Showing posts sorted by relevance for query pubtober. Sort by date Show all posts
Showing posts sorted by relevance for query pubtober. Sort by date Show all posts

11 October 2021

Pubtober 11: The Ridgeway, Newport

Not all of these Pubtober vignettes will be earnest, heart-filled, thousand-word essays on why a particular pub is important to me or why you should definitely go there. Pubtober shouldn't be just about celebrating the special or the extraordinary, it should be celebrating the good, the consistent, the reliable and the pleasant.

The Ridgeway is such a beast. Situated just outside of Newport city centre, it serves the midly affluent area of Allt-Yr-Yn.

This part of the city is almost literally a crossroads of Newport's many social groupings. Stretching in one direction are a collection of semi-detached townhouses where BMWs and Audis rub shoulders with privet hedges and crazy paved driveways.

In another are rows and rows of terraced houses reminiscient of those found in any industrial city. 

In the third direction, on the hill after which the pub is named, lie hundreds of senior citizen sheltered bungalows, built a couple of decades ago to replace the 1940s prefabricated houses built for WW2 evacuees and escapees from London.

The pub's architecture is reminiscient of so many pubs built during the 1960s. If old OS mapping is to be believed, the Ridgeway Inn's funky but functional form sprung up in 1966. Since then it had a few minor facelifts until its most recent major refurbishment in September 2019 when it stopped being just "the Ridgeway" and became "the Ridgeway Bistro and Bar."

Before (picture from Google Street View) and after (picture from South Wales Argus)

The beauty isn't just skin deep; the interior is clean and pleasant with plenty of subtlely contrasting pastels; as is the fashion nowadays.

The fact that "Bistro" comes first in the title shows where the priorities lie for the new owners. This is a restaurant before it is a pub. The good news is the restaurant is always fully booked, which helps subsidise the pub side. 

Come rain or shine

And the pub side is still decent. A fair selection of macro keg beers as one would expect, with two cask offerings in the form of Sharps' Doom Bar and Atlantic, although occasionally other ales such as London Pride drop in. The seating area outside has been a nice place to relax over this immediate-post-pandemic summer. In fact it was one of the first places I went on Day 1 of pubs being open, mostly because it is a mere 1.1 miles from my front door.

My first post-lockdown Guinness on a slightly skewiffy table.
It may look imperfect, but it was like nectar

During those first few weeks when booking a table was mandatory, it was heartening to see that even the smallest, most independent of local pubs could offer that facility through a third party booking website even if it was just for drinks. And once you were there, ordering and payment was done through the very intuitive and easy to use Round app.

Level and true - Doom Bar and Atlantic are the regular casks, while the Guinness is excellent

It is also a function/music venue, with plenty of parking; or if you don't fancy driving it's situated five minutes from a frequently-served bus stop; or is a short - but uphill - walk from Newport City Centre.

It's not the sort of place you write home about. But it's the sort of place that is very very drop-innable. Inocuous without being anonymous. Benign without being boring. Serviceable without being staid. 

Sometimes I wish more pubs elicited a neutral response - they don't all have to try so hard to appeal to a certain type of person. Sometimes it's nice to be a catch-all, jack of all trades. The Ridgeway very firmly ticks that box.

10 October 2021

Pubtober 10: Pop 'n' Hops

Even before this pandemic is finally and fully in our rear view mirrors, the heroes and villains who have helped or hindered us throughout this time will come to be known. 

The villains we know about. The politicians who funnelled money to their mates. The anti-lockdown, anti-mask, anti-vaccination activists whose hysterical denial perpetuated this horror for far longer than necessary. But there's no need to dwell on those. Their uppance will come.

Outside of the undoubted true godlike heroes in the health and care services, numerous other folk helped ameliorate the disruption COVID caused to our lives in 2020 and 2021. 

There were, for example, the travel and hospitality companies who tore up their usual watertight terms of service and refunded or deferred payments for flights and hotels lost due to the lockdowns. There were the local business owners who ensured that folk got the supplies they needed, even if they were declared as "unneccessary". 

And of course, for those of us who suddenly found ourselves publess, we turned to those who sold and - more importantly - delivered beer.

