Wódka Live

Wodka Live - front.jpg

This place seems to have gone through quite a few names in not many years: the Bullnose Bat (or was it Bull Nose Bat? or Bull-nosed Bat?), and Square, and Que Pasa, and Chameleon. I never had the pleasure of any of these establishments, though RealAleRocks visited the something-something-Bat, many years ago. And now, here’s its latest incarnation: Wódka Live.

It perhaps slightly awkwardly sits between the slew of bars on the High Street, just around the corner; and the rather more highbrow Corn Exchange, just to the other side. So today, here we are on a bright Saturday afternoon. We’ve weaved our way through the market stalls opposite; due to the busy bus stop right outside, I’m frustrated in my attempts to get a photo with no people in it.

The most obvious exterior features are the life-size mannequins of The Blues Brothers (used under license, I’m sure), dancing out of the first-floor windows; between the brothers, two large pop-art pieces, which appear to my inexpert gaze to be Warhol-ish lips, and tongue. The upper floors are painted a cream colour, whereas the front of the ground floor is dark grey, and the windows appear black – which at least makes it easier to read the garish red LED display boards, facing out onto the street, displaying the prices of Stella Artois, and Guinness, and other available beverages.

Inside, the main themes seem to be “dark” and “loud”. Not “2011 Abercrombie & Fitch” -dark, but nightclub-dark, which would perhaps be fine after 9- or 10- or 11pm, but seems really out of place when it’s still the middle of the afternoon. There’s a dark wooden floor, and the ceiling is painted a dark grey. Lighting is mainly from a number of pin spots in pink, red, and white; there’s a fair use of UV too. Upstairs, it’s even darker – dark enough to make us wonder if the upstairs is meant to be closed at the moment. (We didn’t go up to find out).

The bar is to the left, and it seems that almost everyone in here at the moment is sat at the bar – at present, it seems that hardly anyone here is under 50. By way of stark contrast, the bar is staffed by two young women with plenty of tattoos and bare midriffs.

We’re not expecting real ale, but it’s still disappointing to be proved correct: John Smiths, Fosters, Kronenbourg, Strongbow, Guinness extra cold, … probably more. You know, the usual suspects. RealAleRocks selects the Guinness extra cold, and I opt for Pear Bulmers. At £5.50 for two drinks, this is definitely one of the cheapest rounds we’ve had so far.

Wodka Live - bar.jpg

Next to the bar, there’s the central area, overlooked by the balconies on the first floor, and surrounded by the lighting rig, some fixed, some “scan” lights, with their motorised mirrors flipping and swivelling around to themselves, even though the lights themselves are actually turned off. Around the edges of the room, there are a couple of fruit machines, a retro video game (offering Centipede and Space Invaders -style entertainment), a few perching tables, a mid-height table with comfortable leather seats. The statues theme, started outside with Jake and Elwood, continues inside with Elvis, Uncle Sam, and Marilyn Monroe.

In this area, especially at the back, the music is definitely quite loud – loud enough to kill conversation. But then if you go further, there’s a back room, which is significantly quieter, and also more brightly lit. Here, it’s carpeted, and there are several sofas. Large vodka branding adorns the walls: “Wodka Gorbatschow“. There’s a TV in here, but it’s turned off.

The music plays on, loudly. Lots of stuff that we don’t recognise, but we do identify Ed Sheeran, Simply Red, Rag’n’Bone Man, Clean Bandit, Aretha Franklin, Belinda Carlisle, Boyz II Men.

Opposite the bar, there’s a side exit. I guess I was hoping for maybe a few patio tables and chairs, a place to drink and chat outside in the warmer months, under the summer stars. Err, no. It’s a poky stone-flagged smoking area, with the only place to sit being a single, low, wooden bench.

Back inside, I head past the stairs (with small red lighting, LED perhaps, embedded in the rise of each step), to the front area, which is carpeted. Here there’s table football, and a pool table, and a large TV. There are some low leather chairs near the pool table, but just one chair tucked into each corner, so you can’t exactly sit with anyone. To one side, next to the front entrance, more pop-art style images, of Paul McCartney, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara. I suppose it’s lighter here than anywhere else inside, being right next to the south-facing front window and all – but the window is so covered by posters and adverts and whatnot that barely any sunlight is admitted.

