating. Part of what makes this a “room” not just an “area” is the glass wall and glass door between it and the sofas in the lobby.

d Parys - front room

Further back, past the easy chairs and the various wall decorations (logs, and various things made of iron), there’s a dining area, with a mixture of booths, small round tables, large round tables, large rectangular tables, and so on. I only call it the “dining area” because it’s next to the kitchen, to be honest – there’s no clear delineation, and as far as we can tell, you’d be welcome to eat or drink wherever you like. The staff don’t seem to be fussy.

Curiously, the ceiling in this area is made up of a mixture of wooden window slats, wooden deckchairs, wooden doors, and … well, all sorts of odd wooden bits and bobs that you wouldn’t normally find in the ceiling. Quirky. I’d guess that it’s probably not bad at dissipating noise, too.

d Parys - dining area

To the right and the rear, there’s a long glass wall opening out onto decking, then a step or two down to the garden beyond. Outside, there’s a covered area provided, or lots of tables out in the open too. From here, there’s a wall with a gate leading back out to the avenue; or you can face the opposite way, towards the willow trees and poplars, and beyond to the private grounds of Bedford School.

d Parys - towards the garden

There’s enough people here today to give the place a nice quiet buzz, without seeming busy – a few couples, a family group eating at one of the large tables inside, and so on. After her pint of Directors, RealAleRocks moves on to help with the rest of that Chardonnay, as we enjoy the peace and the afternoon warmth.

In fact – come to think of it, here’s a closing thought: d’Parys has a fancy name, a fancy modern refit, and it’s sandwiched between De Parys Avenue and Bedford School – a budget boozer, this most definitely is not. So actually I’m quite surprised that the bar prices aren’t higher. Don’t show them this article, will you? It’ll give them ideas.


Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0

Bar Citrus

Bar Citrus is one of those places we had to give some extra consideration to, when compiling our list of places to visit for this series. It’s a Charles Wells outlet, and it calls itself a Bar of course, but it has the feel and opening hours of a café. It made the cut, of course; and whereas some places we might choose to visit of an afternoon instead of the evening on the basis that the evenings would get too busy, with Bar Citrus, that’s not a problem: four days a week, it closes at 7 or 8pm.

Bar Citrus - front

So here we are on a Sunday afternoon, in the pedestrianised part of Harpur Street, venturing in. RealAleRocks has been here before, but I haven’t – and as far as the feel of the place goes, the presentation, the atmosphere, I’m pleasantly surprised.

Outside on the street, there are a few café tables and chairs, under a canopy. Inside, with a single exception, it’s all leather seating (presumably a vegetarian’s nightmare) – in the front, leather sofas, leather pouffes, easy leather chairs, and even a small leather bench rather curiously inset into the bar. Further back, past the bar on the left, a row of tables with rather more upright leather chairs, then opening out to a lovely area beneath a skylight, with more tables and chairs, and a solitary taller table with high stools. Leather, of course. The single exception I mentioned, by the way, is a bright red five-pointed chair which looks variously like a flower, or a starfish. I’m guessing it’s meant for children. Well I didn’t find it terribly comfortable anyway.

Bar Citrus - inside back

The selection at the bar is disappointing: not exactly the “extensive range of bottled, draught beers, real ales” that the brewery’s web site claims. I mean, it’s not a good sign when even the Stella tap says “coming soon”, is it? Alternative taps included Guinness, Strongbow, Fosters, and Eagle smooth; not really fancying any of those, I try my luck with a Magners cider from the fridge, while RealAleRocks plumps for the Eagle smooth. Possibly not the most rewarding £7.70 we’ve ever spent, but we’ll see. On all the tables, there are Eagle IPA beer mats – which is a shame, as Eagle IPA would have been an improvement over what’s actually on offer.

The wooden flooring, and the bar, and the tables, and most of the chairs, are a fairly uniformly dark colour; thankfully the walls and ceiling and even the speakers have been painted a much lighter mix of cream and white, and there’s plenty of daylight throughout, with that skylight at the rear, and large windows in the front. Around the walls are paintings of lemons and grapes and so forth. Some of the tables have a “tapas menu”.

There’s a small TV in the back, just near that perching table; and a larger TV in the front, above one of the sofas. Both are turned off today. Instead, music plays quietly: we pick out Fratellis, T’Pau, Embrace. Next to the front door, there’s a small basket containing a copy of the Daily Mail, and something else newspaper-y, but I don’t notice what title. The lobby area has a large noticeboard, covered with adverts for local events. There’s also an “Upcoming events” chalkboard, which simply reads: “Saturday”. Technically true, perhaps, but not terribly informative.

