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.

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.

134. The Bell, Aldworth, Berkshire, England

Some people just can’t let things go. Like pubs; The Bell Inn has been in the same family for five generations: more than 250 years. Take that, inheritance tax.

IMG_3719

Many British pubs look quaint and akin to a film set from the outside, but are all too often trashed by tasteless interior renovations that currently seem to involve painting the walls ivory or mauve and filling two-thirds of the place with shiny mass produced furniture and calling it a ‘restaurant’. The Bell doesn’t subscribe to this nonsense. The interior seems to be vaguely centred around a wooden cubicle of sorts, from which the staff serve you through a window; the menu is a series of paper notes haphazardly affixed to the walls.

IMG_3713

The Bell is the proud winner of the 1997 Best Sandwich Pub Award (which is a thing, apparently). For a mere £3.50, you can chose a warmed roll stuffed with a doorstop of goats cheese and a side of olives, or a hearty handmade soup.

IMG_3686

Aldworth, the village which The Bell serves, has approximately 8 houses. I visited for the lunchtime opening slot (it closes in the afternoon, just like in yore) and every single resident and their friends must have stopped by since it was bustling. The next nearest village has four houses, and the local ‘town’ (maybe 100 houses and a Post Office) is over an hour walk away. There are no busses. No phone signal, and a phone box that doesn’t take cash but gladly accepts BT Phonecards, whatever they are. So just quite where all these people came from I don’t know. The 1940s, probably.

IMG_3691

Half of the pub is the old tap room and features a set of long benches for packing in large groups and making new (old) friends. The best seat (above photo) is in a recess that used to be the fireplace.

Best stay inside.

Best stay inside.

The Gents toilets are worth a mention: one literally relieves oneself on the wall outside, exposed to the elements, only a wooden fence separating your back from the car park. Efficient use of space.

Venue: 10/10

The definition of ‘real pub’.

Beer: 7.5/10

Small range, but still diverse and, of course, well-kept.

Worthy? Yes

Stands out amongst even the top tier.

104. McSorley’s Ale House, New York, NY

Step back in time: before ruining a good old pub with plastic tables and blank walls went by the insidious name of ‘gentrification’, before every beer had a comically large handle to thrust their advertising in your field of vision even once you have ordered their damn Rocky Mountain water-brewed beer and before women were allowed in (their motto was once “Good Ale, Raw Onions and No Ladies”. You can still get the onions.) and forced us to re-invent our public house etiquette (OK, not so much that one).

IMG_2970

Staggeringly, not at all ruined by the ‘cool kids’ (count the beards below: very few).

IMG_2958

The walls are the end-product of years of collecting and hanging all sort of excellent crap: former presidents, flags, pins, and never removing anything since 1910. And underneath, some fine, dark, probably original, wooden panelling.

IMG_2976

McSorely’s is the oldest ale tavern in New York City, probably dating back to 1861, and as such sustains a few myths and legends. One that may be true is that the wishbones hung behind the bar were placed there by soldiers on their way to WWI, to be removed upon their return.

IMG_2998

The usual suspects of literary figures are thought to have drunk here: Hunter S. Thompson, E. E. Cummings, Brendan Behan et al., and a roll of presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Teddy Roosevelt, and also a guy called William Tweed, who used to own the third most land in NYC and chose to spend much of his time on this bit. But don’t listen to them, listen to Beckiboo1983 on TripAdvisor who had her feelings hurt by the bar staff and didn’t like it, so she gave the whole place a 1 out of 5. Because what Beckiboo1983 doesn’t know about customer rotation, the cut-throat line between profit and loss in prime Manhattan real estate without the spongy cushion of outlandish food profit margins, about continuing an 150 year old legacy, about the festering languishing of tourists for an hour over each drink and forcing other cash-filled tourists to walk on by, well, what Beckiboo1983 doesn’t know about that, frankly, isn’t worth knowing.

Venue: 10/10

Resisting gentrification since 1854 (and women, until 1970).

Beer: 8/10

Enjoy the simplicity of their options: dark or light.

Worthy? Yes.

As trite as this sounds: it’s an institution.

 

127. The White Horse Pub, Parsons Green, London, England

The White Horse Pub is in the garden of London- Fulham. After a few stops hemmed-in on the underground, accountants and actuaries emerge after a busy day of sitting into a leafy suburb. A short stroll brings you out on Parsons Green, where the White Horse Pub sits proudly.

