“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 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:


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

The Park

So: The Park. Or is it The Park Inn?

I’m sure it used to be the latter, but these days both the signage on the building, and the pub sign at the edge of the property, use the former. And yet, there was a period a few years back when this place had a particularly ill-advised refit and rebranding, reopening neither as The Park nor The Park Inn, but as “tpi”. To which I say: “wtf”. Thankfully, I don’t think I had cause to visit many times during this abomination; RealAleRocks was less fortunate. I think it was around this time that it also became more gastro-pub, and the bar prices rose significantly – both features that have outlived that ill-advised branding.

The Park - front

Entering via the front door brings us straight to the bar, a relatively small cramped affair, considering the size of the pub as a whole. The handles today offer CW Eagle IPA, CW Bombardier Colonel’s Reserve, and CW Bombardier Pale Ale. On the taps, there’s CW Estrella, CW Kirin Ichiban, Aspall’s cider, CW Eagle Smooth (off), CW Triple Hopped IPA, Young’s London Stout, CW Dry Hopped Lager, and Fosters. The woman serving us tells us that the tap is broken, though watching another punter served later, it seems that it’s not so badly broken that a pint can’t be summoned up. In exchange for £8.30 though, we come away with a pint of Young’s London Stout (me) and one of the Bombardier Pale Ale (RealAleRocks).

The bar itself is a simple affair, with its front painted grey, and a series of lamps suspended above the bar along its length. The ceiling is a light green colour, beamed and pleasingly irregular, not too low. On the wooden flooring, a few bar stools with a neat modern design, the bracing provided in each by a black metal band inscribed within the legs. On each table, a candle; music plays quietly.

The Park - bar

At one table, a man in his 60s drinks Bombardier; he sits with a woman in her 40s, and a young girl. A man in his 30s stands at the bar with his phone, and a coke. Next to him, another man in his 30s with his phone too. In one of the bay window tables, two men in their 60s sit, with a Kirin Ichiban, and something pale, but I can’t tell what it is. A man in his 50s orders the Bombardier Pale Ale, and two packets of crisps.

At the left hand end of the bar, the wall is painted that grey colour, same as the bar, and is decorated with a variety of metal trays and plates. The opposite wall features an impressive large stone gothic fireplace, next to which sits a man in his sixties, with his pint. Much as I’d love to see a proper fire, this fireplace instead features tea lights.

Behind the bar, next to the wines and spirits, are a selection of pump clips reflecting a variety of ale that used to be available here: Hook Norton Lion, Black Sheep Special Ale, Wadworth Swordfish, Holt Two Hoots, Butcombe Crimson King, Hydes Lowry, and more. There’s no sign of such variety on the bar today, though. (On the plus side: at least no handles were left empty).

The Park - pump clips

Heading past the fireplace and turning left, there’s a dining area behind the bar, with a series of booths and tables – the booths are all full this evening. There are also a few odd tables here and there, tucked in the edges: a pair of women in their fifties here, a man and woman in their thirties there. To the right, a doorway leads to the conservatory, with plenty of sofas and low, comfy chairs – and this evening, just a man and a woman in their sixties. Past the booths, there are more dining tables, which again are well-occupied this evening, in four or five separate groups.

Beyond this, there’s an entire extra dining room, neatly presented, and completely empty (hence the opportunity to get a photo). To the side, the patio doors (presumably at least some of the time) open out to the enclosed beer garden, where red-stained wooden chairs and tables lie on stone tiles, with a lantern on each table.

The Park - dining roomThe Park - beer garden

Back at the bar, more people come and go – nobody who seems to be under 30 or over 70. Three men in their forties order Fosters, Aspall’s, and Bombardier; they sit at a table by the front window as the last of the daylight fails, and as RealAleRocks and I start to get properly settled in for the evening.

Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0

The White Horse

The White Horse - front

The White Horse has long been on my list of pubs that I’d quite like to go to at some point, though I’m not sure I can put my finger on why. It’s far enough out of town that the pubs are becoming sparse, so it stands out. It’s harmless enough to look at I suppose, with its white exterior and predictably styled Charles Wells branding (that typeface, those colours). In front of the pub, there’s a large gravelled area with a few picnic benches; a couple sit here, with a dog. Round the side of the building, there’s even more gravel. Well it keeps the weeds down I suppose.

Inside, it’s lighter and airier than I expected. The bar is straight ahead, and it extends round to the right, into a separate room. To the left, there are sofas, tables and chairs. At the bar, it’s almost, but not quite, the usual Charles Wells selection: on the handles, CW Eagle IPA, CW Bombardier Colonel’s Reserve (a new one on us), and one empty handle. On the taps: (CW) Estrella Damm, CW Dry Hopped lager, Young’s London Stout, and a selection of other lagers and ciders. We both have the Colonel’s Reserve; £7.40 for the pair. Time to take a seat, and watch the world.

At the bar – which only now, as I write this some days later, do I realise was free of bar stools – there’s neat wooden flooring; opposite the bar, a selection of leather sofas, chairs and pouffes. It’s late on a quiet weekday afternoon, and quiet in here; once we have our beers, the young man who served us goes to sit back down on one of the sofas. Beyond the sofas, there’s a shelving unit, with an assortment of vases on display, and a few newspapers, some in a rack on the side, some in a small neat stack. The papers are all the local ones: Bedfordshire On Sunday, Times & Citizen, and even the rarely-seen Bedfordshire Clanger.

The White Horse - bar

Beyond this, the tables-and-chairs seating area occupies the left-hand side of the building. The carpet here is looking a bit tired, and the walls are painted the most appalling mustard-ish colour (RealAleRocks calls it an “upset stomach colour”); but if you can overlook those, then everything else is pleasant enough. The furniture is fresh and light, and each table has the wine list, and a small posey of flowers in a vase. Well, some are in vases; some are in jars. And one of posies is in a Kronenbourg-branded half-pint glass. But it’s the thought that counts, right?

The White Horse - tables

Next to one of the tables, between the windows, is a fireplace, containing a wood burner that looks more decorative than functional. Opposite, a bookshelf; mostly fiction, but unusually, a selection of computer books on the bottom shelf.

Music plays quietly: the Rock Steady Crew (wow, we haven’t heard that one since, well, 1983 probably); The Bluebells; Jimi Hendrix; Wham; Stevie Nicks & Tom Petty.

At a table in the corner by the window sit a man and a woman in their 70s, and a woman in her 50s, chatting happily with Scottish accents. A man in his forties leaves, heading past their table out to the car park; he seems to know them. A little while later, they all leave, and the barman is over promptly to tidy away their glasses.

It was quiet before; it’s even more so now.

Above the bar, a sign reads “Alcohol is the answer. Sorry, I can’t remember the question”. At the end of the bar, a chalkboard reads “Wines”; “White rosé wines”; then all five slots below are left empty. Another chalkboard advertises live music; according to my notes (that I’m now reading several days later), it said “Saturday, 13th April” – which is not a thing, at least not in 2017. Maybe they wrote it down wrong, or maybe I wrote it down wrong. (I had beer, and I was taking notes on a phone, so stranger things have happened).

A couple of men in their forties leave; they seem to be regulars, saying goodbye to the barman by name. A man and woman in their thirties arrive, and sit at one of the tables. A man, perhaps in his fifties and wearing a high-vis jacket, arrives and greets the barman by name. He sits at the large table in the corner, where the Scottish group were earlier, reading a red-top paper, eating a packet of crisps, and drinking a glass of white wine.

The music here throws up more surprises: two covers that we don’t recognise – one of ABBA’s Knowing Me Knowing You, and one of A-Ha’s The Sun Always Shines On TV. Then back to the more conventional: Oasis; De La Soul.