Bar Citrus - inside front

Written on the glass in a window next to the front door, are the words: “A dress code applies on the premises and the management reserves the right of admission”. There’s no clue though as to what this dress code actually is, and while we’re there, we see people arriving with jeans, hoodies, baseball caps – even a child in a PE kit – all apparently OK. In fact there’s been a fair mix of people here: a couple of women in their 60s sitting in the skylight area; a man in his 30s with a small girl sit at a table outside. A man and a woman in their 60s, with lattes. Ah, now a woman in her 20s joins the man and the girl. A man in his 40s sits at the bar. A pair of women in their 50s and 70s perhaps arrive, but then leave when they find out that food service has ended.

The music keeps playing: now Slade, now “Danger Zone”, from the Top Gun soundtrack.

RealAleRocks has been struggling with her pint of Eagle smooth: it started off (perhaps unsurprisingly) cold and tasteless. After a while, it has warmed up a little, which brings out some taste. Alas, specifically what it reveals is that this pint is off, distinctly past its best. Eagle smooth was never exactly going to be one of the world’s finest pints, nor indeed the town’s, but this specific pint is worse than it should be. She takes it back, and gets her money back; we share my “cider”. Well I say “cider”, but I’m unconvinced as to the involvement of apples in its creation. But it’s cold, carbonated, and sugary, so … it passes the time. Until it doesn’t, and we ditch what remains and move on.

The 27th place we’ve visited in this series, and the first time either of us have bailed on our drinks – and we both bailed.

To be fair, I could visit Bar Citrus again, but only on condition that I had either soft drinks, or perhaps some wine. The seating’s quite nice, I guess? Let’s just hope I don’t turn vegetarian.


Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0

The Burnaby Arms

Burnaby Arms - front

After a recent refurbishment (WhatPub says January 2016), the Burnaby Arms has apparently been doing a fine job of being a lovely local pub, a focus for the local community. Sited on a back street corner in a residential area at the end of the terrace row, it’s nicely presented on the outside – cream-coloured first floor, dark green ground floor, with a message declaring “local ales since 1876” above the door. The gable end is painted with a vintage-style sign declaring the pub’s name, with a neat flourish beneath.

Aware that last orders were to be called in a couple of weeks, we decided we’d better make a visit soon, and thus we find ourselves at the bar shortly after it opens, late on a weekend afternoon. The front door is right on the corner, so as you enter, most of this room is to your left (and if you head right, through the doorway and down a step, there’s another room). In here though, it’s more light, fresh, and modern than we were perhaps expecting – very well-presented, with the end wall painted a dark red, a large mirror above a small fireplace, and a selection of tables, chairs, and low stools. Music plays quietly; framed drawings of dapper gentlemen adorn one wall, and a trio of customers in their late twenties perhaps, sit by the window; RealAleRocks remarks to me later that this room has more the feel of a wine bar. Oh, and there’s a crow (not a real one) perched on the curtain pole. Because of course there is.

This being a Charles Wells outlet, the ale selection is mostly as expected – though I admit, I was surprised by the lack of a fridge, as far as I could tell. So on the handles, we have a guest ale, which is good to see: Old Hooky. (A proper guest ale, not just another ale from the same brewery like some Wells pubs. Ahem). Anyway, as I was saying: Old Hooky, Young’s London Gold, Directors, and Eagle IPA; and on the taps, there’s Young’s London Stout, CW Dry Hopped Lager, CW Triple Hopped IPA, (CW) Estrella; and lastly, Fosters, Strongbow, and Guinness. We take two pints of the London Gold off their hands (£7).

The wall behind the bar is covered with cream-coloured tiles, with wines, spirits, and and a particularly strong showing from gin here. Above the bar itself, a row of bare filament lamps suspended from a pipe, with the bulbs of varying shapes, and hung at varying heights: very trendy. Around the edges of the room I see copies of the Firkin, and the Bedfordshire Clanger; on a noticeboard are advertisements for local events, including the “Black Tom Jumble Troll” (Black Tom being the name of this area of town).

