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Berlin 2015 – day one and two (23-24 March 2015)

Day one – Monday 23 March 2015

I flew out from Gatwick at 12:20 pm after taking the train from Southampton to Gatwick, via Horsham. I didn’t realise it went that way – I thought it went to the Brighton junction and turned north. At Gatwick, the South terminal, which is very impressive inside, is like a vast shopping mall with food and drink outlets as well, not dissimilar to West Quay. Luckily there was a Wetherspoon’s although even that was expensive!

The flight itself was in largely good weather, although there was some cloud here and there obstructing the view. The approach to Berlin was really interesting, as I could see all the lakes and forests surrounding the city.

 

Approaching Berlin

Approaching Berlin

Compared to Gatwick, Berlin Schonefield Airport was surprisingly modest. None of the usual vast retail space that you get with most of the airports that I have been to. I got the S-Bahn to Hermannplatz then the U-Bahn to Kottbusser Tor. Not the nearest metro stop to where I was staying but the next one along the line. I walked south and over the canal to near Schönleinstraβe station where I went in a local-looking pub – Bei Schlawinchen. This was a baptism of fire as it was full of bearded men drinking tankards of beer and smoking (yes, it’s not illegal in Germany). However, it wasn’t hostile and I would have gone back in there given the time, as it was the sort of place I was looking for rather than the gentrified touristy pubs in the city centre.

After checking into my room, which was within an art gallery and had some very retro furniture, I went for a walk to see if a nearby Biergarten was open but, not surprisingly given it was a Monday night in March, it wasn’t, so I went to Das Hotel, a lovely dimly-lit and quirky place where the staff were friendly and welcoming. I walked down to the lower end of Kottbusser Damm seeking more bars but all I found was a sports bar that was a cross between a betting shop and a pub. Finally, I bought some bottled beer in the off-licence that was literally next door to the entrance to my lodgings and had a pint in the pub/restaurant (“The Bird”) next door on the other side.

My room for the trip to Berlin

My room for the trip to Berlin

Day two – Tuesday 24 March 2015

I started this morning by getting the U-Bahn from Schönleinstraβe to Hallesches Tor and I walked due north along Friedrichstraβe to Checkpoint Charlie, one of the most high profile border crossings between East and West Germany. Here, the East German border was to the north of the checkpoint and West Germany to the south. While it originally had a hut like the one pictured, it was actually upgraded over the nearly three decades it was in place so by the time the wall fell in 1989, it was a ten-lane checkpoint. I looked at an outdoor exhibition about the checkpoint, which was very interesting although spoiled by beggars collecting money “for the disabled”. If that is actually what they are collecting for then that is fine; however, I suspect this is an act designed to trick tourists. Before going to Checkpoint Charlie, I had a look at (from the outside) the Jewish Museum, which was fairly imposing.

Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe

Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe

Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe. The guy dressed as a US soldier will pose for photos for a few Euros.

Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe. The guy dressed as a US soldier will pose for photos for a few Euros.

A small section of the Berlin Wall near Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe. This is within a small outdoor museum featuring boards with photos and text about the history of one of Berlin's most infamous border crossings.

A small section of the Berlin Wall near Checkpoint Charlie, Friedrichstraβe. This is within a small outdoor museum featuring boards with photos and text about the history of one of Berlin’s most infamous border crossings.

After posing at Checkpoint Charlie for a photo with a guy dressed up as a US soldier, with a US flag, I continued my journey North and found a Kamps Bäckerei cafe, which offered a reasonable lunch so after stopping for some coffee and getting some essential sustenance, came to the expensive part of town, where the posh shops are (global brands such as Gucci, H&M, Timberland etc). I was amused about the fact that this part of town was in East Germany; the former Soviet leaders with an anti-capitalist agenda would be turning in their grave!

One of Berlin's finer churches.

One of Berlin’s finer churches.

What are all these blue pipes around Unten den Linden? It appears that there is a branch of the pipe going into the ground under every building. Perhaps it is a district cooling system of some kind?

What are all these blue pipes around Unten den Linden? It appears that there is a branch of the pipe going into the ground under every building. Perhaps it is a district cooling system of some kind?

I then backtracked south to Unter den Linden, the grand avenue leading to the Brandenburg Gate (known as Brandenburger Tor in German). This is probably Berlins’s most famous landmark and like Checkpoint Charlie, a key border crossing between the east and west parts of Berlin. I managed to get a map at last from the adjacent tourist information centre. I have plenty of maps in a book back at my apartment but I only have a rucksack or nothing to carry it in so a pocket-sized map was very useful. Particularly as my mobile ran out of juice about the same time.

Plaza to the east of the Brandenburg Gate. The buildings on both side appear to be post reunification as the wall must have been here.

Plaza to the east of the Brandenburg Gate. The buildings on both side appear to be post reunification as the wall must have been here.

 

Brandenburg Gate, facing West.

Brandenburg Gate, facing West.

Brandenburg Gate, facing east.

To the south of the Brandenburg gate, and where part of the Berlin Wall was is a large plaza full of stone slabs; this is a memorial to the Jews murdered in Europe. It felt very strange thinking that these atrocities took place here only 70 years ago. I then went in a bar and had a stein of lager. This was a strange place as there were no toilets and it was about a 50 metre walk along the road to get to the public loos, although the bar did give me a ticket to pay for the entrance fee.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Eberstraβe.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Eberstraβe.

After that, I went south to Potsdamer Platz, where part of the Berlin Wall used to be but now home to some high-rise office buildings. One of the most prestigious of which is the Sony Centre, which contains the Museum of Film and Television. I went in here and it was worth the admission fee.

Potsdamer Platz and the high-rise buildings that were built after the fall of the wall. There are some sections of the wall that have been placed as artworks.

Potsdamer Platz and the high-rise buildings that were built after the fall of the wall. There are some sections of the wall that have been placed as artworks.

Sections of the Berlin Wall as works of art by Potsdamer Platz.

Sections of the Berlin Wall as works of art by Potsdamer Platz.

The Sony Centre, a very impressive ring of buildings containing a public plaza at the centre. One of the buildings contains the Museum of Film and Television.

The Sony Centre, a very impressive ring of buildings containing a public plaza at the centre. One of the buildings contains the Museum of Film and Television.

Berlin's main library. I'm not sure if this is 60s or contemporary as the cladding looks quite new.

Berlin’s main library. I’m not sure if this is 60s or contemporary as the cladding looks quite new.

In the evening, I went to Alexanderplatz and saw the Fernsehenturm (TV tower) for the first time. I then walked south via a restaurant where I had a beer but was the only customer and then Das Meisterstück, a gastro-pub that had an extensive selection of bottled beers.
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Southampton pub survey – week seven

Friday 10 May 2013

Week 7 kicked off on a rainy night in Bevois Valley. Apart from the Dorchester, this was my first foray into this very fertile field of hostelry. As with last week’s excellent tour of South Freemantle, all three pubs visited were excellent and the only thing that spoiled it was the rain.

First up was the Shooting Star. This has won awards for being the best pub in Southampton and I wish I had visited it sooner. My previous (and only) visit in 2007 was when it was called ‘Kolebka’ and was a Polish jazz bar , although there wasn’t much Polish about it. It is very different now. It has an excellent selection of real ales and a very commendable real Weston’s cider and perry on draught. I’ve seen the cider before but this was the first time I have seen real perry and it was very nice.

There is a large garden at the rear with a big smoking shed as well. Inside is a pool table and jukebox. There is a DJ every Friday and they have different themes of music – punk, alternative, indie to name a few; these rotate each week. That’s a great idea and the first time I have came across that. I’ll definitely have to check out the punk night! There are also other events, including ale and cider festivals and family days where parents can inflict their badly-behaved offspring on the pub’s adult customers!

