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