IMG_1680

There can be a certain uniformity to London pubs (Health & Safety Codes?). I get the feeling that The White Horse Pub is so close to an excellent interior, but the manager’s imagination is shackled by the need to accommodate the huge amount of foot-traffic and certain idiosyncrasies Londoners have come to expect. The outdoor area is fantastic- not simply a post-smoking ban renovated yard, but an open area overlooking a park with a guy grilling meat over an open flame. This works.

IMG_1701

But let’s get down to business: beer. They are certainly not shy. The offerings include a decent selection of traditional draft ales, of course, and also a bold range of international (in style or origin) beers served from the right pumps, at the right temperatures, in the right glasses. They get this very right indeed, better than anywhere else I’ve seen in London (happy to be proven wrong, of course).

IMG_1695

Not everyone enjoys beer and instead orders Fosters or Heineken or some other interchangeable yak piss. A publican can’t really avoid this without taking a hit (although the novelty might work in London?). Thankfully, The White Horse Pub have gone for a lager of real quality- Pilsner Urquell. Sometimes, an ale isn’t what you need (as you kick back on your yacht in the sun after a jog up the beach), and lager is the necessary thirst-quencher. Urquell is the boss.

IMG_1705

Venue: 5/10

Clean, undeniably, but perhaps to its detriment. The interior lacks that indefinable charm which so many others hold. Good outdoor space with grill.

Beer: 8/10

London doesn’t seem to understand foreign beers (or care?), but The White Horse Pub puts in a great show, without neglecting local local brews. World-class.

Worthy? Close.

I’m not sure you can unequivocally beat this international beer selection in London, but the décor is a little too spartan.

144. The Dubliner, Washington, DC

The Dubliner seems to be an institution in DC, but it wouldn’t really stand-out in Ireland. Since this is a global list, it seems hard to justify this inclusion.

IMG_2842

In truth, the dive-bar Irish pub right next door was much more affable and relaxed and had a better beer selection AND live music too.

IMG_2854

On a summer night such as on my visit, the expansive outdoor seating is a boon, and the close proximity to the station  adds to the appealing location, especially for a swift half between trains or a first port of call after a long journey. I imagine it is popular with the suited 5-o-Clock-finisher’s from the surrounding downtown offices.

IMG_2832

The interior is split into two: restaurant and bar, the latter of which offers a long row of stools, sports on tv and attentive bar staff to help you while away some hours. But so does next door.

IMG_2836

Yes, that’s a lager served in a Guinness glass in the background. Come on people.

 

Venue: 5/10

Nothing extraordinary for Ireland, but a real good effort for the States.

Beer: 3/10

Very decent Guinness for this side of the pond, but a very limited selection otherwise.

Worthy? No.

From an American history perspective, perhaps. But not for the beer.

72. Blind Tiger Ale House, New York, NY

West Village, New York, a new beer movement.

IMG_3203

No more ostentatious tap handles, faux-craft beer (here’s looking at you, Sam), and well beer Wednesdays. Blind Tiger will guide you through the excellent emerging United Statian craft beer world. It could be argued that Blind Tiger not only predates the real beer movement, but was already a local institution whilst localised, craft brewing was but a twinkle in the hipster’s bourgeois eye.

IMG_3212

27 taps is not enormous for the States (Sunset Grille & Tap has 112), but it represents at least a days (ahem) effort. Europe is much more bottle-centric (400+ in Belgium is not uncommon; you need more like 800 to stand out, like Kulminator, Antwerp), so for Jonny foreigner, this array of taps is bewildering in all the right ways.

IMG_3216

Spot the hipster.

A fantastic quirk of Blind Tiger is the countdown to the tapping of a new brew: when I was there, the chalk board told me that at 5pm, a new saison will be opened for sale. Given that I decided to wait a few hours for this, I can’t remember exactly what this tasted like. Since I had been on a summer wheat/fruit beer binge, I think the saison fitted perfectly with my contemporary needs.

IMG_3217

If I’m being honest, which I’d rather not since I really liked this place, the layout of the venue needs some thought. I understand that space is at a premium in Manhattan, but Blind Tiger is bigger than many pubs in the Netherlands. The problem here is the large space in the middle, leftover from the awkward high tables by the window and the low slung benches by the wall. Maybe people can accumulate and drink vertically during peak times, but here you will find yourself clumsily in the way. A seat by the bar is a fine thing though.

A special nod must go out to the staff. On both visits, they were excellent and patient, despite being borderline understaffed the second time, with something of a Rain Man memory.

Venue: 6/10

A seat around the bar is an optimum place to sit, otherwise the void in the middle seems like a waste of space.

Beer: 8/10

Countdowns to new beer tappings? Brilliant. The staff are happy to showcase an excellent knowledge and passion, too.