The Shooting Star

The Shooting Star

Next up was Inferno Bar. This was closed for the duration of my original pub survey so it is my first visit under this name. However, I had visited it when it was previously the New Inn; it was a Gales pub and had good food as well.
As of 2012, it became under new management and it was certainly good when I visited. It calls itself ‘Southampton’s sport and music bar’ and claims to be the only pub outside the city centre to have Sky Sports 3D. It screens all Saints games and apparently there is a great pre-match atmosphere. There is a pool table and ‘beer pong’ events – an unusual version of ping-pong featuring pints of beer.

It has a traditional food menu of simple meals (none of your pretentious gastro nonsense!)and breakfasts. There is a jukebox and karaoke night every Friday. This was in progress when I visited, although it appeared that nobody had volunteered to sing yet. While I was very tempted to inflict some Sex Pistols or Sham 69, it was an unknown audience and in any case, I had work to do.

Inferno Bar

Inferno Bar

By this time, it was raining quite heavily. Good job the next pub was only across the road. As with the previous two, this was under a different name last time I surveyed it. The Rockstone, formerly the Bevois Castle, has always been a very traditional pub and it has been sensitively refurbished in the last couple of years. It is famed for its excellent and plentiful food, and also its range of drinks – not just real ale but spirits as well. The food is fairly expensive but the portions are huge and it looked very appetising. I must try it some time, although there is a lot of demand and tables get booked quite quickly.

There are no TVs, pool tables or other such pub staples and it is a nice break from all that stuff. Inferno Bar is great for that side of things. The Rockstone has a Monday quiz night and occasional festivals with live music. Apparently, there is a garden, but I could not see how to access it. It was absolutely heaving when I visited so it’s another one for my list of good nights out.

The Rockstone in late 2011 – I need to take a newer photo!

The Rockstone in late 2011 – I need to take a newer photo!

Saturday 11 May 2013

I actually had a plan this time! My sister and her husband had offered to join me in checking out the Shirley area and trying some different venues so I made a map showing the 12 pubs that needed doing. Two of them (The Bellemoor and the Ice House were out on a limb so that whittled it down to ten. Obviously, doing all ten in one go would not be a good idea, so we decided to go for six, with a couple of shandies for me to prevent me getting too drunk!

First up was the Santo Lounge. Like its sister venue in Portswood, the Trago Lounge, this recently-opened pub was not there on my previous survey. A lot of pubs from my original survey have closed so it is rare to find some that have added to the total! Its laid-back cafe/lounge-style ambience is nice and there are no TVs or jukebox to distract people. It does get very noisy though when it is full. There was only one table free at the time of visit.

Santo Lounge

Santo Lounge

It serves food, although on the pricier side and has its house ale (Toga Man) on a handpump. It is family friendly (and has free colouring books) and has a quiz night, books and a selection of other games, such as chess.

Next up was the King’s Arms. This is a very traditional Victorian pub and has fine stained-glass windows, decorative tiling and an attractive mural promising ‘Genuine ales and stout’. Inside, the public bar occupies the original building, with a smaller lounge bar in a newer extension. There is pool, darts, Sky Sports and a jukebox. There is also a large beer garden at the rear. There was London Pride on draught and a second handpump that was not in use.

King's Arms

King’s Arms

After a pit stop at the nearby Moby Dick chip shop (the best one in Southampton in my opinion (hmm, perhaps I should survey the chip shops of Southampton!), where everything was buy-one-get-one-free), the Shield and Dagger was the next pub on the list. This looks a bit dubious from the outside, as there are no windows on the main facade. It was opened in 1970 and so doesn’t offer much from an architectural perspective; however, as a pub it seems quite nice. Inside is a large bar area (which is slightly reminiscent of a working men’s club) and there is a large garden at the back. It does serve meals, although there wasn’t much evidence of that (menus for example).  There are two ales on draught though – London Pride and Bombardier.

There is a pool table, dartboards, newspapers and Sky Sports and also some poker tables – this being a popular event on Wednesday and Sunday nights. There is karaoke on Friday nights, occasional live music and a pinball machine. The only other thing of note was a sticky floor around the bar!

Shield and Dagger. The photo is somewhat spoiled by the large van in the way!

Shield and Dagger. The photo is somewhat spoiled by the large vans in the way!

Our next port of call was one of my favourite pubs in Shirley – the Park Inn. This, like many pubs in Shirley and Freemantle, is located on a back street, although very close to Shirley Precinct. It is a very traditional pub that is like being in somebody’s living room. It’s quite small and is comfortably-furnished in a traditional way. It is known for its fine selection of real ales, and as it is owned by Wadworth’s, this includes 6X and Henry’s IPA.

There is a dart board, weekly quiz night and traditional meat draw. While there’s no beer garden, there is an attractive patio at the front with outside seating.

Park Inn

Park Inn

The Salisbury Arms was the penultimate pub on the list. Back to Shirley’s main drag now, this traditional Greene King pub serves Greene King IPA on draught and has an unusual ‘island’ bar, where you can get served from all sides of it. There is a garden and smoking area at the rear.

The pub has a selection of books for sale (20p – bargain!), darts, Sky Sports, a jukebox and karaoke every Sunday afternoon/evening.

The Salisbury Arms in 2007. Again, I need to take a newer photo, although not much has changed.

The Salisbury Arms in 2007. Again, I need to take a newer photo, although not much has changed.

The final pub was the Bright Water Inn – a JD Wetherspoon Free House.  As can be expected with Wetherspoon pubs, the standard was very high, although I always think it’s a bit gloomy in there. There’s a superb variety of real ale, good value food and no music/TVs etc. There’s a small covered smoking patio out the front and a bus stop opposite, making it very easy to get to/from the city centre and railway station. There are some interesting historical photos and articles on the walls, making a great way of learning about local history.

In the evening, I was intending to go in Provenance but it doesn’t open until 10 and the weather was grim so I ended up in Revival again (at least you don’t have to pay to go in until 10) and despite the fact they had no cider (again), they played a much better choice of music from the 70s and 80s.

On Sunday, it had threatened to rain, and although there were already some rather ominous clouds looming, it was dry when I set out. The first pub was The Fox and Hounds, in Bitterne. This rather traditional pub is located in a back street and like many of the other pubs over that side of the river, has two bars. The public bar is very small and was quite empty. The lounge bar is also quite small but there is an extra seating area down a few steps, which is odd in that there are no windows.

There is Sky Sports and a jukebox, and karaoke is advertised. There is a Sunday roast, although it isn’t really advertised very much. At the rear is a smoking patio and large garden; the doors to which have another sign asking dog owners to dispose of their dog’s waste in a responsible way. There is Doom Bar on the real ale front.

The Fox and Hounds, Bitterne

The Fox and Hounds, Bitterne

By the time I left, it had started raining, albeit fairly lightly. The next pub was just around the corner (or so I thought) – The Humble Plumb. This pub, located in Commercial Street, Bitterne (another back street really) is what is left of the Bitterne of old. You’d never guess that there were no less than three pubs there (as of my last visit in 2008). Going back even further there were more than that. This part of Bitterne has been amputated by its modern centre by the 1970s/80s bypass cutting a swathe through Bitterne.

Percy Arms, Bitterne. This has been closed for a few years but was in my original pub survey.

Percy Arms, Bitterne. This has been closed for a few years but was in my original pub survey.