It may seem a trite thing to consider in the grand scheme of things but it's only when you are restricted or denied access to things do you realise how much you either rely on them or take them for granted. And I'm not talking about an unhealthy reliance on alcohol here, I'm talking about the ability to just walk into somewhere, grab a pint of something and just f*king CHILL for five minutes. Outside of work, outside of home, just a few moments to yourself where the world can feck off and all that matters is you and the drink and your thoughts.

This is something I've come to appreciate more since things started easing up a bit. While I am quite happy being social, I am just as happy being on my own, going at my own pace, drinking what I want, where I want, when I want to do it. I do end up talking to anyone and everyone after a while mind, just how I am. This summer I took up cycling and, while the weather was still nice, gained a whole new appreciation for cask pints in beer gardens next to rivers.

But for a lot of last year and a good chunk of this all the beer gardens were closed, and pessimism was at an all time low. As we hunkered down and seige mentality took hold, we turned to the wonders of internet-ordered/home-delivered alcohol. For craft beer, Pop N Hops in Whitchurch, Cardiff was one of those I turned to, along with my local shop Bwrw Cwrw, and House of Trembling Madness in York. 

Living one city over in Newport, it was gratifying that I could have a regular, guaranteed delivery day/time due to the dream team of Trev the shop owner and Nicky the courier. Soon they were dropping off beer to my front door as quickly as I could drink it. Stuff I would never have had or discovered anywhere else was going into my newly acquired beer fridge at a startling rate. 

It's safe to say that Trev and Nicky kept me and countless others sane with their service throughout the lockdown periods, for which I and countless others will be very grateful.

But hang on, I hear you cry. This is PubTober, not BottleShopTober.

Well the exciting news is that Pop N Hops has begun to offer drink-in at weekends. So you can pop along (pun intended) to Whitchurch Road and gaze in wonder at what you'd only previously seen on a webpage - the incredible, infinite and insanely varied range of beer offered at this imbiber's idyll. 

Start at one end and work your way to the other

You can then buy it, get given some appropriate glassware, take a pew and relax. You can f*king CHILL for five minutes. Outside of work, outside of home, just a few moments to yourself where the world can feck off and all that matters is you and the drink and your thoughts.

Just as it should be. Just as we hope it will carry on being as we slowly and surely try to claw ourselves back to something resembling normal.

Beer. Cheese. Coffee. Records. More beer. A welcoming host. To my shame, I've only been up for a beer (or two) once. I must - and I will - go again. 

And if you can't come to Cardiff any time soon to enjoy a Pilot or a Pollys in person, there is nationwide delivery as well as local.

Drink In Times can change: check the twitter feed for more info


21 October 2021

Pubtober 21: The Three Tuns, Bristol

Another "must-visit" stopoff on any Bristol session, especially if you're circling back towards the city from taking in the numerous pubs in and around Spike Island, this beautiful bijou boozer is very slightly off the beaten track but not inaccessible by any means, being just a short walk from the city centre in the Hotwells area.

We're lucky that it's still here. It temporarily closed just before Christmas 2019 before reopening under a new owner in the early part of 2020 with huge optimism.....

...and we all know how 2020 turned out. 

Fortunately it survived the pandemic and is back welcoming folk through its distinctive arched front door.

As you pass through said arch you get a sense straight away that this is a beer lover's paradise, from the CAMRA magazines and Good Beer Guides stacked up to the selection of beer on the bar.

Offerings include local cask and keg ales such as Bath, New Bristol, Bristol Beer Factory - and even some trans-channel offerings from Mad Dog.

The big draw about the Tuns though has always been its Irish nights for and by the members of the local Hibernian diaspora - live music and singing in the communal Irish tradition. As restrictions have relaxed Monday nights once more have taken on a distinctly Celtic tinge. 

This also briefly spawned a Cornish equivalent on Tuesday nights, which is when I first visited to drink Mena Dhu and belt out Trelawney in my Cornwall RFU shirt.

I paid my latest visit in January 2020 just after the reopening and have not yet had a chance to go back since; something I will remedy sooner rather than later. As yet another small-in-stature, big-in-character location, the Tuns is proof that good things don't always have to come in big packages.

20 October 2021

Pubtober 20: Quick Stop Offs

In compiling this series I knew that there would be pubs that I wanted to highlight and share, but about which I couldn't write a full blog post. 

This would be either because I'd only been to the location once; or that I didn't have much to report back other than it was somewhere I enjoyed frequenting and would recommend.

