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Friday 3 May 2013
Week six got off to a slow start. After some deliberation about which direction to head, I thought I’d go South and tackle the High Street group of venues. This includes the Standing Order, Elements, Oasis Bar and FYEO. Is the last one a pub? Surely I don’t have to evaluate such a den of iniquity? Oasis Bar was closed due to a private party but the doorman was helpful unlike some of them and he said that it will open as usual tomorrow. However, I’ll come back to that one. Elements, formerly Walkabout and more recently Wahoo, was very closed; its large ornate wooden doors evoking a sense of closure. FYEO wasn’t open either; that is probably a good thing! So, with the Standing Order being the only pub open in that group, and as I intend to go there on a less busy night, it was time to rethink things. The hotels nearby probably have bars that are open to non-residents but; again, I decided to stick to ‘proper’ pubs for the time being. Should I start on the Old Town group (Red Lion, Juniper Berry, The Titanic and the Duke of Wellington)? No; again, a quieter night would be better for them.
So, I headed East towards the Oxford Street group. It was absolutely heaving. With uncertainty about whether some of the venues were pubs or restaurants, I decided to postpone the complex job of making such decisions. First up were the two definite pubs there – The Grapes and the London Hotel. The Grapes is always a good pub, although rather expensive, but I was surprised to see no less than FOUR real ales! It was a great mix as well, unlike the frequently-encountered trio of Greene King ales. They had Greene King IPA, Ringwood Best, London Pride and Old Hooky. The latter is a guest beer, as they often have Doom Bar as well.
It was very busy around the bar but the service was quick. I went round the back and found a nice quiet corner with comfy chairs and a table! Bliss! While I would quite happily stay there all night and have a pint of each of the ales, I had work to do so I moved onto the next pub – The London Hotel. This was surprisingly quiet, although it was only about 9:30. Things don’t start there until 10.00 usually – like their karaoke. It’s great but when you have to go to work the next day, and having to walk the 15 minutes or so there, it just doesn’t work very well for me. I had a pint of Hobgoblin and, although there was a cosy nook with some free tables, which was very useful for me to do the paperwork, I stood near the stage.
The next venue, which was the last of the night, was Antico. This was originally on my list of exclusions (due to it being a Restaurant rather than a pub, although it used to be a Greene King pub called the Court Jester). However, I had to walk right past it anyway. I was partly right – there is a large formal restaurant area but at the front is a bar with no table service or wine glasses on the tables (a sure sign of being a restaurant instead of a pub) so I went in. It was fairly quiet and has a nice romantic ambience to it. It’s quite dark and candle-lit.
Antico is remarkable as it has its own iPhone/Android app! It also has hotel rooms and very well-designed promotional material – including a slick video on the TV in the bar. However, the romantic stuff had clearly intoxicated some of the other customers and I was very tempted to say “Get a room!”. Apparently they have occasional live music/DJs – however, there was no evidence of that at all.
Saturday 4 May 2013
This afternoon’s session was my first foray into the West side pubs of Southampton. I was contemplating going there or St Denys, but decide to Go West. As I’m being helped with the pubs in Shirley itself, I thought I’d start right at the bottom – the South Freemantle area. This is centred around Waterloo Road – an area I know well. I used to frequent the Star and Garter, and indeed used to DJ in there every Saturday night, but sadly the fine Victorian building was destroyed and replaced by modern flats that show no consideration to the surrounding area’s architecture.
First up was the Key and Anchor – a backstreet boozer virtually spitting distance from the Star and Garter – although I think that the road it’s on was originally the main road West from Southampton. I forgot how good it was. The Victorian building has a rustic style, with a bare wooden floor and real fire. It has Ringwood Best and 49er and my pint of the latter was superb. The barman certainly knew what he was doing; that was evident. It has newspapers, a jukebox and a garden as well.
The Key and Anchor regularly has karaoke on Saturday nights with the long-running karaoke show by Steve and Penny, established over 10 years ago. There is also other live music.
Next up was the Waterloo Arms. I am not going to pay too much attention to writing a good description of this as it has already been done countless times by various CAMRA folk. I will have a go but only because it is a great application of my newly-acquired copywriting skills.
The Waterloo Arms is a mock-tudor 1920s building that is owned by the local Hopback Brewery; it’s the only pub in Southampton they own. As would be expected, the Hopback portfolio of ales are the flagship of the pub’s offering; however, there are other guest beers and even real cider on draught. I would quite happily have drunk that stuff all afternoon but getting drunk would be unprofessional.
It has a dart board, back garden and the bar area is ‘L’ shaped.
The Wellington Arms is well-hidden on a back street and looks intimidating from outside because the windows have bars in front! However, that is just a Victorian design feature, and is complemented by a lot of wrought iron detail inside the pub, as well as the famous bar embedded with coins. There is always a good selection of ales on offer.
The pub has made the news for trying to get around the smoking ban by becoming an official embassy for the tiny Island of Redonda – however, that ruse didn’t work!