The crowd is changing now – filling up, more younger people, and not just hovering around the bar. And, it’s time for us to leave.

I’m not sure what I expected from Wodka Live, but at least having visited, I now know what to expect. The drinks were cheap, but not to our taste; it never felt unfriendly, except if you count lack of sunlight and loud music as unfriendly.

Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0

The Anchor (Goldington Road)

I’ve been putting off writing up this one for way too long – partly because of other commitments, but also partly because … well, maybe you’ll see. I half-jokingly suggested to RealAleRocks that I would just do hundred-word or so write-up of this one, but she says I have to do it properly. OK then.

The Anchor is part of Greene King’s Hungry Horse branding. It’s a large property, just opposite Goldington Green, well away from the town centre, and as such it’s got plenty of parking, and … oh no I’m struggling already aren’t I?

The Anchor Goldington Road - front

It’s one of those places where you know what you’re going to get: plenty of tables, a large menu, nothing challenging on the beer front, something for the kids, some sport on TV. “Family friendly”. The pub itself is set well back from the road, so there’s a big sign by the road pointing out the entrance, and (heart sinks slightly) “Watch all the big games, live here!”, co-branded by Sky and BT.

The Anchor Goldington Road - signs

Inside, we head to the bar: past the grabber machines at the entrance, past the toys-in-balls vending machines to extract pound coins from kids, through one of the seating areas. There’s a predictable selection available on tap: Strongbow, Strongbow dark fruits, Fosters, Carling, Stella, San Miguel, Carlsberg, Budweiser, Guinness Extra Cold, John Smiths Extra Smooth. Given that there were (where I was stood anyway) four handles, I have to say I think I was hoping for something like GK IPA, then Abbot or Speckled Hen, a GK “other”, and probably one empty. But no, it wasn’t that good. Instead, we have two GK IPA, and two empty. Sigh.

In desperation I select Newcastle Brown Ale from the fridge, and RealAleRocks – for the first time in this blog series, voluntarily opting not to have one of the handles – chooses the John Smiths. £5.85 for the pair. Oh, and there is a Slushie machine on the bar, so I suppose we could have had a Slushie instead? Maybe next time.

Towards the back, there’s a pool table, and a couple of young men are playing a game. There’s also a dartboard, some fruit machines, and a TV showing football (perhaps repeats of the weekend? It’s the day after the end of the season).

Further towards the front, there’s a central seating area which RealAleRocks tells me – she’s been here many more times than me – can get rather dark. On the wall, pictures of butterflies, balls of wool, and of Batman and the Cardington Hangars (for the local film-making connection).

The Anchor Goldington Road - near the entrance

Out the front there’s a decking area with a few picnic tables, and I believe there’s something similar out the back, but to be honest I didn’t go to check. Also there’s a rather brighter conservatory area inside, just to the left of the front door. But we select one of the booths to the right, with tables to seat about 6-8 people, and what appears to be a 10-inch or so TV built into the fittings at the end of each table – though it was turned off, and I couldn’t work out how to turn it on. This was probably a good thing.

The Anchor Goldington Road - inside

The music was easy going pop (we identified Sugababes, Pharrell Williams, Human League, Michael Jackson, Prince, Bee Gees, Arthur Conley, Earth Wind & Fire, Kool and the Gang, Duran Duran), all at a perfectly comfortable volume. This was early on a Monday evening, by the way.

So, we drank our drinks, and we chatted, and it was all easy and inoffensive enough. I actually enjoyed my Newkie Brown far more than I expected, and if anything it took us both back a good twenty-plus years, when Newkie Brown and John Smiths would have been the sorts of drinks that we’d actually want to find. That was what we had back then. Before we discovered real ale.

Come for the family-friendliness, come for the sport on TV, come for the kegs on tap, come for the parking and the large menu. What I’m saying is, don’t come for the real ale.

Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0