There's only so much fleshing out of an article you can do and there's only so much of the reader's intelligence you can insult.

So instead I'll use Day 20 to post some snappy quick highlights of places that I've been and enjoyed over the years but to whom I couldn't do full justice to by subjecting them to a wishy-washy overlong boring article.

Peadar Kearney's Pub, Dublin
Far enough away from the overpriced, overhyped hubbub of the Temple Bar but not so far away that you have to miss out on any of the action, Peadar Kearney's has everything you could possibly want from a genuine Irish bar in Dublin - off the scale Guinness, plus Smithwicks and Murphy's if you feel like mixing things up a bit. Had some fantastic craic with the locals here when over for an Ireland v Wales soccer match.

Duke of Wellington, Cardiff
On the opposite end of Caroline Street to the Cambrian Tap, this Brains pub (at time of writing) is a delight of mahogany, cubby holes and of course, exquisitely kept cask beer. Great food too - the burgers are superb.

LePub, Newport
Formerly on Caxton Place but now part of the grouping of bars and venues at the top of the High Street, LePub and LePublicSpace is a music venue, trendy hotspot, hip paradise and pub all in one. One highlight is that it's the only pub in Newport that I know of that regularly serves non-alcoholic lager on tap

The Orchard, Bristol
Down near the SS Great Britain lies a little, out of the way gem of a pub, especially if you love your cider. There are dozens on offer, as well as several cask ales and fresh pasties and rolls. No wonder it's a multiple-CAMRA award winner.

Pennycomequick, Falmouth
Formerly the Wodehouse Ams, this St Austell pub, named for the old name for the town in which it can be found, sits in the middle of Falmouth's Moor, so it's a short stumble from a bus or a taxi or a pizza. Or if you're adventurous you could always walk up Jacob's Ladder.

Poole Arms
No prizes for guessing where this one is; or for finding it. On Poole's pub-heavy quayside this beautiful building stands out for its ornate green tilework and heavy wooden door. Cask and seafood are the main attractions at the oldest pub in Poole - this is where I first fell in love with Ringwood Fortyniner way back in 2009.

19 October 2021

Pubtober 19: Cambrian Tap, Cardiff

The Cambrian Tap is one of the first pubs you'll come across as you make your way from the railway station down St Mary Street in Cardiff. Picked out in gold and black, this evocative city boozer sits on the corner of this busy, social throroughfare and another of Cardiff's famous streets; Chippy Alley, or to give it its proper name, Caroline Street.

Built in 1830 as part of the original Thomas' brewery which was sold to Brains in 1882, the Cambrian abuts a bar called the Brewhouse and a plaza of hospitality venues called The Old Brewery Quarter. 

It hasn't always had this name though. Between 2002 and  2015 it was known as Kitty Flynns, an unapologetic Irish bar right down to the tricolor flying over the door and the emerald green doors and windows which wished you céad míle fáilte. 

Kitty was a real person - a Cardiff landlady who managed the Royal Oak in Adamsdown. It was in her honour that the pub was renamed after Brains asked the drinkers of Cardiff for suggestions. With over 50 years behind the bar, Kitty lived a long life and only passed away earlier this year. This article from the Western Mail is well worth a read.

Kitty doesn't live here any more.

In April 2015 Brains wanted a dedicated outlet for their Brains Craft Brewery offshoot and Kitty's was refurbished, rebranded and reopened as the Cambrian once again.

All the brews - and the brewers too. See how many famous names you can spot.

It is a narrow pub with the bar on one side and a section of booth seating on the other, with a small section of additional tall tables to the left of the entrance. The toilets are down a staircase to the rear. On busy days a one-way system is implemented with a way in and a way out, as well as a doorman keeping an eye on the capacity levels, such is this place's popularity.

As it was....

so shall it be...

At time of writing the Cambrian is still a Brains pub, albeit up for sale. As such on the bar you will find Brains cask ale and a couple of surviving offerings from the Craft Brewery such as Barry Island IPA. It is also one of the outlets serving Brains' new lager Bayside, which replaced the long-standing guest lager Korev from St Austell.

My fondest memories of the Cambrian were of its February Dark Beer festivals. For a week the taps were taken over by dusky drinks of all kinds from all over the UK and beyond; from the sublime to the ridiculous. 

