Candidate #21- The Snowdrop Inn, Lewes, England

The postcard town of Lewes is home to Harveys Brewery, who take advantage of the River Ouse ambling through town. A raft of decent pubs serve Harveys straight from source as it were- overlooked by the impressive brewery building itself. But for something a bit more special, take ten minutes to walk a little through the suburbs in search of The Snowdrop Inn.

IMG_4451.JPG

Legend has it that after a devastating avalanche of snow from the nearby tor, the Snowdrop Inn was built upon the ruins. I think they just left a canalboat here for so long a pub was built around it.

IMG_4462.JPG

Alongside quality, incredibly local English ales (7 by the looks of things in the above photo), they stock a range from the local Burning Sky brewery, which offers less traditional pub tipples, such as Saisons and American-style IPAs.

IMG_4443.JPG

There are a bunch of recent bad food reviews on Tripadvisor, but we thought the tagine and enormous olives were very good, particularly since we weren’t actually in Morocco and one portion was enough for both of us.

IMG_4459.JPG

A quaint pub in a quaint town, just a few stops away on the local train from Brighton.

IMG_4433.JPG

Venue: 8/10

Oddly like a narrowboat. Set before an impressive landscape.

Beer: 6/10

Ambitious new beers alongside classic ales.

Worthy? Maybe.

 

Candidate #20- The Mermaid Inn, Rye, England

Rebuilt in 1420 with later Tudor additions, some of the cellars at The Mermaid Inn survived from 1156 and contribute to its Grade II listed status; and the ghosts- if we knock it down, where will they live?

IMG_3609

But Ozzy-cyp is outraged that elevators weren’t invented and properly installed into building codes 600 years ago:

“…end room with lots of steps up and down which is not suitable to have a stroller so had to carry our daughter all the time”

and thus promptly gave them a ‘terrible’ rating on Tripadvisor. One can only imagine her indignation upon discovering that no actual mermaids have stayed here.

IMG_3649

The Giants Fireplace Bar is dominated by a hearth the size of a spacious Upper East Side studio apartment. It’s beautiful. You can find this room via a secret passage too- so secret I never noticed it.

IMG_3640

Some of the medieval artwork comes from the renowned Slade School of Fine Art, Bloomsbury. Maybe even this one:

IMG_3606

The Mermaid Inn was a notable alehouse in medieval times and served beer brewed on site to sailors, Rye being a member of the Confederation of Cinque Ports. Catholic Priests fleeing the Reformation in Continental Europe stayed in the 1500s; Elizabeth I was a guest and a group of notorious smugglers known as the Hawkhurst Gang called The Mermaid Inn their local in the 1700s. In the 1800s it was privately owned (selfish bastard), functioned as a club for artists in the early 20th century (including Oscar Wildes’ “Bosie”), and during the Second World War it was commandeered as a garrison for Canadian soldiers. So, some history.

IMG_3632

One more of that fireplace:

IMG_3627

Venue: 9.5/10

So many beams.

Beer: 6/10

Small range with a few bottles, but well kept and where else can you drink with the ghosts of the Hawkhurst Gang?

Worthy? Yes.

Just look at that fireplace.

85. Delerium Café, Brussels, Belgium

There’s a place in Belgium that thought, back in 2004, that stocking a different beer for every year since Jesus was born would be a cracking idea. It was. But it quickly became passé. So now there’s 3,162.

IMG_4208

Breaking the record back in 2004 helped to put Delerium Café on the map. The secret is certainly out. So I feared a venue overrun by tourists or packed like a London pub at 5pm on a Friday (a quick one at The Harp, anyone?) or, worse, a business now hollowly profiteering off its fabled reputation, turning the prices up to 11 and stripping out the ancient furniture in favour of standing areas and tables with shiny lacquer surfaces for easy wiping down (I’m looking at you, Früh am Dom, Cologne).

IMG_4244

For just over €2, I had a freshly poured glass of some wheat beer I’ve forgotten the name of. I can’t even get a schooner of Heineken for that price in Amsterdam. It was lovely too, of course.

IMG_4196

Bent on world domination, Delerium World, as I’m calling it, has taken over the whole street and offers an absinth bar with over 400 varieties, a tequila and mezcal bar with over 500 types (because 12% beer just isn’t enough) and Little Delirium Café at the start of the street to confuse tourists. You can enjoy this alley until 4am most nights.

IMG_4238

The entire venue, spread over three floors, is vast, so here’s a bunch of photos:

IMG_4178

IMG_4256

IMG_4177

IMG_4170

IMG_4188

Go on, step right in:

IMG_4202

Venue: 9/10

A benchmark in beer bar design. That it can absorb so many people and still feel intimate and cosy is praiseworthy.