Heading through into the other room, just by the end of the bar there’s a sunny west-facing bay window with comfortable soft brown leather curved bench seating and a couple of low stools; or a tall table and stools opposite, to seat four. There’s a small TV above the doorway, and a larger TV down the opposite end of the room, but they’re both turned off. Around the window, a selection of memorabilia, mostly related to Charles Wells: commemorative plates, branded ashtrays, and rather incongruously, a relief of Beethoven. This pub has become well-known for its Pie Nights, which perhaps explains one of the decorations on the wall, which reads: “Live fast, pie yum”.

Burnaby Arms - inside

Beyond this, past a wooden coat stand and the rather pretty tiled section on the floor (most of the floor is wooden), and beyond a grill-fronted storage cage for wines or spirits that doubles as a wall, is a rather gloomier area. Here there are larger tables on the left and smaller on the right, and a bench running along one wall, in a style that reminds RealAleRocks of a 1970s working men’s club. But everything else is far more modern: there’s those irregular bare filament bulbs again, above the larger tables; on one wall, a selection of mirrors; and on the other, a framed picture illustrating different types of beer and lager, and a dartboard (although some tables would need to be moved first before any game could be played, and I didn’t see an oche).

Right in the far corner, next to the ladies’ (door labelled simply “L”; I’m not sure if I checked, but let’s assume that the gents’ was labelled “G”), there’s a giant ruler, from windowsill to ceiling, labelled “The Burnaby Rules”. Speaking of the loos: in the ladies’, behind the inner door, at floor level – a decoration, it’s so cute, a lovely human touch. No spoilers, go see it for yourself. 😉

Out the back there’s a small outside area (I suppose it’s really more of a tiny back yard than a beer garden), only maybe ten feet by twenty, perhaps. Here there’s a cushioned bench, a selection of chairs and stools, and a fireplace surround mounted on the wall – even though there’s no fireplace. Well why not.

Burnaby Arms - back yard

And the final treasure: the old pub sign, still hung on the side of the building, but only if you come back here to look:

Burnaby Arms - old pub sign

We’re settled in and enjoying our pints, and enjoying the atmosphere. The music has been playing quietly (we recognise Paul McCartney, Lily Allen, The Smiths), and gets turned up later, but not too much. We arrived shortly after it opened, but it gets quite busy before long: two men and two women in their 30s; a man, woman and a little girl sit at one of the tables by the mirrors (except when the little girl goes wandering, and the grown-ups have to go chasing after her – which happens a lot); a man and a woman in their 40s, standing at the bar; another man/woman/girl family, at the tall table; a group of people in their 20s perhaps, relaxing in the back yard; and a man in his 40s goes past, followed by two small boys with wooden swords. Quite a mix, and it’s very good to see.

As I publish this, it’s Saturday lunchtime, which means that you’ve got another day-and-a-half to get down to the Burnaby before things change. Then, the couple running the place are to move over to The White Horse, and I’m sure they’ll do a fine job there – in fact now I’m looking forward to a return visit to that pub rather more than I was before this news. It’ll be interesting to see what they do with the place. Meanwhile, I hope the Burnaby Arms stays open, though I confess I have no idea what the plans are on this front. Although this web series is primarily concerned with where to go to enjoy a pint of ale, this pub provides something far more precious: community.


Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0

The Kings Arms

A while back, when we started this series, I tried to be meticulously correct about getting pub names correct: “The Kings Arms”. But is it with or without the definite article? With or without the possessive apostrophe? (Singular or plural possession?). It’s safe to say, I’ve concluded that there is no “correct” answer most of the time, but it’s still interesting to note the variations. (For those interested by such things, see also The Underground and the Apostrophe and Should Kings Cross have an apostrophe). Anyway, this pub at least variously calls itself The Kings Arms (front of building, and pub sign); Kings Arms (old pub sign, on display inside); and The King’s Arms (lunchtime menu).

The Kings Arms - front

RealAleRocks and I visit early on a weekday evening (the above photo was taken another day). Outside, facing onto the busy A6 main road, it’s all white-painted walls and that familiar Greene King signage. There’s a small step down as you enter, and the ceiling’s quite low; inside it’s gloomy, but not dark; and it’s rather pleasingly quiet. This is a pub of several distinct areas, with lots of little steps up and down between them (great for interest value; terrible for accessibility). In this area, it’s all wooden flooring, partitions with exposed timbers, a barrel or two as tables.