I really really hope the Cambrian survives the Brains fire sale, if not for the benefit of the drinkers of south Wales and beyond, but for the memory of Kitty Flynn whose service to the Cardiff pub scene will always be remembered. There is no pub like this in Cardiff - it is unique, special and deserves to remain open and frequented for many years to come.

18 October 2021

Pubtober 18: The Bell Inn, Caerleon

Sometimes the best pubs are the accidental finds, or the chance recommendations, or the you-sorta-knew-about-them-but-never-went-there-until-now ones.

The Bell fits all of those. Tucked away in a street on the Newport side of the river Usk in Caerleon, to get to this 17th Century coaching inn from the village itself you have to walk past two other pubs, over a bridge, down a lane and round a corner. (See the "Mapped" page for exact location)

Or you could do what I do and cycle there. Caerleon is reachable from Newport by the excellent new Route 88 cycle route which skirts the river Usk and the Marches rail line before depositing you at Caerleon football club.

The Bell was initially a casualty of the pandemic, closing in September 2020. 

We are making this announcement with heavy, heavy, hearts; 
Due to the financial strain of the pandemic and with no help from our brewery with full rent and bills being charged without hesitation or remorse or any help for reopening, Charly and I will be unable to continue here at The Bell 

It sat vacant until the new year of 2021 when a couple of local chaps took it on. After a refurbishment during Lockdown Three, it reopened in April 2021, with takeout food cooked by part-owner and head chef Ricky.

Like all venues in Wales, it reopened for outdoor/takeaway service on April 27th and then fully in May. 

The pub has a proper traditional feel about it with the merest touch of the modern and contemporary. There's plenty of exposed stone and brick walls, ornate light fittings and beautifully dark wood to set the mood.

On the bar there are two regular cask ales - Landlord and HPA - and one cask cider, Thatcher's Stan Cheddar Valley. Guest casks occasionally appear such as Adnam's Bitter or Wye Valley Butty Bach.

Pefectly poured cask pints from Timothy Taylor and Wye Valley

Keg offerings come in the form of the usual macro options, including Carlsberg and Guinness.

An exquisite food menu presents many exciting options such as cider-infused Scotch eggs, sourdough with Marmite butter, one of the juiciest burgers I've ever had and chips that are so thick they could almost stand for political office.

Outside there is an enclosed beer garden terrace with plenty of seating - both covered and open - and behind that there is plenty of parking. Overhead fly sparrowhawks and pigeons. Despite being yards from a main road there is relative silence here, the only noise coming from the chatter of the patrons.

Through the gate lies an expansive beer garden and, in the summer, sun terrace

One of the outbuildings has been converted into "The Shed" - a quaint and welcome seating area with its own cask bar which came in very handy during the Bell's recent Beer and Bacon festival.

Booking is recommended if you want to eat here - the combination of great food in a lovely location make this reborn, renovated, historical hospitable venue a hit with the locals - and those from further afield too.

17 October 2021

Pubtober 17 : Head of Steam, Cardiff

The Head of Steam chugged into Cardiff's Church Street in October 2018, shunting out a branch of Harvester that was occupying the site up until then. I was midly peeved at first - I used to go to that Harvester regularly for takeaway salad boxes - but when I discovered a new beer bar was going to occupy the site, my annoyance gave way to excitement.

For a small-fry beer blogger like myself, it was an incredible honour to be invited to the press day launch the night before the grand opening. There were only two slight drawbacks - one I was unavoidably in work in my "real" job which, ironically, was on the railway; and two I was just coming to the end of one of my completely arbitrary, completely self-imposed dry months. So I resolved that when I finished work that Thursday, 1st November 2018, I would pop along. You can see that visit in the video at the foot of the page.

The Cardiff venue is one of 16 Head of Steam outlets in total. Launched in 1995 in Newcastle by Tony and Carole Brooks, the Camerons-owned chain is mainly concentrated in the north of England. The Cardiff branch is the most southerly - and westerly - of all.

The railway theme is present throughout, with a wood, iron and brass motif spreading throughout the two-level structure. Old beer bottles form a chandalier of lights. Old pictures and station signs from Cardiff Station punctuate the walls. There's plenty of beer branded ephemera too from Delirium, Anchor and others.

A grand central bar with three serving areas dominates the ground floor, with seating spread around in four separate clusters. A variety of seating options are available, with the leather armchairs near the front being my preferred option. There is a small overspill seating area on the first floor.