Beer: 10/10

Giving a perfect score is a nervy thing- it implies perfection*. If there exists a better selection in depth, quality of choices and housekeeping, I’d happily be proved wrong. Seems unlikely any other pretender could possibly be as cheap though.

*There has to be a ten, or why not score the beer selection out of 9?

Worthy? Yes

Quite simply a beer nirvana. Spread over three floors (with satellite bars along the street), it has absorbed the tourists and thrown them in to a crucible of camaraderie.

Candidate #19- CASK, Pimlico, London, England.

As a wise man once said, pubs in London need only put in minimal effort, and the business will come. It just needs to be slightly better than shit, and they’ll turn a profit. So where’s the incentive to excel?

IMG_4127

And so London is full of pubs the locals say are good, but what they really mean (if they could contextualise and drop the blind belief that everything in London is the shit) is that it’s the best in the area. So it will be painted mauve or beige and serve artisan scotch eggs, or it will have original wooden flooring (but still owned and homogenised by one of the friendly local pub conglomerates). Against this backdrop, it a real surprise that CASK has somehow contrived to be even shitter.

IMG_4122

The decor is painful. You can’t escape how bad it looks, and so the confusion as to why people thought this was a good idea is recurrent and unpleasant.

Luton Airport.

Luton Airport.

Sure, they sell some beers. But loads of places do.

Venue: 1/10

Just woeful. It would feel uncomfortable as a coffee shop. As a pub, it is bizarre.

Beer: 5/10

Yeah, they got some beers, sure, but their ale selection is far from remarkable in the UK and their international range is simply average (weak, in Belgium).

Worthy? Nope

Candidate #18- Café Belgique, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Café Belgique hides in plain sight- amidst chain retail outlets, it’s easy to not notice this gem of a beer warren.

IMG_2602

One of the smallest bars in Amsterdam, you’ll find yourself wondering, “How can this be one of the smallest?!”. Unbelievably, they host live music. I’m not sure how, or why- as appealing as music is to some, it won’t make this one-room cubby-hole any bigger, so it’s not like they can pay the DJ off the back of increased customer revenue- it’s always full. And heed that advice- turn up very shortly after opening (3pm) and you might get a seat.

IMG_2594

In truth, it thinks it’s way cooler than it is. And by ‘it’, I partly mean the clientele. If this were London, we’d call them scenesters. The website states “It’s frequently visited by a varied public of locals, expats, musicians, artists and dj’s”. See what I mean? Who cares if artists go there? Do I feel better about my Orval because the guy with an unkempt beard sat too-closely next to me sticks wires through books encased in styrofoam and calls it “A Critque on the Abandonment of Western Values”, and his dreadlocked girlfriend photographs litter blowing in the wind for her forthcoming exhibition in a disused plastic bag making factory? No, I do not.

IMG_2599

For the size, the beer choice is broad- 50 bottles and 8 taps, but even this may be too many as evidenced by the foul taste of the Floreffe Blonde.

IMG_2593

Venue: 9/10

The only real criticism is the size, but that’s also part of the atmosphere. And when you do finally get that corner seat by the window, boy does it feel cool.

Beer: 6/10

Decent range, but unfortunately not all the taps are very well maintained (I’m looking at you Floreffe Blonde).

Worthy? Maybe

Candidate #17- Junkyard, Nottingham, England

The Midlands has a long, proud ale brewing history; Castle Rock, Marstons, Nottingham Brewery.

IMG_4089

But forget all that: the junkyard celebrates all the other types of beer; saisons, stouts, west coast IPAs, bizarre fruity potions and all sorts of hybrids. It’s bloody brilliant. A corner of the bar is reserved for fridges for take-out or drink-in, resplendent with a great selection of cans (usually a massively underrepresented receptacle, for some reason).

IMG_4099

The junkyard is tucked away down an alley in an actual yard, giving the venue outdoor seating front and back and a bit of peace in the city centre. There is a large row of bar seats which is rare and welcomed in England, and is a nod towards the underlying American influence. The food is classed-up bar food, with plenty of big flavours and stocky quantities to soak up the booze, with a pan-European influence: French toast, scratchings, charcuterie, Padrón peppers; and some American staples: fried pickles and popcorn.

IMG_4082

Venue: 6/10

Hidden away from the noise, two gardens, a long bar seating area and tasteful decor. Hopefully more will be added over the years to give an aged rather than worn feel.

Beer: 8/10

Very respectable selection of canned beers (an underrated option, in my opinion), and 15 taps mark it out as a leading stockist in the Midlands.

Worthy? Maybe

 

Candidate #16- El Lokal, Zürich, Switzerland

El Lokal sits on an island between the Schanzengraben and Blaue Sihl rivers. In the summer, you can lounge on the expansive outdoor terrace that overflows around the building along the waterfront, and dip your feet in the spring Alpine meltwater. They grill meats and serve other foods (decent samosas) in the finer months, so you could spend all day here.

