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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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The Bargate Shopping Centre – a premature obituary

The Bargate Centre and Bar Risa - 26 June 2005.

The Bargate Centre and Bar Risa – 26 June 2005.

I was shocked to see how bad a state the Bargate Centre is in now. It is clearly on its last legs. All the shops are closed it seems. As it happens, the owner (BNP Paribas – a stupid name that gives visions of the other, nasty political BNP) has served notice on all the retailers as the centre is running at a loss.

While I dislike that type of architecture (80s/90s post-modern stuff), I have a lot of happy memories of it: it was a very cool place to hang out – with a GAME shop and Sega Park to name but two.

When I was at ITeC (a now-defunct IT college in St Mary Street) we always used to go in there at lunchtime, to play Air Hockey or those driving games where you’re linked together to the people next to you to race. I was never very good at either!

Later on, the Bargate centre had something of an alternative vibe, which was cool. With Shakeaway, DJ stores, sk8 fashion, tattoo and piercing services and gothic clothing stores, it was definitely a cool place to hang out.

The bottom floor looked very exciting, with neon lights and colourful shops. The top floor was always somewhat bare and barren, with the very high walls.

The outer façades were very blank and devoid of windows. A very introverted building, and it looks a lot bigger from the outside. It is attached to a somewhat-brutalist multi-storey car park, not sure if that was part of the build or there before and the link between the shops and the car park was confusing and poorly-signed.

The courtyard in the middle never really took off. I think it was some kind of food court originally (but can’t remember). After that it was a cyber-cafe but that didn’t last long either.

The centre was only opened in around 1989 and has had a very short lifespan. Rumours of demolition may be closer than they seem. I have looked on the council’s planning applications website and there is no evidence of redevelopment plans. The centre’s website is woefully out of date, showing long-departed shops. Apparently, the previous owner before the BNP went bust and the centre is looking for a buyer. This is perhaps optimistic, considering the recent demise of other retailers in Southampton – Woolworths, Jessops and, inevitably, HMV, which I sadly think is on a life-support machine in intensive care. Who will be next?

The Bargate Centre was originally going to be demolished to make way for a new Debenhams store (allowing the current building on Queensway to be replaced with flats. Fortunately, as I like the building, Debenhams has said it is proud to be in a building with so much history from the Edwin Jones era, and they’ve recently had a multi-million pound refurbishment. Who would want to buy the Bargate Centre though?

Pubs update Summer 2012

There has been a flurry of activity on the pubs front in Southampton city centre in recent weeks:

  • The Angel (formerly known as Angel of the South), Palmerston Road, has been given an external facelift, with a ‘blood and custard’ style re-paint and new signage. Once the pub’s toilets have been refurbished (these should have been done first, they’re in a dreadful state!) then its regeneration will be complete.
  • The Old Fat Cat, Above Bar, has had a substantial refurbishment and has been renamed to ‘The Frog and Parrot’. Whether this is any relation to other local former pub names along similar lines  a) The Frog & Frigate, b) The rat & Parrot or c) Toad at the Park has get to be confirmed but it remains a Greene King venue.
  • The Square (or Square Balloon as it was originally named) is closed for a substantial refurbishment; much needed as it was somewhat tatty.

Clarence Pier

Clarence Pier – a vision of the space age in Hampshire!

This building comes as something as a surprise in a Hampshire seaside town, as it would be more at home in Los Angeles than in conservative old Blighty. This building is very extravagant and that’s quite appropriate as it was always designed to be a pleasure palace and some boring old Prince Charles style ‘recycled Georgewardian (best before 1900)’ would hardly have been appropriate.

It seems that the architects were allowed to go completely over the top but that’s why I love this building so much. It must have been incredibly modern and exciting when it opened in 1961, a replacement for original buildings that were victim to enemy WWII air raids.

In the 1950s, there was a bold vision for the future, showcased at the Festival of Britain and so spaceships and atomic power were the subject of much excitement and kids’ TV shows such as Thunderbirds and Stingray offered an insight into this. Clarence Pier would not have looked out of place on  the set of any of those numerous visionary programmes. It’s a real building of the exciting space-age future.

Concrete ‘shell roofs’ were very much in fashion in the 1960s and found themselves into numerous buildings in their different forms but it was rare to have so many different types of structure in one relatively small building. Probably the most memorable feature is the building’s tower, coloured in bright blue and yellow; a dominant colour scheme across several parts of the building. This is topped by a circular disc that appears to be floating on the glass windows and clearly resembles a flying saucer.

The side profile of the main building has a zig-zag roof known as a folded plate shell roof; the ‘folds’ in it giving it strength to span wide areas without needing supports.

Attached to this is a building with a different type of folded concrete roof; this one resembling the wings of a bird or perhaps of a jet aircraft.  It’s hard to explain  the geometry of this one and I am getting too far into the scary realm that is maths to go there!

The building has been used as The Golden Horseshoe amusement arcade ever since I can remember but it’s still associated with the adjacent funfair (which has greatly reduced in size sadly). It also contains a Wimpy bar and a kid’s play area.  I believe it originally had a ballroom in but I have not been able to dig up much info.

Finally, adjacent to, but separate, is a smaller building. This used to be a pub but is now the Wheel of Fortune, another amusement arcade. This has another shell roof that looks as though it is going to take off.

Buildings I disklike

Southampton, like a lot of cities, has some very good architecture but also some that I dislike.

It seems that the majority of this dates back to the ‘Postmodern’ era of the late 80s/90s.

First up, is The Marlands Centre. I think the critics at the time said it looked like something a child might build out of Lego and that pretty much sums it up really. It was never a major success, due more than anything to its location I guess. It was anchored by Dunnes clothing and that didn’t last long but it’s a Matalan now. The council have made public their intention to redevelop that block in  the next decade or so – along with the ASDA and multistorey car park that all seemed state of the art at the time.

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Pretty much in the same category is the awful multi-storey car park behind the BBC studios. It looks like the builders ran out of brown bricks halfway through building it and had to revert to beige ones.

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 Probably the biggest horror of all in the ‘Lego’ category though has to be the Hyde Housing building in St Mary Street. The only positive thing I have to say about that is its symmetrical. The arch shaped support at the bottom looks exactly like something from a Lego box.

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In a different category now are Southampton’s main shops in Above Bar. You know the ones, where Primark/BHS and so on are. These were all put up in a hurry after the city centre was devastated by WWII bombing but there seems to have been a missed opportunity to me here. Southampton’s parks are one of its best features yet all the aforementioned shops (except a couple) turn their back on the parks and just have a ‘blind’ facade of loading bays and dark alleyways. The backs of these buildings are at best utilitarian but actually pretty ugly in places.

I don’t think the buildings themselves are ugly, as the white stone facades along Above Bar look fairly decent and perhaps have a vague hint of the International Style, particularly with the metal windows sthat were so popular in those days.

The council has put forward some ideas for redeveloping these shops to reconnect the retail area with the parks and that would make a big improvement to the current situation. However, I am not sure that lesson will ever be learned. Leisure World for example – it has virtually no facade. Just a giant metal box with one small entrance. Now admittedly a cinema is going to have to have blind facades for obvious reasons but it looks like a large version of those shipping containers nearby.

And that brings me on to…those shipping containers. They’re piled up very high along the docks and if laid end to end would probably stretch around the world three times…or maybe not. They’re not particularly attractive and it begs the question of what ‘The Port’ (whoever runs/owns/etc/bored of that now) is trying to hide. A fine backdrop to that shiny new Police HQ nearby.

IKEA and ASDA also have blank facades. Perhaps it is a problem that afflicts retailers who name is made up of four letters.

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