On the bar you get your choice of up to nine cask ales and ciders, about two dozen keg options plus as many bottles and cans that they can fit into their fridges. A welcome feature is that vegan and/or gluten-free beers are clearly marked out for those with specific requirements.

As you'd expect, Camerons' cask ales feature heavily and are rotated regularly

Quality reigns over quantity, an eclectic mix of both macro and independent beer brands are stocked, and I have had brewers off tap here that I have never had anywhere else this side of the M25.

Guest casks from all over the UK feature heavily

Favourites from the keg offering over the years: Omnipollo Agamemnon, Motorhead Road Crew, Rodenbach Grand Cru and Anchor Steam 

Cameron's, like most major brewers, have their own "craft" offshoot, called Tooth & Claw, whose new offerings have their own dedicated tap. The two which were offered simultaneously in winter 2019, the Nordic Ale and the Chocolate Orange, were particular favourites of mine.

As well as featuring their taplist on their website, giant screens around the venue (which, pre-pandemic, showed live sport) also display the cask, keg and bottle lists reguarly through integration with Untappd, which is a welcome and handy thing to have for the beer wanker planning out their afternoon's imbibing. Food is also available with hot dogs, burgers and pizzas the order of the day.

Now you see it

now you don't

The Head of Steam's staff are friendly, approachable, knowledgable, engaging and patient. It's a fantastic venue with a fantastic atmosphere. Plus as it's sat next to Bub's and the Old Arcade it makes Church Street a beer-lover's and pub-goer's mecca. You can have an entire day's session in this one twenty-yard space. Less time walking, more time drinking. 

Bonus: my visit on International Stout Day 2018:

16 October 2021

Pubtober 16: Waxy O'Connor's, London

A few years ago I was taken on a pub crawl of London by a mate who lives in Reading. It's where I first discovered the Harp (Day 2) and [[SPOILERS]] (Day 31). 

As we arrived in Leicester Square and stood adjacent to the ridiculous tourist-grabbing hellhole that is The M&M store, he said "OK, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to find our next venue, Waxy O'Connor's."

Look left? Pret. Look right? The Swiss Court. Look straight ahead? Chinatown.

And then the most inocuous of round signs caught my eye. There wasn't a grand entrance to this place, certainly not on Wardour Street. A little red door, slotted inbetween various Asian restaurants and shops. 

Blink and you'll miss it

In we went.

And down.

And down......

Until we pushed open a heavy wood-and-glass door to see a pub like no other. Wooden beams, brick walls, stairs everywhere leading to little quiet dark drinking cubby holes. A huge bar spread out before you on the main floor of the building. Bright lights hanging from chandeliers making little sparkly reflections off every piece of cut stained glass and exposed metal.

Four bars are spread out over six levels. It's a Crystal Maze zone, a live Hogwarts and Queen video all in one.

And the buzz. One hell of a buzz. Every Irish person in London seemed to be in here.

Such a shame that my phone had such a sh*tty camera in those days

Waxy's (and its delightfully named, slightly more conventional overspill pub across the road "Waxy's Little Sister") are owned and operated by the Foundation Group's Glendola Leisure, a Middlesex company who run bars, coffee shops, restaurants and hotels across the UK. Waxy's has a cousin in Glasgow and, up until the pandemic, there was also one in Manchester.

On the bar is the usual big-venue fayre, albeit illustrated by some exquisite bespoke custom pump lenses. They have their own branded barmats too. 

Of course Guinness is on, and Murphy's, and my go to, the delightfully sharp Franciscan Well's Rebel Red which, although claiming to be from Cork, is a Molson Coors brand. Such is life.

I believe this was £6.50 a pint

I visited many times since then - including a memorable Six Nations Super Saturday when we literally turned up at opening time - almost banging down the door to be let in! - and watched two matches back to back, surrounded by several folk wearing every shade of rugby shirt. Being a big session we ate as well as drank on that occasion; the food was excellent - I had a sausage roll so thick it could have been a soccer player. 

On another occasion there was live GAA football on the big screen and this time the shirts that surrounded us were those of the Irish counties. We sat near one folorn Wexford supporter, who was less interested in the fact I'd visited Gorey mere months before than he was in his team getting pasted.

Waxy's is always on my tick-list of go-to venues in London if only for its uniqueness. I have never been anywhere else like it - yet.