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?

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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