IMG_0472

Summer is strong and dependable, but all too brief, in Zürich so the insides of places are important. All too many venues in this town are all shiny tables and fresh paint. Much of the town can feel sterile. It’s hard to find a bar with real character, history and eclectic, personal touches: a dive bar.

IMG_0453

El Lokal is huge, but the design has expertly kept a cosy feel to all the areas. The furniture is often very unique (see the sofa above), there’s an enormous skeleton, a statue of a footballer, religious artefacts, football memorabilia, paintings on maps, and it all somehow works.

IMG_0476

One of my favourite features is the horseshoe mezzanine level that offers you a barstool and great vantage point for people-watching and enjoying the regular live music.

IMG_0455

If the below photo was tagged “south Floridan bar”, people may just believe it.

IMG_0478

Venue: 10/10

I have a particular penchant for dive bars, but who can deny the mezzanine balcony and waterfront?

Beer: 2/10

Oh dear. They have Schwarzer Kristall, which redeems them. Otherwise go on a hot day when lager is tastier.

Worthy? Not yet

Only if it stocks better beers.

148. Old Ebbitt Grill, Washington, DC

I’m not sure what this place is trying to be. I’m not sure they do, either.

IMG_2859

Apparently the oldest dinning saloon (whatever that means) in Washington D.C. and very close to the White House, so all sorts of important white grey men must have come here for beer. Their website proudly offers 1856 as their opening date because, you know, history, but this was when it was in Chinatown. So not really that old is it? And now it is owned by a local restaurant conglomerate boasting thirteen properties. So it’s in a different location and owned by different people. But: history.

IMG_2873

Their website also claims the patronage to be a bustling mix of tourists and politicos. Score. Apparently the oysters are great, if that’s your sort of thing.

IMG_2863

Venue: 5/10

Grand, very expensive looking, which can make your typical beer enthusiast feel a bit unwelcome because, as everyone knows, fermented grapes, not grain, is the sophisticated thing. Because the Romans did it, presumably.

Beer: 2/10

If oysters were beer, then this would be right up there. They’re not though, are they?

Worthy? No.

A grand venue, no doubt, but not a beer bar.

Candidate #15- In Den Uiver Proeflokaal, Haarlem, the Netherlands.

Haarlem, thirty years older than Amsterdam, is a medium sized town less than 15 minutes to the west from Amsterdam Centraal (apparently far enough to deter most tourists). It has a long history in brewing and was a major centre in the 16th and 17th centuries: this legacy can be seen in street names, such as Brouwersvaart (Brewer’s Canal)-  a waterway used to bring fresh water from the dunes to the city’s breweries. At its peak, Haarlem had roughly 100 breweries, but the Black Death ravaged the city’s population: by 1752 there were just 7 breweries left; by 1820, none.

IMG_1076

In the 1990s the Stichting Haarlems Biergenootschap started brewing historic recipes and Jopen beer was born. The kind folk of Haarlem didn’t exactly sit around drinking water waiting for the beery Gods to brew again: Haarlem has a robust selection of good beer bars, and per capita it must be amongst the most beer bar rich town in the world. Enter: In Den Uiver Proeflokaal.

IMG_1056

Remarkably, there are just 5 reviews on Tripadvisor, which may explain the positive reaction from staff, who seem genuinely happy to talk you through their beers and history: the snug hidden around the back was an office of the world’s oldest newspaper still in print, since 1656 (Haarlemse Dagblad), but I could believe it belonged to the Drones Club, such is the English-private-member-club-of-yesteryear feel.

IMG_1072

Another nod to the local history is the plethora of aeronautical memorabilia to celebrate the Haarlemmer Anthony Fokker, an aviation pioneer whose Douglas DC-2 (the eponymous ‘Uiver’) won its class in the 1934 Melbourne Race.

IMG_1067

In the summer, get there early and enjoy a seat outside and look over one corner of the stunning market square and Grote Kerk. Some reviewers on Tripadvisor claim that the market square is ‘Nothing to write home about”- what else is in your life? Because I want some of that.

Venue: 8/10

Cosy and ‘gezellig’ in the winter, great outdoor in the summer.

Beer: 7/10

Decent enough: 10 taps, 15 bottles.

Worthy? Yes

You can’t invent history.

Mapped: The Best Beer Bars in the USA.

USA

According to some people, these are the best beer bars in the contiguous USA. Granted, I took this list from a 2010 publication of Beer Magazine (I think), so it may be a bit dated, but you can’t manufacture historical whimsy, so at least some of these must still be right. I have only visited those with a blue label, so there’s much to look forward too.