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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

12. The Market Porter, Stoney Street, London, England

Near the big pointy thing, there’s a market where one can buy all sorts. Thirsty work as that undoubtedly is, The Market Porter is a saving grace.

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But location is all it’s got. The exterior has such promise, but the inside has befallen the same fate as all too many old pubs- a refurbishment that basically strips the character right out. Monotone painted walls and cheap furniture replace eclectic collections of souvenirs and tat proudly amassed by the owners and thick, worn tables that have supported countless pints and heard just as many conversations.

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If the sign (below) is to be believed, the pub opens exceptionally early to cater for the morning market workers, which is a nice touch. Perhaps that is why it is so renowned.

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One of the few personal decorative touches is the extensive collection of pump labels from previous guest brews. But these hide just a small part of the bland red paint throughout.

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Whilst the labels are indicative of a high turnaround of guest ales, this is true of many great, characterful, places in the UK.

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Venue: 2/10

Looks better on the outside. Recently refurbished (read: ruined).

Beer: 4/10

There seems to be a decent rotation, but not a wide range at any one time. One for the regulars.

Worthy? No

There is nothing remarkable, but if you are in the area, it’s probably worth popping in to cast your own opinion.

Candidate #5- Zero Degrees, Bristol, England

Zero Degrees is a brewpub chain of four: Bristol was the second venue and a local institution in the town I called home for my college years.

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The Bristol venue is the most unique as the location, nestled in amongst the historic Christmas Steps, provided an architectural challenge that was successfully met with stylish innovation. The steeply dipping hills allowed for three terraces and arresting views over the city. Some of the interior is of course reserved for the brewery, where glass walls enable the patrons to keep a discerning eye on the beer-monkeys as they go about their business. The brewery spills out over the bar with great arching pipes, emphasising the industrial chic design.

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Gratuitous shot of Bristol looking lovely. This is no where near the bar.

Although several of the beers have won some very prestigious awards, such as a CAMERA award for the pilsner, the mango beer is the reason people come back, frequently. I’m told it was an experimental guest beer, indeed it is unnamed on the menu, but they struck gold, so that the “Speciality” option is now synonymous with mango, regardless that the blurb explains this beer to be a changing, experimental compliment to the fixed pilsner, wheat and black lager. In five years, this guest has never changed apart from a cranberry Christmas brew. On a summer’s day, this mango beer is probably the best thing you could imbibe.

Venue: 7/10

Architecturally sumptuous, but perhaps a little cold on the inside.

Beer: 6/10

Mango beer. Much, much better than it sounds.

Worthy? Maybe