Vogue

Vogue - front.jpg

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.

Vogue - inside.jpg

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

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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

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