Enough history! It seemed a lot further to the pub than I remembered. Had I taken a wrong turn or was it just the rain making time go slow? Never mind; I found it. This pub was formerly the Commercial Inn but has had its current name for the last decade or two. It is owned by Wadworths and has no less than TEN different real ales! Undoubtedly the best selection that side of the Itchen, although the Hop inn is also a contender.

The Humble Plumb is fairly traditional and has an upmarket food menu. Unfortunately, the tranquility was spoiled by a massive table full of screaming brats running round in circles. Their kids were pretty bad too. There is a small garden/smoke area and a real fire; it must make a cosy place to escape the cold and bitter Bitterne winters. Karaoke and quiz nights were advertised.

Having visited those two pubs meant that the only two pubs left in the North-East are the Fleming Arms and White Swan – both of which were too far to walk in the rain so my sights turned South – all that are left are in Woolston (or Newtown, which is even further) so I first tried the Swift Tavern, which was about to close for the day (closing at 4 pm?) and then The Obelisk. This was packed solid with football supporters avidly watching the TVs. It was packed so tightly that there was no way of getting to the bar. Luckily, the lounge bar was much quieter and made a welcome refuge from the inclement weather.

The Obelisk had a surprisingly-good range of ales, with regulars Ringwood Best, Doom Bar and Bass (wow, not seen that for years!) There was also a guest beer, which was Ballard’s Midhurst Mild. It was apparent that this pub was a champion of real ale as there were even CAMRA beer festival fliers on the tables. As nice as it was, a resurvey will be necessary as the public bar needs checking out too.

My final stop was intended to be The Bridge but that was scuppered by another impenetrable wall of football supporters.

 

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Southampton pub survey – week six

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 London Hotel, Oxford Street

The London Hotel, Oxford Street

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.

Antico Hotel

Antico Hotel

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.

The site of the former Star and Garter

The site of the former Star and Garter

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.

Key and Anchor, Millbrook Road

Key and Anchor, Millbrook Road

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.

Waterloo Arms, Waterloo Road

Waterloo Arms, Waterloo Road

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!

Wellington Arms

Wellington Arms

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.

Pig 'n' Whistle, Shirley Road

Pig ‘n’ Whistle, Shirley Road

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.

Park Hotel

Park Hotel

'Dean's Park Hotel' – it has never been called that by anyone except the former landlord – Matt Dean, who was a councillor as well.

‘Dean’s Park Hotel’ – it has never been called that by anyone except the former landlord – Matt Dean, who was a councillor as well.

 

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.

The Encore

The Encore

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.

Pop World's colourful intrerior

Pop World’s colourful intrerior

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.

The Hare and Hounds, Cheriton Avenue

The Hare and Hounds, Cheriton Avenue

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.

Inside The Bittern

Inside The Bittern

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 Bittern

The Bittern

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 Hinkler

The Hinkler

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.

Inside The Hinkler

Inside The Hinkler

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!

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Southampton pub survey – week five

I can’t believe we’re into the fifth week already! I have visited over 30 pubs in the last month and that is good progress. To those who ask how soon I intend to complete the job; well I don’t have a specific target in place. Just as and when really. Over the course of the summer, this will help me get out and about rather than staying at home and being miserable.

Week five started on Friday night (26 April) in Revolution. As it’s a specialist vodka bar then there was not much hope of any ale, and that assumption turned out to be true. They had the usual selection of mass-produced lagers and Strongbow but beer drinkers were definitely in the minority. It has a promising menu but it is somewhat expensive. The furniture is straight out of an Ikea catalogue and I like that, along with the exposed ventilation ducts that are ubiquitous! The only other thing of interest was the floor, which reminded me of supermarkets. Sorry, I have a thing about flooring.

 

Revolution Vodka Bar

Revolution Vodka Bar

My next stop was Avondale House. This looks more like an office building than a pub, and the name certainly evokes images of offices. Last time I visited here there was no beer on draught (due to technical issues of some kind). There were also several bars on different levels but I could only see two levels this time. There was nothing to dislike but nothing to like either. I think a return visit is necessary to try and understand this complex venue a bit better.

Avondale House

Avondale House

My final stop was Kelly’s. This is stretching the definition of a ‘pub’ a bit. It’s really a nightclub that doesn’t open until 9.00 pm. However, as it has free entry before 10.00 pm, and was included in my previous pub survey then I had no grounds for excluding it.

It got off on a bit of a bad note, as I was asked to remove my hat! Luckily I could fold it up and put it in my pocket. The venue is in the basement and has a large dance floor with a few small areas with tables and chairs at the side. There were virtually no men in there though. The barmaids were all female and scantily-clad (I’ve never seen a male barmaid!) and most of the customers were too. What a shame I’m not straight. But as I’m not completely gay either then my blood pressure started rising like that sketch in one of the Carry On films.

Saturday 27 April 2013

The weather threatened to be a bit unpredictable and so I decided not to stray too far from a bus route. The north section of Southampton (well, anywhere north of the city centre falls into that category) needed doing nearly as much as the West section so Portswood was my first destination. Apologies for the lack of photos of these pubs, I forgot to take the camera! There was a weirdo on the bus but at least it stopped straight outside the Trago Lounge, which was my first target of the day. There was a Saints match about to begin when I visited so I made a conscious decision to avoid anywhere with Sky sports. The hustle and bustle outside where I live on match days can make me quite weary so the Trago Lounge, which has no TVs was a very welcome haven. It has a kind of café atmosphere and that’s a nice change. It was fairly quiet and chilled out when I visited and has a nice but expensive menu. I was very pleased to be served the Loungers’ house ale, Toga Man, in a proper dimpled pint mug! Very rare in pubs now.

Varsity was my next destination and I was surprised at how much the venue has changed. It was called ‘The Terminal’ when I previously visited and was a dark hovel but now a rooflight and opened up back windows have made it far more attractive. I was surprised to find a barmaid who hadn’t heard of a bitter top. It was very cheap for both food and drink though and has a pool table and dartboard for those who are that way inclined.

The Richmond Inn is a proper old-fashioned pub. It smells like someone’s front room and I don’t mean that in a negative way; it seems very homely compared to the anonymous nature of a lot of pubs these days.
It has a jukebox, which was playing ‘The Bear Necessities’ when I visited. Random. There are speakers set up, a mixing desk and bingo machine and I imagine they have a great pub quiz here! There are no TVs so it is another haven from the hustle and bustle of football match days. Four handpumps, selling Greene King/Morland ales. I will definitely be adding this to my shortlist of decent pubs!
Tartan carpet and woodblock parquet floor are an interesting combo in the flooring department.

Literally just across the road is the Gordon Arms,  another pub I enjoyed visiting. It serves food, two real ales and has a smoking area/garden at the rear. Finding the toilets is a huge mystery, as they’re hidden behind a door that is disguised as part of a bookcase! It has a jukebox and quiz night, which I imagine is good. The pub has also won awards for being one of the best pubs in Southampton, as voted for by the public. It’s also right next to a  bus stop so it’s well worth a trip to visit both the Gordon and the Richmond.

That evening’s pub-spotting was less enjoyable. The first venue was Chambers, which wasn’t too bad really, although it is difficult to write too much about these city centre bars that all seem much of a muchness. It’s a modern building (well 60s actually) and has an outside (but on-street) smoking area and DJs on a Saturday night (and probably other nights too). It has what appears to be a fairly good value food menu, although not on weekend evenings. It also has sport on the TV on a regular basis.

Chambers in 1967...it hasn't changed much!

Chambers (top centre) in 1967…it hasn’t changed much!

 

Chambers. A fairly old photo but little has changed.

Chambers. A fairly old photo but little has changed.