The penultimate pub of the afternoon, The Pig ‘n’ Whistle, was of a good standard, but was still the least good compared with the very high standard of the first three. It is a local-style pub, with Doom Bar on offer and the requisite pool table, Sky Sports and jukebox, the latter of which is free on Friday/Saturday/Sunday afternoons. It also has a garden at the rear and regular karaoke nights.
Nearby is the Park Hotel, a pub I used to frequent twice a week for karaoke on Sundays and I used to DJ in there on Saturday nights. It is in a pretty sorry state and has been boarded up for several years.
On the way home, I paid a brief visit to Encore, by the Mayflower Theatre. While I found out there is a good food menu, pool table, Sky Sports and Wi-Fi, and regular karaoke nights, I did not record any details of the range of beers, so a partial resurvey is needed there.
In the evening, having recovered from an exhausting afternoon schedule, I decided to tackle another nightclub but I am being somewhat selective about which ones I try. Pop World, formerly the Reflex 80s-themed venue, seemed attractive, as it promised to play pop music. Now as much as I like ‘proper music’, I do have a soft spot for cheese at parties. I wasn’t particularly impressed with the choice of music, although it wasn’t as bad as Revival.
Like Revival, Pop World has an old-school dance floor with coloured light-up tiles. It’s a huge double-height metal shed type of building with a mezzanine floor containing another bar and some very prominent ventilation ducts. It is also the only bar I have ever seen a photo booth in before. As would be expected, it was full of hen parties.
After that, I was intending to go next door to 90 Degrees at Carlton but the snobbish bouncers refused me entry for the heinous crime of wearing trainers. I’ll give it another try at a time less likely to be subject to antiquated dress codes but if there is still no luck then the venue will be marked as ‘Access failed”. I am not changing what I wear just so I can get admitted to some pretentious yah yah bar!
Sunday 5 May 2013
The regular trip East on Sunday afternoon this week aimed to deal with some of the Eastern outlying pubs. Fortunately, all four were proper pubs and not pretentious wine bars. First up was the Hare and Hounds, Harefield. This pub, built in the 1950s or 60s at the same time as the surrounding estate, is a vital community asset (particularly now the next nearest pub, the Exford Arms has been destroyed in its entirety by the council). When I visited on a rare sunny Bank Holiday Sunday, preparations were underway for a barbecue.
The pub has an outside patio at the front and two bars inside – a public bar and lounge bar. The latter was empty but the public bar was busier and features pool, darts, Sky Sports , a jukebox and hosts regular live music. It also benefits from free parking outside and there is a bus stop adjacent to the pub offering buses every 15 minutes during the week and every 30 minutes on Sundays.
Next up was The Bittern, named after the wading bird and not the nearby suburb of Bitterne. This huge Art Deco pub is sadly threatened, with rumours about both McDonalds and Tesco eying it up. The locals have started a campaign to save it, with its own Facebook page and T-shirts made.
The largest part of the pub is the L-shaped public bar, with there being a smaller but comfortably-furnished lounge bar adjacent to it. The 1930s Crittall windows are something of an endangered species nowadays and there are also some fine cast iron radiators. From the outside, the pub bears a low profile; it is only single-storey apart from an area in the middle, which is probably the landlord’s accommodation. At the back is a large beer garden and covered smoking area.
The pub has a monthly karaoke, bingo and bikers’ nights, and miscellaneous events; many photos of which are displayed on one of the walls.
Another short walk brought me to The Hinkler. The immediate surroundings are very different to my last visit, as the tired 1960s shopping precinct that was previously there has been demolished and replaced with some new flats and shops, although being a Sunday, these were all closed. The Hinkler itself was saved though; and it has won an award from its owner, Marston’s, for the ‘Best Community Pub of the Year’. As such, it has Marston’s Pedigree served from a handpump.
The interior is quite large and furnished in a contemporary style, featuring lots of Saints pictures and Elvis memorabilia, and there is a lounge bar that is even more contemporary, and very attractive. This can be closed off as a separate function room or opened out into a part of the main bar area. There is a small garden/smoking patio at the rear, which has barbecues sometimes. Hungry visitors can also order an all-day breakfast.
The Hinkler regularly hosts live music and also has quiz nights, Sky Sports, a jukebox and pool table.
The Miller’s Pond was the last pub on the list for that day and this is always an odd one. From outside, it appears that all the windows have been boarded up and there is no door; however, a closer look reveals a staircase that goes down into the garden (the pub is located on quite a steep slope). The actual bar area is in the basement, and although it has a fairly low ceiling, it’s actually quite large. Owned by Wadworth, this pub unsurprisingly sells a selection of Wadworth ales, including Henry’s and 6X.
There is occasional live music, a pool table, Sky Sports and quiz nights. The garden is very large and sloping and there is an adjacent car park. The number 3 bus also goes right past and it is a stone’s throw from Sholing railways station. This pub always seems like it’s out in the middle of nowhere whereas it’s actually in a city!