Vogue, Yates’s, The Rose, The Standard: the core of the High Street pub scene. Into the belly of the beast.
This place is right next door to Yates’s, and these two premises share a building, and therefore also its frontage. There are black and white concrete pillars and a recessed ground-floor wall, making the front door and windows very gloomy. There’s a precious five-feet or so of space between the front door and the pavement (which of course is itself right next to the A6); but whereas Yates’s makes use of this space with a balustrade and a series of tables and chairs, for Vogue there’s no such sense of permanence or arrangement – just a table and chair or two, a rope barrier, and the front door. And even if you were to sit outside here, you’d still be sat right next to the main road, which seems less than ideal.
Inside, the main themes of the decor are black and silver; the principal sense of the place as a whole is of blokeyness. It’s a small place – just a single room, about two or three times long as it is wide, with the bar on the right, seating on the left. Real ale is sadly missing from the bar itself (present are John Smiths, Stella, Strongbow extra cold, Becks, Kronenbourg, Fosters, Carling), but at least there’s slightly more luck in the fridge: Old Speckled Hen, London Pride, Newcastle Brown Ale, as well as Sol, Desperado, Corona. RealAleRocks selects the John Smiths, I opt for the Hen: £4.40 for the pair, which isn’t bad at all.
The bar has a mirrored front, which does at least help make the most of the meagre amount of sunlight leaking in through the front door. The flooring at the bar is pale cheap-looking tiling, and elsewhere, something wooden. In places, the join between the two is covered by untidy chunks of gaffer tape. Along the centre of the room is a series of perching tables and chairs – white formica tops, and the seating in a dark wood with a black-and-speckled-silver theme, in some kind of plasticy covering. Down the left hand side of the room, a series of tables, each arranged in a “booth” style, with a U-shaped bench around each one, again in that speckled black plastic.
Each of the booth tables has its own TV, suspended from the ceiling and angled downwards; all but one of these TVs are showing the horse racing. The one exception is the one that we’re sat at, where the TV appears to be broken (we’re fine with this). As well as the four booth-TVs, there’s also a TV at the end of the bar, a TV just round the corner from that, another TV right next to the front door – and perhaps one more TV right above the centre of the bar, but we can’t be sure because that one’s turned off too. TV appears to be a big thing here: this is easily the highest density of them we’ve encountered so far. I don’t think I made a specific note, but I think the sound was on, but quiet; there was certainly no music. Later, one of the TVs switches to cricket.
With all this sport on TV, and with the very male-biased clientele here (at a rough count, excluding ourselves: 17 men, 1 woman, age range 30-70 – and, it has to be said, less white than usual), I’m left wondering where the nearest bookies is, because that’s definitely what it feels like here – a bookies, but with a bar, and without the betting. Next to the front door, and the gumball machine there (there’s another gumball machine at the back, too), the stairs go up, to the loos I think. Red pin lights shine out from the rise of each stair, much like we saw in Wódka Live. Half way up the stairs, there’s a poster of a busty woman listening to headphones. Still: blokey it may be in here, but at least it’s not aggressive (I’m looking at you, The Bear).
Behind the bar, there’s Smirnoff-branded machine, which appears to sell flavoured vodka (ah yes, and there’s an A4 piece of paper taped to the customer-facing side of one of the tills, advertising this service). How would you like your vodka flavoured? You can have: Crispy Bacon, Cherry Cola, Tropical Mango, Raspberry Jam, Salted Caramel, or Sweet Toffee Pudding. The wall space behind the bar is divided into two halves: on the right, it’s all nuts and Pringles and Moët Chandon; on the left, lots of optics, including five Smirnoff vodka bottles in a row.
There are a couple of small mirrorballs hung from the ceiling, and a few elements of a lighting rig – nothing as involved as Wódka Live or The Standard though. The DJ’s decks are set up near the back, presumably ready for action later. And speaking of “ready for action later”: I now notice that, pushed to one side at present, just next to the front door, is a walk-through metal detector. Yes, indeed: welcome to the High Street. All mod cons.
While we were in Vogue today we were completely left to ourselves, which was fine by us; and the bar staff were very efficient, quickly tidying away the pots. Of course, all this is what we saw on a weekend afternoon. I have to assume that, come 9 or 10pm or later on a Friday or Saturday, things probably look rather different. But I’m about twenty years too old for all that, and it’s been a long time since I hit Bedford’s High Street pub scene on that sort of night out – so the chances of us coming back to witness this assumed transformation are looking distinctly slim.
Images by GirlMeetsPint and RealAleRocks, CC BY 4.0