After that was The Edge. Another nightclub. I’d like to make it clear that I’m not victimising The Edge or any other nightclub for that matter; it’s just the case that I prefer more traditional pubs. I’m not one for late nights and these places are never much fun on your own…plus the chart/dance music  doesn’t do anything for me.  So yes, while there were three bars, I was looking forward to ‘The Box’ which featured ‘Camp classics’ instead but by the time they opened that, I’d gone home with frustration!

There are three bars – the downstairs one, which is famous for its wall of rainbow c oloured flashing lights (and it is a pretty sight!) and has a dance floor and (unusually for a nightclub) has a pool table, the upstairs one, which is quieter and has a much bigger bar, and ‘The Box’ which is sort of on a level between the other two but it’s only been open once when I have visited in the past. At first, only the ground floor bar is open. Then it takes a long time before the first floor bar is open. Finally, about two hours later, The Box is opened. The only other point of interest really is that there’s a nice garden/smoking area.

The Edge

The Edge

 Sunday 28 April 2013

First up was the Two Brothers, one of the furthest outlying pubs on my survey of Southampton. Fortunately, a bus to there goes straight past where I live so that part was easy.

The Two Brothers is predominantly a food-led pub and part of the Sizzling Pubs chain. I actually tried the food and it was apart from the fact that the steak I ordered was smaller than I was expecting a bit too incinerated. It has a garden, parking and WiFi. It’s definitely family friendly for those who have that to consider #brats

There is also sport on the TVs, a twice-weekly quiz night and occasional live music.

Two Brothers

Two Brothers

Mis-timing the half-hourly bus back, I thought I’d walk along the route until the bus was due but I got to the Big Cheese roundabout before I saw a bus. My intention was to do the last two North Bitterne pubs (Fox and Hounds; Humble Plumb) but a bus heading southwards was exciting and instead I started on the main pubs of Woolston. I got off the bus in Radstock Road, near the Manor House pub. However, I had no intelligence as to whether it was still open. The building is certainly still there but it’s been converted into housing. While it’s always sad to lose another pub, my suspicion of its closure was correct and it wasn’t a particularly nice pub anyway.

Manor House, Woolston: now flats.

Manor House, Woolston: now flats.

I then walked South along Victoria Road, Woolston’s main drag and was amazed to see how down-at-heel it looks. The other odd thing is the place was like a ghost town. Completely dead. Even the large Co-Op furhter down had the shutters down, mid-afternoon on a Sunday. I then became very disorientated, as the road layout has completely changed (Victoria Road has been partly pedestrianised and the main through route  diverted onto a new road on the old Vosper Thorncycroft (VT) site. One thing that hasn’t changed was the very derelict cafe opposite the Victoria pub; an iconic symbol of Woolston!

I had a look at the Ship Inn down Victoria Road. I’ve never managed to have a drink in here as it always seems closed (since 2007!). However, apart from the pile of post inside the front door, it appears to be in good order. Yet another visit will be necessary. Perhaps all-day trading on Sundays hasn’t made it that far South.

The next pub was The Victoria, formerly on the main gate to the VT site but now on its own. It was a bit intimidating in there, I have to say, not least because of all the dogs. There were at least five of them, and thus a sign was needed saying something along the lines of ‘Dogs – if you do a poo in our garden, please ask your mummies and daddies to put it in the dust bin’. There was also a man  trying to get the football on TV to run off his laptop.

There were also numereous signs on the doors to the garden at the rear saying ‘Please DO NOT use this door’ then one underneath saying ‘Yes, THIS DOOR!’. The carpet was quite worn but there was a brand new pool table and some men playing cards (not something you see that much these days).

The decor was rather patriotic – as well as the front facade of the pub being painted with the flag of St George, there was bunting etc inside as well. There’s also a jukebox.

Victoria

Victoria

Next up was a pub something off the beaten track – The Yacht Tavern. Located in a  mainly-industrial area adjacent to Woolston beach (if you were thinking of taking your bucket and spade then don’t bother), this fairly large 1950s-built pub has two bars, and, generally seems nice.

I first went into the lounge bar, which seemed fairly sumptuous but was completely empty of drinkers. I went outside and into the public bar, which was fairly quiet but had a few drinkers in. This is a large bar with a pool table, dartboard and jukebox.  It also has sport on the TVs and regular live bands from the local pub circuit. Smokers can find solace in the covered shed outside the public bar.

The Yacht Tavern let itself down very badly though, as the pint of ale I ordered was disgusting. It was supposed to have Doom Bar but had ran out. Instead I opted for Bombardier but the pint was horrible and had a lot of sediment suspended in the liquid. I suspect this is down to poor procedure in caring for the beer, as Bombardier is normally fine.

Yacht Tavern

Yacht Tavern

Finally, to close an epic afternoon, was the Peartree Inn. Another 1950s-built pub, this has two bars – a lounge bar and a ‘games bar’. Once again, I first entered the lounge bar, which was very plush but; again, there was no-one in there. After hearing the dulcit tones of The Stranglers from the jukebox in the public bar (sorry, games bar!), I went in there and it was pleasant enough, with pool table, jukebox and the usual trimmings that go with them. I witnessed another meat draw, shame I didn’t enter it!

The Peartree Inn

The Peartree Inn

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Southampton pub survey – week four

Week four started on Friday 19 April 2013 with another visit to the Bedford Place area. First up was Bedford’s, which was a lot better than I thought. It has always been one of my more favourable establishments in that area (as a lot of the others are very pretentious) but it seemed to have something for everyone. Great value food, including four different pies for just £5…wow! Must check that out on some idle Sunday. It was pretty busy but not quite heaving and a DJ was going through the throes of getting ready to party. In some ways, I regretted having to move on but I did so.

The Bedford Arms, Bedford Place

The Bedford Arms, Bedford Place

Next up was The Pensioners. This used to be a nice traditional pub but now it has reinvented itself in the same way as 50-year-olds who wear skimpy clothing. At first it was completely dead then a couple sat down at the table behind and were firing allegations at each other. As these were getting increasingly hostile then I moved elsewhere and saw a disco ball but it was evident that the last time they had a disco then the pensioners in question must have been but young whippersnappers.

The Pensioners Arms, Carlton Place.

The Pensioners Arms, Carlton Place.

My final stop on another brief evening out (must pace myself!) was Varsity (London Road), which features a somewhat industrial interior, with exposed functional brickwork, metal beams and supersize ventilation trunking. My first visit to here was in late 2001 (or not far off) and it has changed little. My last visit, funnily enough, was on a Friday night. Now that is going against one of my original principles, that I would visit each venue at a different day of the week/time; however, my intention this time was to achieve a mix of pretentious and non-pretentious venues each visit to try and make the ordeal more bearable.

Varsity, London Road

Varsity, London Road

Varsity was absolutely heaving but curiously, there were a few welcome empty tables. Drinks were ridiculously cheap (£1.89 for a pint of Courage Best?!) and the food was very good value too, although sadly not sampled. There was loud music but no sign of a DJ or anything. It has two floors; the mezzanine floor upstairs was not party to an inspection this time but I assume nothing has changed up there either.

Sat 20 Apr 2013

I had long promised that I would visit Eastleigh when we had a nice weekend so on a beautiful and rare sunny Saturday, I started off the proceedings in the Good Companions. I really like this pub. It’s not as perfect with regard to contemporary décor and such things but that gives it a personality. The landlord was talking to his customers about ale, so in terms of educating publicans about CAMRA, it was clearly preaching to the converted.