I pop into the opposite room, round the right-hand side of the bar, to take a look. At the bar here, all three handles are empty, and the taps offer much the same as round the first part of the bar, plus Eagle Smooth, and something by Strongbow. To one side of the bar, another wine list chalkboard, this one reading “Red wines” – but otherwise, it’s just as blank as the white and rosé list was. Opposite the bar and across the stone-flagged floor, there’s a small raised seating area, and much like the left-hand side of the bar, there’s plenty of light here. There’s a TV, a fruit machine, and a dartboard; and oddly, a set of drums tucked away in a corner.

As we leave, there’s just time for a quick look in the loos, featuring a sign entitled “DRUGS”, warning anyone using or possessing that they’ll be banned and reported; and in the corridor outside the toilets, another sign, featuring an icon of a person in a wheelchair, reading: “If you have any difficulties being served at the bar counter and require assistance, PLEASE speak to a member of staff”. That’s good to see.

And finally, a peek at the deserted beer garden: a large paved affair, with a few picnic benches and plenty of space. At the edge, next to the pub, is what looks like it might be used as a seasonal bar, but with some abandoned paperwork tucked underneath; a broken wine glass lies on the ground, its stem snapped in two. The parasols have been taken away until presumably warmer weather.

The White Horse - beer garden

As seems to be a pattern with Charles Wells and Greene King outlets, there’s nothing offensive here, nothing so awful that we can never return; but nothing to draw us back in either. Sure, we could come back in the Summer and see what the beer garden is like. But to be honest, I’m not sure it’s terribly likely to happen.

Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0

The Standard

OK: permit me to do my “pub historian” bit, since I don’t get to do it very often. Ready? Here we go: The Standard used to be a Wychwood outlet, called The Hobgoblin. One Summer’s day several years ago, after a pint or two at The Red Lion in Luton, RealAleRocks and I popped into The Hobgoblin on our return to Bedford, only to turn up our noses at the disappointing selection on offer; we promptly left without touching a drop. Well, you’ve got to have standards, haven’t you? And until today, that was our only visit to this venue.

Now, it has to be said that generally we’d tend to avoid the cluster of pubs at the bottom of the High Street: The Standard, The Rose, Wodka Live!, Yates, Vogue, Cross Keys and probably more are all within a minute’s walk of each other. And that’s door-to-door – hell, you can probably even do bar-to-bar in less than a minute between some of them. In this part of the world, Friday and Saturday evenings are noisy affairs, and security guards stand watch at each pub’s door.

The Standard - front

But today, it’s a sunny Sunday afternoon, and all is quiet. We’d heard good things about The Standard, so here we are, seeing how it has fared since its transformation from its previous form. The front looks not dissimilar to its previous incarnation: previously black and white and dark green, now the front of the ground floor is completely done out in that dark, somewhat oppressive green, with the upper floors white with green trim. Whereas the The Hobgoblin had its pub sign with its rather grotesque titular character, now The Standard has life-size Laurel and Hardy figures flanking the front door, something I personally find almost as off-putting.

But, let’s head inside. The front door is centrally placed, so as you enter, you dodge around a pillar just a few feet in, against which stands an antique clock, and above, a TV showing black-and-white CCTV footage of You, Entering The Pub. Beyond the pillar, the main bar area opens up, and red is the dominant colour: red chairs, red walls, red pillars, red sofas, red stools, all on brown stone flagging. The music plays Amy Winehouse, at a comfortable medium volume. The bar fills the right-hand side of the main area, and that’s where we’re headed.

On the handles today, we find St Austell’s Proper Job, St Austell’s Tribute, and Lilley’s Mango Cider; a fourth handle is empty. The taps serve up Caledonian Coast to Coast, Guinness Hop House 13 Lager, Stella, San Miguel, Carlsberg, Fosters, Aspall’s cider, Tetley smooth flow, and Peroni. The fridges have a reasonable selection of ales, too, including various offerings by Brew Dog, Howling Hops Pale Ale No. 1, and Guinness Dublin Porter. We both start with the Proper Job, at £6.80 for the pair.