The bar’s just at hand, on the left. Nice little detail: the rail at the bar is held in place by a row of elephants:

The Kings Arms - elephants

This place does tend to offer more than just the usual Greene King brews, and today is no exception. On the bar, the handles today have Greene King IPA, (GK) Old Speckled Hen, Oakham JHB, and Wadworth St George And The Dragon; the taps serve Stella, Fosters, Carlsberg, Guinness, Guinness extra cold, and Somersby cider. We take away a pint of the JHB and a pint of the Wadworth, for £7.80.

Around the bar area, there’s a fruit machine, a dartboard with rubber oche mat on the floor, a jelly bean machine, some sort of video quiz game thing, and, next to the front window, a rather nice table with a chessboard pattern:

The Kings Arms - chess table

To the right hand side, again up a step, there’s a little space which just about accommodates a pool table, with two men playing. Either side of the pool table, there are narrow benches, not really wide enough to sit on comfortably, which is just as well as if anyone was sat there, there probably wouldn’t be enough room for the pool players anyway. Picking my moment between shots, I make my way past them, to another small room beyond (and up another step, if I remember correctly); there’s a couple of tables here, including one which, rather curiously, seems to have a bed headboard and footboard. On the wall, three large mirrors, covered in pump clips of ales served in days past (higher-res photos, in case you want to read the clips):

We head instead through to the rooms at the back of pub. Up a few steps from the bar, and into the back room, with its big mirrors, shelf full of wines, and projector screen in the corner. There’s also a smallish TV, and a couple of speaker stands, but no speakers right now. We carry on though, down some steps to the right, and into the conservatory.

The Kings Arms - conservatory

At this time of day there’s plenty of daylight still – no need for the uplighters, the suspended lamps, nor indeed the candelabra (with one bulb blown). There’s one long table to seat about ten, and several smaller tables, some with chairs, one with stools. On at least one of the tables, there’s a gin & tonic menu.

It’s often interesting to see what artwork or other decorations are on display. In one corner of the conservatory, it’s a picture of various different birds, whilst in another, it’s picture frames showing off a collection of bank notes: from the UK, from Ireland, and all around the world. Oil lanterns adorn the lintels. And then, a little more local history: mounted in the roof of the conservatory, off to one side, is one of this place’s old pub signs, just above the view out to the beer garden.

The Kings Arms - old pub sign

The music plays quietly: Little Mix, Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley. As the evening draws on, the music gets turned up, but only slightly.

For a large pub, it started off quite quiet here: two men and a woman in their 30s at one table, a woman in her 40s in the conservatory, the men playing pool, a man and a woman in their sixties – but he seems to have come in to set up speakers on those speaker stands. Ah, yes: it’s quiz night. It’s approaching half past eight now, and getting busy in the back here: most of the tables in the back room and the conservatory are now used, and presumably we’re the only ones not here for the questions. We’ve enjoyed our pint or two anyway: it’s time to move on.

Back out onto the main road, and the sign next to the front door reads “Live music. Quiz nights. Lunchtime food”, and so forth. I suppose that’s all good and useful, but I’d much rather know about the chess table, the elephants at the bar, and the old pub sign in the ceiling. But if they advertised that out the front, that’d take away the fun of discovery.


Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0

The Gardeners Arms

Tucked away in a side street a short walk from the hospital, the Gardeners Arms’ very existence had completely escaped our attention until it came to compiling the list for this series. And even then, having found out that it existed, we did wonder if it was still open. Take a look at the image on What Pub? and compare the image there to the image below:

The Gardeners Arms - front

The blank space on the first floor corner, where the pub sign used to be; the blinds pulled across, instead of open curtains; where there used to be picnic benches on the street outside, now, just an empty pavement. So RealAleRocks and I did wonder: were we too late?

We popped along a few weeks ago just to see if it was open, and the signs looked promising. So now we’re back, this time during opening hours, and with beer money in hand.

We attempt to enter via the obvious side door, in Ridgmount Street, only to find it locked – but a voice inside calls for us to wait a moment, and it’s unlocked for us. “The doorman wasn’t paying attention”, we were told. Over the course of our stay here, various locals do come and go through this door, and sometimes it’s locked, and sometimes not. Disappointingly, WhatPub was completely correct in that real ale is not served here; we pass on the Fosters, Kronenbourg, Strongbow and John Smiths, and instead both opt for Guinness extra cold; two pints for £7.20.

This is a small, L-shaped, single-room bar: No lounge or beer garden here. It’s quite cosy, and with its wooden floor and white-painted walls and ceiling, the noise of the chatter echoes around.