It has two bars on the ground floor, although I have only sampled the lounge bar. There’s also a function room upstairs, which has been used for CAMRA meetings. Directors and Hobgoblin are a permanent presence and the pub does food at sensible prices, as well as live music, pool and darts. There’s also a grey parrot in one corner and I regret not introducing myself to him/her.

En route to the next pub, down Leigh Road, I passed the Holiday Inn, formerly known as the Crest Hotel. When I was a kid there was a model of Jeremy Fisher on the corner of Leigh Road and Passfield Avenue. It’s one of the venues I am the rep for but that has to wait for another day. I did take a photo though.

The Holiday Inn, Eastleigh

The Holiday Inn, Eastleigh

On the opposite side of the Leigh Road/Woodside Avenue junction is a former pub that I only went in once – The Leigh. This imposing Mock-Tudor building is definitely a landmark and it is a shame that it closed as a pub. However, it has been refurbished to a high standard, retaining some of its original features but is now an Indian restaurant.

The Leigh Hotel, Eastleigh

The Leigh Hotel, Eastleigh

The Gateway was my next stop; this has to be the worst location for a pub ever – in the middle of a sliproad that spirals up to the M3 motorway from the main road into Eastleigh. It’s a large wooden shed, deliberately done in a rustic sty-le mostly used as a budget hotel (not one I’d like to sleep in) but with a cave-like pub/restaurant on the ground floor, with no little or windows in an attempt to disguise its location. I’ve heard of subdued lighting but this was like a cave. If I was going for a romantic meal then maybe it would have atmosphere but if I took a date to a romantic meal in the middle of a motorway junction then I don’t think I’d hear from my intended ever again.

The Gateway, Eastleigh

The Gateway, Eastleigh

My grumbles were also around the pub itself. It has a rostrum saying ‘please wait to be seated’ but due to the total lack of any staff, I inspected the bar and it didn’t appear to be for staff use only. So I waited at the bar to be served, still with no sign of any staff for about three minutes. I was about to leave and mark it as ‘Attempt for service failed’ but then I was served and sat down. The lack of free wi-fi added to my frustration and the complete lack of any life, any soul, any atmosphere was soul-destroying.

After a brief stop at Eastleigh Library, to see the local history collection, I went outside to the Chamberlayne Arms, a pub I’ve never been in despite spending over 20 years visiting my hometown on an almost-daily basis. It was surprisingly quiet inside and surprisingly large too. There are nice historic photos on the walls and the décor is traditional but with a contemporary edge. Its food has been recommended but sadly not tried, while Hobgoblin and Ringwood Best were available on handpumps. It also serves good value food (more pies!) and has a pool table and outside patio.

The final pub I visited that afternoon was The Wagon Works. Formerly the Home tavern, this is one of Eastleigh oldest pubs. A friend had her 18th birthday party in the function room upstairs but that isn’t used any more as far as I know.

The Home Tavern, Eastleigh

The Home Tavern, Eastleigh

Being a Wetherspoon’s pub, this was obviously of a pretty good standard, with a great choice of real ales on draught. I can’t really think of much  more to write than that, as it’s a typical Wetherspoon’s experience.

The Wagon Works, Eastleigh - formerly the Home Tavern.

The Wagon Works, Eastleigh – formerly the Home Tavern.

In the evening, I went somewhere a bit more local – The Firehouse. This is a heavy metal pub and the jukebox had some good punk tunes on. There are lots of men with long hair and beards and leather jackets. They had a live band on but they were too heavy for my linking. All roaring and head banging! I think this is somewhere I’ll be visiting more often!

This 1950s building has similar architecture to the adjacent post-war Above Bar shops It has had many different names and brands in recent years, including Park Tavern and Strikers.

The Firehouse

The Firehouse

Tuesday 23 April 2013

It was a fine evening so I took the opportunity to check out another city centre pub. As it was St George’s Day, I chose a very English pub – The Giddy Bridge. This Wetherspoons pub is always consistently good, as can be expected at the national managed pub chain’s venues.

It was busy but I could get a table for my brief visit. They had ran out of a few ales, including the St George’s day beer so I settled for a pint of Old Rosie cider – a potent brew and it was so nice to have some good cider instead of Strongbow (which I am bored of).

The Giddy Bridge

The Giddy Bridge

Thursday 25 April 2013

On another fine evening, I visited another pub – The Dorchester Arms. This was closer to home than I thought, being just under 10 minutes’ walk away. It was very quiet, considering the football that was on TV but seemed fairly good. It’s an entertainment-led pub, with no food available it appears (not that I am overly bothered about that). It has two bars; a larger one on the left, which has a stage in and at least three dartboards, and a smaller one to the right, which contains a pool table and leads to a smoking area at the rear.

The Dorchester Arms

The Dorchester Arms

It had three hand-pumps, with Courage Best available and it was a very nice pint; some places have ale that’s hard work to drink. There are live bands on a regular basis, including Double Barrel and the Life of Riley – two of the Southampton pub circuit’s most well-known bands.

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Southampton pub survey – week three

Friday night’s  mission was a short one and took in what used to be the Red Lion in Bedford Place (no 11). It is no longer red and just ‘The Lion’; this name truncating malarkey has been fairly common in recent years. A fairly small pub, it was pleasant enough but nothing of particular note and was surprisingly quiet for a Friday night. It had Doom Bar on tap and another hand pump that was being used as a backup for the other one. Modern décor except for the large old-fashioned CRT TVs hanging up on the walls – these are becoming about as common as ashtrays in pubs! Pool table, a jukebox and table football were the only other signs of any entertainment. With heavy rain all day Saturday, my enthusiasm for going out was limited. As it was, a short evening jaunt was all that took place, starting off in Goblets (no 12) where I was pleasantly surprised to see a live band. It’s always been a pub I quite like but thought it had lost its way a bit of late. It even does food now (or maybe it always has done but I hadn’t noticed it). Sadly, my evaluation form has gone missing so I will reserve further comment until a return visit. After that I went in Revival (no 13), my first visit to the nightclub formerly known as Flares but not much has changed. If you had asked if I like 70s and 80s music I would have wholeheartedly agreed but just one visit here made me realise that there’s a lot of 70s and 80s stuff that is soul-destroying. Draught beer of any kind was unavailable due to some kind of mechanical failure but even when fully up and running then real ale is definitely out of the question. There’s not much to do except dancing to dirgy music. I despair! I thought it may be fun to give nightclubs another try but…no. Not my thing at all, mainly due to music differences. Does it count? Well, technically it does, as it’s open at least one time per week without having to pay an entry fee (like the first hour each night). It is stretching the definition of pub somewhat though. Each to their own! Sunday saw a confused start due to a lack of buses. I was intending to head to the East side again (as I had to go to that area later anyway). Instead I got a bus towards Swaythling and the Stoneham Arms. However, that pub was out on a bit of a limb (that is, not near any others) and Sunday buses were infrequent so I got off at Portswood and started proceedings in The Mitre (no 14). This large Greene King pub was nothing particularly special but certainly pleasant enough.  
The Mitre

The Mitre

Next, I headed north to the St Denys Hotel, sadly now converted to flats but still sporting some fine decoration on its facade.
The St Denys Hotel, now flats.

The St Denys Hotel, now flats.