Worthy? Yes

A bar for real connoisseurs, which doesn’t exude esoteric pretentiousness, unlike this sentence.

28. The Brickskeller, Washington, DC

The Brickskeller has unfortunately been sold off and re-opened as The Bier Baron Tavern. So it’s kinda on the list.

IMG_2883

Fortunately, the excellent beer can collection is still there. Apparently (according to the surprisingly extensive Wiki page) The Brickskeller was a stalwart during the collecting fad in the 70’s, where the fathers of well-healed underage collectors would pay for hundreds of dollars worth of cans to be emptied from the bottom, in order to preserve the top, and deliver them as the valuable trinkets they are to their kids.

IMG_2895

They even have an old Waitrose one from the UK- I didn’t even know they ever existed.

IMG_2887

Great venue, vast beer menu; why the bad review? One women is responsible for this: the barmaid. Maybe I’m used to superhuman attentiveness and almost-ass-kissing joviality when I’m in the States, maybe she wouldn’t have stood out in Europe. She certainly wouldn’t have in Zum Uerige. The difference there is that the gruff efficiency with which their staff sling another alt on your table is part of the charm. She was a ruinous scourge on an otherwise excellent beer bar.

IMG_2897

I get that bar staff work for tips (whaaat- they work for MONEY?!) but one of the huge advantages about working in a beer bar is…working with all that yummy beer. If you’d rather do shots with your friend/love-interest at the end of the bar, then go find a lovely little dive-bar where not only is this fine, it’s recommended. But these places should be a haven where I can ask which saison she recommends (some of which are United Statian, so new to me), and get some passion, maybe some tasting notes- not just a name, with no explanation. This might sound petty, but this is but one instance on a list of aggrievements.

IMG_2900

Venue: 4/10

A lot of potential; almost great decor. The staff are ruining this place.

Beer: 8/10

A broad, well-described selection, helpfully categorised by country and style, with explanatory tasting notes to help you through the varieties.

Worthy? No

It almost definitely used to be, and I really want it to be.  Sadly, this has fallen by the wayside. A large menu is not enough these days: otherwise this list would be largely comprised of Belgian bars.

124. Kelham Island Tavern, Sheffield, England

The atmosphere in a pub is as crucial to its success as the quality of its beer, but the recipes and methods are frustratingly opaque.

IMG_1749

It is easier to reference a place that so perfectly illustrates an atmosphere; Kelham Island Tavern is that pub.

IMG_1759

Despite bordering an empty lot and varies industrial units but very little housing, there is a robust set of locals who the bar staff know by name. Far from being alienating, I was welcomed casually and affably, by the staff and regulars alike.

IMG_1767

Kelham Island Tavern is a regular CAMERA Pub of the Year winner (except in 2013, where The Shakespeare down the road stole the title). These were not won on the back of expensive and needless renovations, glitter and ball balls, but because it so thoroughly embodies what it means to be local pub, and why this is so important in the British culture. None of this success has gone to their heads; an understated, casual Northern attitude runs through the staff and locals.

IMG_1742

Venue: 9/10

No ridiculous renovations, plenty of old things.

Beer: 8/10

Exceptionally maintained local beers, served with true passion and expertise. A small but well-chosen international selection of bottles, too.

Worthy? Yes

This is the gold-standard for a good British pub.

56. Au General Lafayette, Paris, France

 

IMG_0896

A café so bold, it has it’s own branded beer glasses…in PARIS. On the surface, this the quintessential Parisian café experience; one major difference singles Au General Lafayette out: the focus on quality beer.

IMG_0922

Ten tap beers and a robust selection of Belgian classics (Orval, Chimay, Westmalle) provide the bulk of its’ arsenal, with some focus on French beers too, and one can order a beer to accompany your meal without embarrassment or scorn from the waiters.

IMG_0872

Service is brisk but still friendly, a rarity in lackadaisicall Parisian café dining. The interior has a tasteful assortment of mechanical miscellany amidst what could be original 1930s decor.

IMG_0929

Any Parisian worth his wine will dine al fresco, and Au General does not disappoint, offering a lengthy outdoor terrace hugging the perimeter. It’s next to a busy road, but so is all of Paris; one gets used to the engine roar and the moped whines as white noise and eventually as ambience.

IMG_0924

Venue: 6/10

Quintessential Parisian café, in and out.

Beer: 3/10

Nothing astounding, indeed an average-to-small range for the Netherlands or Belgium, but good for this wine-obsessed (read: misguided) nation.

Worthy? No

If the food was better, maybe.