In the corner of the “L”, there’s the main seating area: a cushioned bench running around the two walls, with a few round tables, low stools made of a dark-stained wood and with soft green tops, and some wooden chairs. To the right, butting up against the bar, is a pillar, on which is hung a TV. It’s showing Bargain Hunt; mercifully, the sound is almost inaudible.

The Gardeners Arms - bar

It’s just getting on to 6pm on a weekday, and there are quite a few locals in here: it’s surprisingly busy, for a quiet backstreet boozer. Four men in their 40s or 50s play a lively game of dominoes on a green baize table. “I’m not going to expose a three on each end!”. They drink Fosters, Fosters, Kronenbourg, and Coke (or something mixed with Coke).

Now, normally I wouldn’t mention it, but these gentlemen were people of colour, and it’s relevant here because of a thing that happened next that I didn’t notice, but RealAleRocks did:

One of the locals, a white woman, to one of the domino players: “Shut your mouth you <racial slur>”
One of the other domino players: “He’s white, he’s just got a sun tan”
White woman: “Oh you know I don’t mean it”. She laughs.

I didn’t hear this first hand: RealAleRocks told me this after we’d left. It made her uncomfortable, put her on edge for the rest of our time there – and if I’d have heard it, I think it would have done the same to me too. Still, they kept playing, and nothing more was said about it.

At the end of the bar, sat on a stool and leaning against the pillar, sits a man in his 70s, wearing a trilby; his pint of Guinness nearby. Also at the bar, a woman in her 60s, and a group of four men in their 40s or 50s; they’re quite loud. It sounds like they’re listening to the football on the radio: one of them occasionally chants “Wem-ber-ly … Wem-ber-ly … Get in there you f***er!”. One of the men winds up his mates as he passes: “Nice to see Crystal Palace beat Liverpool”.

A man and a woman in their 40s sit in the corner; after a while, they leave. Now, there’s two kids aged about 6 running around; they don’t seem to be causing any trouble.

To the left, beyond the part-time-locked side door and the coat rack next to it, there’s a juke box (I think), a pool table, and a fruit machine; framed paintings of sporting equipment? (I really should have gone over for a closer look). Behind the bar, a collection of small trophies. Around the pub there’s an assortment of branded mirrors: Guinness, Carlsberg, Adnams, Charrington IPA. A sign reads “Beer is cheaper than therapy”.

After our pints of Guinness are gone, we go to leave – out of the other door. Past the pillar to the right, there’s a small extra area, but it’s deserted. Here, there’s a dartboard, another table or two, and some rather interesting art on the walls:

The Gardeners Arms - artwork

The Gardeners Arms - artwork 2

On the wall next to the pillar, a sign reads:

IK HEB NIET ALLES WAAR IK
VAN HOU MAAR IK HOU WEL
VAN ALLES WAT IK HEB

Google to the rescue. Translated from Dutch:

I do not have everything I can hold,
but I love everything I have


Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0

There’s a thing I’m not mentioning

If you’ve been reading the posts thus far, you’ll have noticed that when I write about what I see in a pub, I make note of people’s ages and genders (at least, my best guess without actually asking them). I do so because it’s interesting, it’s useful data. They affect how I feel about a place, in the same way that the choice of lighting and music and beer would too.

But there’s another thing which I find interesting, for much the same reason, but which I haven’t yet mentioned. Because … well, there are Rules.

Race; skin colour.

Bedford is quite a diverse area: the 2011 Census showed that 17% of Bedford’s age 20-79 population were non-white. Which of course means that white, at 83%, was still the vast majority (and I’m sure it’s much same in 2017).

But have we been seeing that same mix in the pubs we’ve been visiting? Have we heck. I haven’t been keeping exact count of all the white folk we’ve been seeing (maybe 300 so far?), but there have so few non-white faces in our twenty-plus pub visits so far that I can pretty much remember each one. Fewer than 10, I think. So far at least, non-white folk are therefore under-represented in pubs, compared to the population in the town as a whole.

I did think about mentioning race/colour in the individual pub blog posts, alongside age and gender. But there are two obvious problems with that: (a) there are so few non-white folk, it would feel uncomfortably close to providing identifying information, which of course I want to avoid; and (b) what would I say when people are white? I don’t want to just omit it and assume “white by default” (ugh), and it would get repetitive to say “white” every time – but maybe that’s the point.