The sight further down of the Bitterne Park Hotel, across Cobden Bridge; a huge mock-tudor pub dominating the views of Bitterne Triangle, drew me over the bridge but which bar to choose?
Bitterne Park Hotel

Bitterne Park Hotel

Bitterne Park Hotel

Bitterne Park Hotel

This pub has two bars (or perhaps even more) and a very confusing layout. The smaller public bar has a pool table, jukebox and such like. The larger bar at the back has a very high ceiling, large stage and spartan decor. After that, I went down to The Station, a large food-orientated pub where I had a very reasonable roast dinner, which was very nice. I played the ‘catch the random bus’ game again and ended up on a circuitous journey to Butts Road, where I sadly acknowledged the Bullseye as another Tesco shop. DSCF1377 A fairly short but very hilly walk from there brought me to the Spike Islander. This has two bars; as I went in the lounge bar last time I thought I’d give the public one a try this time. That was alright. They had a meat draw and Play Your Cards Right game, football on the telly and a pool table.
Spike Islander

Spike Islander

My final stop was the Robin Hood. On my previous two visits (some years ago) this was known as the Earl of Locksley but has reverted to an earlier name. This large pub hasn’t changed much. It had real ale and absolutely dirgy music playing on the jukebox so I decided to hijack it and played Anarchy in the UK and One Step Beyond. The punters seemed to enjoy that as much as I did. Once an entertainer, always an entertainer! A mid-week (Wed 17 Apr) visit to the Prince of Wales (Northam), upon first entering the front (public) bar was a bit intimidating. It’s a very small area with pool etc and all the customers stopped and looked round as I entered. However, I managed to locate the lounge bar (which is accessed by a separate door from the street). That was much more pleasant. This pub does good value food and is dominated by a red and white striped theme, feeding off the aura of the nearby stadium (barely 5 minutes’ walk away). They have a quiz and bingo session on Wednesday nights.
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Southampton pub reviews – week two

Week two of my survey of every pub in Southampton didn’t see a huge amount of progress until the weekend. On Friday night, I went in The Angel, my local, which sadly appears to be on its last legs. It is now only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and was fairly quiet when visited at around 8.00 pm. It has changed a lot in the last couple of years, with some major refurbishment of the area behind the bar but it was very disappointing.

The Angel

The Angel

Pub no. 7 was the Kingsland Tavern, which I have been avoiding and while I was hoping to find a welcoming pub, that appears to have been unfounded optimism. Its garish white and green paint colour scheme and very bright fluorescent lighting did little favour to the 1970s furniture.

Kingsland Tavern

Kingsland Tavern

On Saturday, I decided to visit some more of the pubs east of the Itchen, but my indecision just saw me getting whatever bus turned up next (being determined to get my money’s worth from my bus pass). This led to Townhill Park, past the Hop Inn and round the corner to Meggeson Avenue. It was time to get what was previously Southampton’s worst pub (as voted for by me) out of the way. The Ark, fortunately, appeared to be closed, giving the Kingsland a good chance of claiming that title.

The Ark

The Ark

Back on the bus after a few photos, and the next pub (no. 8) was the Big Cheese, one of several pubs in the city that have bus stops named after them. This was fairly decent, it being a food-led pub in one bar and a public bar with darts, TVs and lots of football supporters in the other.

The Big Cheese, Bitterne

The Big Cheese, Bitterne

After that led me south to Bitterne precinct and the Red Lion (no. 9) at its eastern end. This is another pub that focuses on the restaurant side of its business, with a separate area for dining. It had a surprisingly good range of ales though.

The Red Lion, Bitterne

The Red Lion, Bitterne

On Sunday I paid another journey to Townhill Park. I didn’t get off at The Ark but the bus went right past it and there was no sign of life and the remains of an outside bench. At the top of the hill I got off the bus and took a photo of the Castle, sadly surrounded by Tesco construction hoardings.

Tesco @ The Castle

Tesco @ The Castle

The journey was worthwhile though, as a short walk down the hill brought me to the Hop Inn (no. 10). This was always one of my favourite pubs in the area but it was excellent, and even better than I remember. This has two bars. To the left from the front entrance is the public bar (which wasn’t seen on this visit) and to the right is an amazing lounge bar. Very cosy and just like someone’s front room. There’s an open fire, nice carpets  and lots of jugs and tankards hanging from the ceiling. There was also an amazing selection of ales, including HSB, one of my favourites.

The Hop Inn, note the missing letters!

The Hop Inn, note the missing letters!

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Southampton pub reviews get underway

I have teamed up with the South Hampshire branch of the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), which has a very detailed database of pubs in its patch (Southampton itself, Eastleigh, Winchester, Bishops Waltham, Romsey and the New Forest) and my data will help them. In fact I will probably discontinue my own database, as CAMRA are importing my data where they don’t have it so having a separate database is a duplication of effort.

However, I will keep a blog here detailing my opinions and experiences rather than the more specific data (opening times, features and facilities, beer served and so on) , which will go in the CAMRA database.

My data capture specification has changed since my original survey. Much of that mission’s objective was to rate the pubs on a scale of one-to-five in five categories: beer, price, attractiveness, entertainment and atmosphere. CAMRA’s ‘Beer Scoring’ system replaces the first two, as like my survey, it includes both the range and quality of ales. Rather than rating the price on a sale of one-to-five, beer scoring records the actual price against that particular beer. No doubt this data can be used by CAMRA for many different purposes.

In terms of entertainment, individual features are recorded now – a much more detailed record than a simple score out of five. Atmosphere and attractiveness are somewhat subjective so will be omitted but any notes will be put in the description. Adding an ‘architectural style’ column may help with judging how attractive a pub is.

So, with a form made up containing numerous tick boxes reflecting the facilities a pub has (most of them fitting into the categories CAMRA uses plus a few extra [mainly entertainment-related] ones of my own) ,  and space for recording other data and a description, the ‘arduous’ task of surveying Southampton’s pubs began.

On Good Friday afternoon (29 March 2013) , I visited the first pub on the list – picked by convenience of locality more than anything else – which was Que Pasa.

Que Pasa  is a typical High-Street pub, noted for its food, which is actually very good value and consists of similar general pub food to that of Wetherspoons. Of particular note were the deals, such as £5.95 for a Sunday roast. While I have not sampled that, I had fish and chips in there a few weeks previous to that and it was good. Anyway, I am not on a gastronomic mission so otherwise, it seemed like a good place. At first glance, there appeared to be a lack of any ales. I then realised they had Marston’s Pedigree but it was on the same fount as the keg lagers etc – rather than a traditional hand-pump. Unusual!

Que Pasa

Que Pasa

Slug and Lettuce (not a very appetising name it has to be said!) was next on the list, being just across the street from Que Pasa. It was a little bit tatty in places but only a minor issue. It is, again, a food-led pub, being slightly more expensive than Que Pasa but I was pleasantly surprised to see three hand-pumps – which offered Doom Bar, Old Speckled Hen and Watercress Line, a guest beer I presume but it was good. There is an upstairs bar in addition to the main ground floor one but it was fairly empty.

Slug and Lettuce

Slug and Lettuce

Yates’s was next on the list and was yet another pleasant enough but bland High-Street pub. It has entertainment on some nights, including an open mic night and pub quiz, and Friday and Saturday night DJs – although I have not witnessed any of these events.

Yates's

Yates’s

After that, I visited Turtle Bay but was not particularly impressed. No ale and only one beer on draught (Red Stripe). It is definitely a food led pub and I was disgruntled to be asked to move to one of the barstools as I was only drinking  If there was a shortage of tables then I would have understood it (or probably not have sat there in the first place) but it was half empty. I would have deducted points if I was still scoring points!

Turtle Bay (crap photo!)

Turtle Bay (crap photo!)