Above the bar are some chalk boards, advertising “Open mic” on Wednesdays, and live music on Fridays and Sundays, and various other messages of the kind which don’t need changing terribly often. Above the right-hand end of the bar, a trio of copper kettles adds a nice touch.

The Standard - bar

A selection of punters occupy about half the stools at the bar: a man, 30s; a woman, also 30s; further along, a man in his 70s chats with a man and a woman in their 40s. Opposite the bar, there’s a fireplace, surrounded by a brown leather sofa and two leather chairs; next to this, the door to the stairs, and then a large TV, currently showing football, with the sound turned off. To the rear, a raised area, with a range of comfortable-looking sofas, and a standard lamp. Oddly, a curtain on a pole hangs here, and can be pulled across to cover this area. Maybe this is used as a stage curtain sometimes? It looks quirkily out-of-place at the moment though.

On the edge of this area is what appears to be a pulpit, holding a flight case for the resident DJ’s kit. In the main floor space are a couple of perching tables, some of which are made out of barrels. On a lively evening, these probably get cleared to one side to make way for a dance area. A series of chandeliers supplement the light entering via a skylight.

To the left and right of the front door, up a step, are seating areas. On the left, a long table, to seat about 10 or 12, with a throne at each end; in the window, a green leather sofa; at the opposite end of the table, an upright piano, and selection of old wireless sets. A Wychwood-branded barrel stands on the floor; a barometer, and a series of oil paintings and flickering electric lanterns, hang on the walls. On the wooden flooring, some old tatty rugs. At the table, sat in one of the thrones, sits a man in his 40s, eating a burger. In the right-hand raised area, a series of smaller tables and chairs, and a couple of sofas.

The Standard - left

The juke box continues to play: Macy Gray, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Oasis.

Later, we head through the side door, and up the wooden staircase to the stone-flagged first floor area. Above the stairs hang the mounted heads of stag and hog, and fish mounted in a case; but by way of incongruous contrast, there’s also a skittles table, table football, and a fruit machine. In the front window (which barely lets in any light here) are a small table and a pair of ornate chairs, providing the only seating here. On the side wall, between the entrances to the ladies’ and gents’, are “Wychwood Brewery” engraved mirrors, hung on those oppressive red walls.

The Standard - stairsThe Standard - mirrors

Head out the back door, though, and you find the roof terrace, a very pleasant and quite large area, with a variety of seating (soft benches, hard benches, metal chairs, wicker chairs, cushioned wooden chairs …), low tables, and high tables made from barrels. Most of the length of the terrace is under the cover of a tarpaulin roof, under which is mounted a chandelier or two, above a rather interesting circular ironwork structure. On the wall, a small TV, showing the football, with the sound off; the juke box music is piped up here too, but quieter than downstairs. Now, it plays Alanis Morissette, Lisa Stansfield, the Shamen. In the centre of the rear part of the terrace, there’s the upper part of the skylight to the bar below; I imagine it provides a view of the dance floor, when such things are underway. In the wall to the right, a closed hatch suggests that another bar sometimes opens up here.

The Standard - terrace 1

A man and a woman in their forties sit chatting; and another couple, with a Brew Dog, and a coke. In the chairs, a pair of men in their forties, with coffees; a man and a woman in their 30s sit at the barrel-table; near the TV, a man in his 60s smokes, his lager sat nearby. A pair of men in their 30s sit at the very rear.

RealAleRocks and I stay for another round (I switch to the Coast to Coast – £4). Oh, and another (this time, the Howling Hops Pale Ale No. 1).

The Standard - terrace 2

The Standard has pleasantly surprised us, and has far exceeded our experience of it as The Hobgoblin. I’m sure there are times we’d definitely want to avoid coming here, but on a quieter day, it was very agreeable, and with fair weather, the quiet relaxing space provided by the roof terrace was most welcome. And as long as you can overlook Laurel and Hardy, that grim red and green paintwork, and the hunting trophies that loom over the stairway, then the rest of the decoration is rather interesting and adds character. It’s an odd mix, to be sure.

Images by GirlMeetsPint, CC BY 4.0