I really wish that it wasn’t relevant: but I believe it is. I’d love it to be as uninteresting and uncontroversial as writing about what type of shoes people are wearing: but it’s not. I at least wanted to say that I’m aware of the problem, and it’s an uncomfortable thing for me to write about. But by writing about it, by pointing out the problem – and I believe that it is a problem – it might be just one tiny step in the right direction.

The Third Place

St Peter’s Ale House was nice while it lasted. While it was open, it had a very distinct feeling from all the other pubs in Bedford that I’m familiar with, at least. Tiny, light, quiet, and with an unusual selection of beers and ciders – well, unusual for the first visit. Trouble was, the selection didn’t tend to vary much, and it was always so quiet in there that I wondered how they kept trading. Well, I suppose time has answered that one.

So, farewell then, St Peter’s Ale House, and welcome, The Third Place. The frontage, previously painted white, with a bright red door, is now a dark shade of grey, with the name in a clear modern typeface. Inside, the new establishment of course continues to be just as tiny as its predecessor: the public space is an L-shape, spanning the width of the premises (about 20 foot?) and, on the left hand side, probably going back about 20 foot too.

The Third Place - front

We approach the bar, with its jar of tulips and a sign that clearly declares “CASH ONLY”. Whereas St Peters had its selection of ales and ciders on gravity – and not much else – The Third Place’s beer offering is now limited to no handles, a trio of taps by Meantime (London Pale Ale, London Lager, and Yakima Red), plus Black Sheep Ale and Shepherd Neame’s Whitstable Bay in bottles. There’s a more rounded selection on offer overall: spirits, wines, cocktails. But at £9.50 for a pint of the pale ale and one of the lager, this is definitely one of the most expensive rounds we’ve encountered so far.

Upbeat music plays quietly, from a pair of large black speakers on the floor, one in each of the two bay windows. Mostly it’s nothing we recognise – a light jazzy style. Later on, we recognise Jamiroquai, and Fun Lovin’ Criminals. On top of each of the speakers, a vase with some flowers.

The front face of this establishment is, as I said, black. There are slightly shiny black tiles underfoot. The ceiling is made of matte black tiles. The speakers are black. The tables are black. Black seems to be quite a thing here. But it’s not all gloom. The walls are covered in a textured wallpaper painted dark green, and then, it’s brighter news. The front is almost all glass, so it’s very light in here. There’s an umbrella stand next to the front door, containing a single brolly (it’s a lovely clear day outside, so I wonder how long it’s been there).

With the front door centrally placed, there are small seating areas both left and right, each of which features light-coloured low comfy chairs surrounding a low round table, with a candle; one of the low chairs includes a crocheted brightly-coloured cushion. The front of the bar is painted red, with a medium brown wooden top. There are half a dozen stools at the bar, and down the left hand side, three perching / standing -height tables, but only one nearby stool. There are also a couple of stacks of stools tucked away in corners, but there’s not exactly much free space to get them out and use them, so it’s unclear if they really have any purpose.

Two women serve at the bar, and a man and two women sit at the bar; there’s plenty of chat. Nobody here is staring into their phones (well, perhaps apart from me as I take these notes; needs must). It’s a Saturday afternoon, and while there are several people here already, I do wonder how many of those sitting at the bar aren’t customers, but actually work here – in that respect, it’s reminding me of The Auction Room. The man, and one of the women, leave; some more coming and going must have happened, because now there’s a man serving behind the bar, and two women sat there. A man and a woman in their 30s enter; he has a pint of the London Lager, she has a small wine glass with something pale and fizzy. Now, two men in their 40s; one Pale Ale, one Lager. And then, rather incongruously, in walks in a man in his 70s, wearing a bobble hat; he sits at the bar.

Time passes. It’s now getting on for 7pm, and quite busy (hence, I never got to take a photo of the inside. Also, even when it’s quiet here, the place is so tiny, it’s almost impossible to discreetly take a picture). The place is lively with chatter, but thankfully, there’s no sign of the music having been turned up. Next to the bar, on the right, is a set of DJ decks; almost directly above this, hung from the ceiling are four small mirrorballs surrounding one larger one. The decks and mirrorballs aren’t in use right now, but presumably they’re not just there for show, so I have to assume that there’s a fair chance they might be in use later this evening.

I’ve enjoyed our time here, but it’s time to drink up and move on. RealAleRocks is less convinced: for her, the comfy chairs do not offset the music choice (light jazz is not her thing), and expensive, insipid beer.


Image by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0