Finally on that day’s mission was the Frog and Parrot – a stupid name replacing a previous stupid name (The Old Fat Cat). However, this Greene King pub is always consistently quite good and was subject to a very recent refurbishment. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same about the toilets, which appear to date back to when the building was converted to a pub (mid-late 1990s I would guess). It was pretty quiet during my mid-afternoon visit. There were three hand-pumps, which served the standard Greene King ales – IPA, Old Speckled Hen and Abbott Ale. There used to be regular karaoke nights but these appear to have been dropped with a change of focus on the gastropub element of the venue.

Frog and Parrot under its previous guise as the Old Fat Cat

Frog and Parrot under its previous guise as the Old Fat Cat

Southampton’s endangered pubs – an assessment of the damage

The Anchor pub, East Street

The Anchor pub, East Street

In 2007-08, I took it on myself to undertake the epic task of visiting every pub in Southampton. (Click here to see the reviews and here for the winners.) While undertaking such a venture again would be a timely and expensive process, I have been interested in finding out what the damage is to Southampton’s pubs in light of the worst economic crisis for decades. I have, therefore, conducted a ‘desk-based assessment’ but will need to conduct some fieldwork before a more accurate answer can be obtained.

Total pubs visited in 2007–08:  186

There were 11 pubs that were closed at the time of the survey:

Around The World, Blacksmith’s Arms,  Bridge Tavern (Coxford), Prince of Wales, Old Thatched House, The Dolphin (St Denys), Royal Standard,  The Merry Oak, The New Inn (Bevois Valley), Coopers Arms, Ship Inn (Woolston) and the Victory.

Some venues were deemed to be exempt as they were not really pubs according to the criteria published at the time. While no definite list of these was made at the time, it is clear from the published results that these were exempt. The categories were restaurants, hotels, night clubs and music venues. With hindsight, some of the exempted venues should have been included, and there are other venues that have gone the opposite way and became venues that were not really a pub.

Exempt venues (this is not an exhaustive list):  Dolphin Hotel (High Street), the Joiners, The Edge, The Dungeon, the Rhino Club, Junk, Lennon’s, Soul Cellar, Kaos, Unit, The Brook.

Total pubs from previous survey still OPEN March 2013:  143
Of those, 23 have changed their name (some of them more than once!). While some of the changes are in name only, others have seen complete refits and the associated rebranding exercises:

  • Hamptons > Guava Bar > Mango
  • New Inn > Usual Suspects > Inferno Bar
  • Flares > Revival
  • Lizard Lounge & Apartment 26 > Revolution
  • Kolebka > Legends > Shooting Star
  • Hogshead > Slug and Lettuce
  • Joe Daflo’s > The Vestry
  • White House > Cafe Parfait
  • Wine Bar > Yuzu Lounge
  • Court Jester > Antico
  • Old Fat Cat > Frog and Parrot
  • Dockgate 4 > Grand Cafe
  • Bosun’s Locker > Juniper Berry (reversion to its original name)
  • Honest Lawyer > Lime Bar
  • Jones Wine Bar > Mavericks > The Strand (another reversion to a previous name)
  • Bar Ice > Oasis Bar
  • Poletrix > Aqua Lounge > ISIS
  • Early of Locksley > Robin Hood (another reversion)
  • Bevois Castle > The Rockstone
  • The Manor > Shirley Hotel (yet another reversion!)
  • The Terminal > Varsity (Portswood)
  • Cork & Bottle > The Admiral Sir Lucius Curtis
  • The Endeavour > The Titanic
  • Walkabout > Wahoo > Elements
  • Coopers Arms > Joshua Tree
  • Reflex > Popworld

The danger of extinction list

These pubs are currently closed; in some cases the shutters have been up for years while others are hopefully just temporarily closed. There are currently 21 pubs on this list.

  • The Bridge Tavern (Coxford) – was closed in 2007 and is still there, despite threats of redevelopment (below).
The Bridge Tavern in its better days!

The Bridge Tavern in its better days!

 

  • Ferryman and Firkin – closed shortly after last survey.
  • Around the World – a long-derelict gastropub at the end of Town Quay.
  • Royal Standard – what appears to be a prime site within the city walls and near to the waterfront has shown no sign of any progress.
  • The Anchor (East Street) – this narrow Mock-Tudor pub is adjacent to the condemned East Street Shopping Centre and it has been boarded up for some time.
  • Bar Risa – the Bargate Centre (which this is adjacent to) appears to be equally doomed. The large Bar-Risa venue has been shut for some years.
  • The Bevois Town – despite enjoying a brief spell under the management of Southampton’s legendary drag queen Lucinda Lashes, this backstreet boozer has closed, no doubt partly due to its obscure location.
  • The Bush Inn – AKA The Maybush – it has been rumoured that this pub is being eyed up as a convenience store but the loss of the enormous Ordnance Survey buildings next door make this pub as unviable as ever.
The Bush Inn

The Bush Inn

  • The Crown Inn, Shirley High Street – this one came as a bit of a surprise, as the new landlord had turned it around from the bad reputation it has as Tramways and introduced some popular live music events. No sooner had the pub closed then the metal shutters went up – an unusually quick battening down of the hatches. This is a listed building so in theory cannot be demolished.
  • The Fitzhugh – once a popular post-football match pub, the move to St Mary’s Stadium left this pub out on a bit of a limb.
  • Frog and Frigate – this has been shut for years as far as I can tell.
  • King Alfred – a very recent closure and hopefully a temporary one.
  • Lord Palmerston – closed shortly after the previous survey and has been boarded up ever since. It has been threatened with demolition.
  • Park Hotel (Freemantle) – another pub that has been boarded up for years. Hopefully the building will be kept,  as there is some historic tiling on the outside but several estate agents’ signs have came and gone.
  • Percy Arms – been closed for some years apparently.
  • Plume of Feathers – closed but the nearby Kingsland Tavern remains.  Sadly, it’s unlikely that there is a future for two pubs in that location.
The Plume of Feathers pub

The Plume of Feathers pub

  • Provenance – formerly the Square, this new venue has very minimalist black on white signage but I have yet to actually see it open.
  • St Denys Hotel – sadly, I think this is almost definitely already on the ‘converted’ list.
  • Willows (Oxford Street) – the area where this was is virtually unrecognisable and I have not been able to ascertain its exact location.
  • The Ship Inn, Victoria Road, Woolston. Thisd small pub was closed last time I visited and it may have been converted or demolished as part of the major regeneration of that area.
  • The Castle, Midanbury. Allegedly this landmark pub has been boarded up for some time.

Converted

It’s too late for the pubs on this list; they’ve already been converted for other uses. While I will never condone closure of pubs, I’d rather they at least kept the building. Some conversions (such as The Eagle) have been very unsympathetic with their conversion while others, such as the Bald Faced Stag, have attempted to preserve some of their buildings’ heritage. The residential conversions appear to be more sympathetic than replacing entire facades with supermarket windows and signage.

