Sunday 7 August 2016

Behind (10) Bars

English pubs may well be closing at a rate of 20+ a week but, in all fairness, a lot of those falling by the wayside had probably outstayed their welcome anyway. That's not to say that a few babies haven't been thrown away with the beer slops, but, if you don't use them, you'll lose them. Nothing's so sure.

Here are ten that I've used on numerous occasions over the last few years (with a couple of exceptions) and each and every one has a certain quality that makes a return trip a necessity, not an option. That they all sell sensational beers is a given. No, what makes these establishments the real deal often won't get mentioned in beer guides and bucket lists of hipster bars you must visit before you die.

Without further ado then, here are, in no particular order, my ten favourite pubs/bars in the UK (well, nine, actually - the tenth being an honorary English pub which sneaks under the wire, in what I will have to refer to as the Overseas Section).

And, so that you know, this is not a forum for gushing five hundred word critiques. I will endeavour to sum up each hostelry in no more than a couple of sentences.

* Knott Bar, Manchester

The Number One Son lives in Manchester and, for me, going in this cracking little boozer on Deansgate is synonymous with seeing James. Added to which they've got a splendid Ramones tour flyer on the wall, and their fish finger sandwiches are to die for.

* The Harrison, London WC1

It's no secret that my former business partner and I named our company after George Harrison. So it was hardly a coincidence that when we were working (or playing) in London we sought out this hidden little gem tucked away behind the Grays Inn Road. And we still go back to this day.

* The Lamb and Flag, Worcester

This is now the only pub on the British mainland where I'll drink Guinness. The snug at the back is like stepping back in time, and, I'm told, Robert Plant has been known to slide in for a dust cutter.

* The Baltic Fleet, Liverpool

There are two pubs on this list that I've only been to the once and this is the first one. This beautiful little drinking establishment is home to the Wapping Brewey. And they hold an annual sea shanty festival - but don't let that put you off! We're trying to schedule a return visit later in the year.

* The Black Horse, Whitby

If you're a shrinking violet or you're seeking anonymity in a backstreet boozer, this little drinking den in the old own probably isn't for you. You sit cheek by jowl with fellow patrons so getting embroiled in a lively discussion is as natural as walking up to the bar to get the next round.

* Reid's Bar, Lurgan

In my humble opinion this diamond in the rough - Lurgan is not a pretty town - would not be everyone's cup of Nambarrie.  But, if you can, prise yourself away from Belfast, take the (not so fast) train twenty miles into Co. Armagh, disgorge at Lurgan, make your way to Reids and get Raymond Murray to stand you a pint of Smithwicks. Tell him I sent you.

* The Crown, Belfast

Or to give it its full moniker - The Crown Liquor Saloon. When the IRA were blowing up the Europa Hotel for fun back in the seventies, The Crown, which stands directly opposite, never had so much as a cracked window pane. And what (stained) window panes they are. It's owned by the National Trust these days a so that makes it a real treasure, indeed. You'll find me in the third booth from the front door.

* Room With a Brew, Nottingham

Nottingham's newest addition to the micro pub scene and one that we only discovered for the first time a couple of weeks ago. The beers, from Scribbler's Brewery, are all literary themed and the walls are adorned with images of Penguin paperbacks. We went in for one and came out four hours later - says it all really.

* The Adelphi, Leeds

Leeds may or may not want to be part of the Northern Powerhouse. What it really wants is more pubs like the Adelphi. Again, when James was billeted in Leeds for eighteen months I would often meet him in him here for a couple after work; so a sentimental choice maybe, but you'll struggle to find a better pint of Leeds Pale in the city.

* The White Horse Tavern, Greenwich Village

A pretentious choice, I grant you, but if I lived in Manhattan I'd probably make it my local. Dylan Thomas used to hold court in there. Bob Dylan freewheeled in there many a time. Next time you're in New York City be sure you give it a coat of looking at.


  1. Spookily I finished reading Stuart Maconie's latest The Pie at Night yesterday evening and the final chapter sees Stu discuss some of his favourite pubs as well as point out that a lot of pubs that are closing currently are closing because they're pretty rotten, as opposed to the argument that the times are changing, it's all the teetotal muslim immigrants fault blah blah blah

    1. I really must get into Maconie's books. I think I've got his first one on a shelf somewhere in the office.

  2. A tempting list of destinations. Are you familiar with the offerings of St Austell Brewery? Sadly, most of their pubs had their characters removed in the early 90s, but the brewery still produces a fine range of beers.

    1. I don't know if I'd call it character, but what these ten establishments have (for me, anyway) is that sense of walking through the door and everything feels *right*. I could give you another ten off the bat and ten more tomorrow, but, yes, try and check these ones out if you can.

  3. This post has made me feel a little, ahem, thirsty and I've barely finished my muesli. The White Horse Tavern is the only one of your recommendations that I've visited.

  4. Ah, the White Horse Tavern. I'd go back in a heartbeat - if I had the wherewithal. And if Concorde was still flying.