  • Blacksmiths Arms – being converted as of March 2013. While a later extension is being demolished, the main pub building, which is Victorian, is being converted into housing. Terraced houses are being built on other parts of the site, which appear to be in keeping with the adjacent existing Victorian terraced houses.
  • The Merry Oak – this is now a veterinary surgery but many of its landmark features are still there.
  • The Victory (by Central Station) – now Costa Coffee. The pub was part of the unappealing 60s concrete HSBC tower development, and while the need for a pub by the station is a good point, nobody is going to shed any tears from an architectural perspective.
  • Anchor and Hope, Freemantle – this is now a Cooperative Food store. I have yet to see the building since its recent conversion so cannot comment on that.
  • Bald Faced Stag – it’s a miracle this pub lasted as long as it did, as it was on a dead-end back street! Now converted to flats but this has been done in a fairly sympathetic way, with many of the imposing Victorian building’s features being retained.
  • The Bullseye – perhaps out on a bit of a limb in terms of its location, this large 1950s-style pub is now a Tesco Express.
  • Duchess of Wellington – another Freemantle backstreet pub that has been converted to housing.
  • The Eagle – I miss this large Mock-Tudor pub but it now serves as my local off-licence! Apparantly, changes to the building were made without planning permission, and there were some unsightly things such as exposed breeze block walls where the pub’s original entrance was. Although the pub was not particularly old, this conversion has little sympathy to the original building.
The Eagle pub after having being converted into a convenience store

The Eagle pub after having being converted into a convenience store

  • The Gatehouse – part of the building was demolished while another part was kept for an unsympathetic conversion to housing.
  • H20 – this venue, on the corner of St Mary’s Road and Onslow Road, was closed for some years before its recent conversion to a Best-One convenience store. The bar had many different names over the years.
  • Old Thatched House – the loss of this pub was very disappointing, as it was one of Southampton’s oldest pubs. The building has been retained (as it is a listed building) and now serves as a chiropody clinic.
  • Queensland Tavern – another backstreet boozer that has been converted to residential use not long after my original survey. It took several visits back in 2007 to find a day this was open!
  • The Winning Post – this suburban pub is now a convenience store and was one of the first examples of pubs being converted to such a use in Southampton.
  • The Woodman – this large pub had two bars; it is now a Tesco supermarket. I enjoyed many good gigs in that pub.

No Flowers Please

Sadly, these pubs have been demolished since the original survey.

  • Bar Coda.
  • Bridge Inn (St Denys). I cannot confirm this one yet without a proper site visit.
  • Crown and Sceptre – and The Gate – the adjacent University’s car parks had apparently encroached on these pubs so the University demolished them both to make way for more surface car parking.
  • Zeb – AKA the Oddfellow’s Arms – this was one of the more disappointing losses, as the pub had some fine Courage tiling and mosacis but it has been demolished to make way for dull and faceless flats.
The former Oddfellows Arms in St Mary Street... destroyed in late 2011.

The former Oddfellows Arms in St Mary Street… destroyed in late 2011.

 

  • The Exford Arms – a modern pub that nobody is likely to shed any tears over.
  • Finally, the Crusader/The Smugglers has also been demolished. This was closed at the time of the original survey so is not included in it but is worthy of a note here.

The good news

There is, fortunately, some good news, with some new pubs and other venues have opened, and others that were closed at the time of the original survey but have since been renamed.

  • The Buddha Lounge, Bedford Place area
  • Toyko Bar, same area as above
  • Trago Lounge, Portswood – one of a new chain (Loungers) of lounge-style bars/restaurants. I found it difficult to pigeonhole this into one of my usual categories (local, town pub, restaurant, night club and so on). The Trago Lounge is in a building formerly occupied by Pizza Hut.
  • Santo Lounge, Shirley – another Lounge on a similar theme as then Trago Lounge. This one occupies the ground floor of an imposing Victorian building formerly used as a ‘Plumb Center’ [sic].
  • Turtle Bay – a popular Caribbean restaurant/bar that has occupied part of Southampton’s rebranded Guildhall Square. This provides an ‘active frontage’ to the surrounding area, as the floors above are just Capita offices.
  • Ninety Degrees at Carlton’s – this was in the early stages of construction during the original survey but is now a popular contemporary bar/restaurant.

Conclusion

So, 186 pubs in 2007-08…minus 143 pubs in 2013 = 43 pubs less. Therefore, Southampton has 23% less open pubs than it did in 2007! If I include the six or so new pubs then the figure is still over 20%…sobering reading!

Now I have this dataset then I’m sure I can  generate further stats from it.

Romsey Road 3D model – a change of plan?

During the last few weeks I have been learning to use Blender – 3D modelling software. Although there are a lot of aspects I have yet to cover, my knowledge and skill with Blender is probably equal or if not better than my knowledge of 3DS Max, the programme I have created the Romsey Road building model with. I have studied Blender in a more structured way than my fumbled experimentations in Max.

Staff Restaurant wallpaper

This has eventually led me to an important decision about the project’s future. I am still 100% committed to it but the question has to be asked as to whether it is more appropriate to abandon the work so far in Max and start anew in Blender. Unfortunately, the .Max file format is locked down tightly as it is a commercial product. This makes converting between the two formats difficult. There are a number of issues with the current state of play and I will attempt to highlight these below.

By far the largest issue is the fact that my educational licence for using Max will expire in early 2013 and can’t be renewed. Max is a very expensive commercial product that costs thousands of pounds (sadly there’s no such thing as a reduced-cost licence for non-professional use). Blender, on the other hand, is completely free and is also open-source.

In addition to the point above, the Blender file format, being open-source, can be opened without restriction. Having the model in such a format is a huge advantage over having it in the somewhat-proprietary Max format that can’t be used or even opened without very expensive software. This means that it can be kept as a more future-proof legacy as part of the historic records surrounding the real-world site.

The Max model is by no means perfect. The real-world building was built in an age of feet and inches. Much as I try to avoid using such archaic units, converting everything to metric, as I did in the Max model, has led to some inaccuracies. I have rounded up/down all the metric measurements to the nearest 0.25 metres, for example giving the spacing between Central Block’s pillars as 4 metres. This has led to an inaccuracy with West Block; it doesn’t match up with Central Block at the G core junction. My intended eventual solution was to wait until West Block was finished and then stretch it but that was far from ideal. If I remake it in Blender then I will have to resort to using imperial measurements but at least things will be far more accurate in terms of their proportions.

Work on the project has stalled anyway in the last few months due to some tiny uncertainties with the pipes in the lower ground subway – as well as spending a lot of spare time learning Blender. Chance to start afresh may bring some new energy to the thing. If I continue working on it as it is then it only seems like wasted effort if the whole thing is going to need to be remade.

All is not lost; much of the time I have spent on the project earlier this year has been researching things. While I still have Max I can refer to the detail there rather than having to research it from scratch. This will allow me to work a lot more quickly than last time.

Some other advantages of using Blender instead of Max:

  • While my Max skills are always useful, only using one software package instead of two will be less confusing; I still get keyboard shortcuts mixed up between the two.
  • Adding background images (such as plans and elevation drawings) to the drawing board in Blender is much easier than in Max – this is a huge advantage for me.
  • Doing simple animation in Blender, such as fly-throughs and doors that automatically open, is stupidly easy.
  • Blender has a built-in game engine; we have successfully used this at work to make a walk-through first-person simulator. Obviously this tool was intended for going around shooting bad guys but the same motion technology can be used for more civilised purposes! Beware the stairs though; now I know why the Daleks had so much trouble with them!
The disadvantages of a move to Blender
  • Having to remake it all, obviously!
  • I really like the photometric Mental Ray lighting in Max. The Blender Cycles renderer appears to be roughly equivalent, with some very promising results showing from my use so far.
  • I like the Mental Ray ProMaterials even more – these are instant architectural materials (concrete/painted walls etc) that make things much easier than having to find suitable texture images to use. Blender does have procedural textures, but these are much less intuitive than just in Max, where just selecting ‘Wall paint’, setting the colour and letting it do its thing is very easy.
  • Blender’s layer system is rather primitive but will do.
  • There is no easy way to keep individual items that are part of one component (say a door or table) together in Blender. Probably my main gripe about it. Parenting kind of does the trick but gets ignored if you duplicate items so you have to select every individual item within the component, which is not particularly easy given complex scenes.

I guess I’ve kind of answered my own question here; that the model, as it stands is not sustainable without the move to a more useful format. However, all comments, and indeed suggestions, are much appreciated.