Tuesday 6 October 2009

In Search of a Local

I’ve never really had anywhere that I’d call my local; somewhere close that I’d want to drink in regularly, whether it's just a quick pint after work or a long session after work. At university there were a few places spread over the three years but nothing that I’d qualify as ‘my local’. Now that I’m living in a new town I saw the opportunity to find somewhere new to drink, so on Friday I went out looking for one.

I don't want or expect much from a local other than a decent pint and a good atmosphere (if I want more then I can travel and get more), but I had a criteria to judge the pubs against. Location: How far away is it? What’s near it? What do I pass on the way there and back? For example, if it’s near the supermarket then it possibly allows me a sneaky pint because ‘there were, like, really long queues in the shop’. Beer, Range/Quality/Price: What beer do they have – cask, keg and bottle? How well is it kept? How much does it cost me for a round? Atmosphere: What it’s like inside? Quality of the landlord and locals. Decoration. The way it ‘feels’. Extras: Do they serve food and what’s the quality, range and price? Any entertainment, music, quizzes, bar games, TV, etc? Is there a garden?

Pub 1: George and Dragon.
Five-minutes walk, out of the town. Not near much and wouldn’t ever be ‘just passing’. Beer: Harvey’s Best Bitter and Bombardier on cask; Guinness, Strongbow, Bulmers, Kronenbourg, Fosters, etc, keg; Bud and Newcastle Brown in the fridge. My Harvey’s was fairly well kept, no complaints. A pint and a diet coke cost £3.85. Atmosphere: Large place, lots of tables; bit of a locals’ local, busy with salubrious old chaps; working man club feel to it; pretty bad service. Extras: Lots of TVs turned to Sky Sports, two pool tables (which we couldn’t get to work) and free dartboard. Didn’t see anyone eating. Overall: Not terrible, beer fine, ok for watching TV or playing darts. Lauren didn’t like it.

Pub 2: Punch & Judy.
Location: 12 minute walk from the flat, but close to the mainline train station. Have to walk the length of the high street to get there and back so pass a lot of things on the way, including supermarkets and takeaways. Beer: Harvey’s Best Bitter, Sharp’s Doom Bar and Flowers IPA on cask; Fosters, Carling, Kronenbourg, Strongbow, Guinness on keg; Bud and Newcastle Brown in the fridge. I had another Harvey’s which was better than the previous one. Pint and a coke cost £4.10. Atmosphere: Nice feel to the place, good mix of people, music playing, friendly bar man, cosy. Extras: bar billiards (which swallowed my pound so I had to get the barman to refund it), regular live music, cool jukebox. Overall: Really nice little pub, friendly and welcoming, fun, good range of beer. I was given an old £5 note though, which was annoying. Lauren liked this one.

Pub 3: The Humphrey Bean - Wetherspoons.
Location: Five-minute walk down the high street, two-minutes from work, right in the centre of everything and I pass it almost every day. Beer: Six cask beers on, I think – Hobgoblin, Bank’s and Taylor Dragon Slayer, Leveller, Ruddles, Abbot and Pedigree; usual bottles, fairly cider-heavy; usual keg stuff including Tuborg, etc. My Hobgoblin was no good, but then I haven’t enjoyed it since they dropped the ABV from 5.2%. Lauren’s diet coke was also pretty crappy. It cost £3.50 (they wouldn’t accept the bum old fiver either…!). Atmosphere: As usual, not too busy for 8pm on Friday night. There were bouncers on the door, which is never a particularly good sign. Amusingly, we did see two laddish oiks dressed exactly the same, walk into the pub. That made us laugh; they looked like right twats. It’s a big ‘Spoons though, lots of seating for food, a huge garden out the back. Extras: Lots of food, cheap deals, quiz machines, free wifi, free condiments (I don’t want to pay for mustard when they give them away!). Overall: Not great. Bad beer this time. But I can’t help but be drawn back to it. I have had a couple of good pints in there and I’m now in the habit of ‘popping in just to see what’s on’. It’s not the best pub but not the worst.

Pub 4: The Man of Kent.
Location: The closest pub to me, less than a three-minute walk. I pass it on the way home from work (and on the way to work…). Beer: Harvey’s Best Bitter on both handpulls; Strongbow, Guinness, Fosters, etc, on keg; lots of alcopops in the fridge. The worst kept Harvey’s of the three. It cost £4.10 for ale and coke. Atmosphere: Ok, fairly busy, small pub but lots of seating and different areas. Didn’t feel especially comfortable, lacking atmosphere. Extras: Music, TV showing Sky Sports, not sure about food as we didn’t see anyone eating. Overall: Disappointing. Beer wasn’t good and Lauren’s coke wasn’t great (it seems there is disparity in how coke is kept, as well as the ale). They also looked at me as if I was trying to pay with soiled tissue for handing over the dodgy note (what?! I didn’t want to be carrying it around all night!); I didn’t feel welcome after that, as if idle local gossip was beginning. Neither of us liked it.

So my search for a local was disappointing and my earlier fear that Tonbridge is a beer wasteland was confirmed. Part of the problem is that I now compare every pub to The Bull and very few can ever come close. The Punch and Judy is a pub that I’d want to drink in regularly as it felt like the best place to hang out, but it’s the furthest away. The Wetherspoons looks like it’ll be the pub I drink in most often, although I can be door-to-door with The Rake in under an hour, so that’s always an option...!

After the little crawl I came home and opened two bottles of beer and enjoyed them more than the cask stuff I'd had out in the pubs, then I pawed through the beer collection and saw some cracking bottles in there, begging to be drunk. And then I realised something… if it's just about the beer then the best place to drink in Tonbridge is probably my flat. But as we all know, it isn't just the beer.


  1. The Punch and Judy looks by far the best, like it should be in Heartbeat or something. I suggest you get a bike and you can be there in no time. In fact, that's just put me in the mood to cycle round to MY local.

  2. For me, a good local is a pub with well-kept beer that I can wobble home from successfully. So close that you'd have to be a liability to yourself to even entertain the thought of catching a taxi back home.

    With four pubs in my village within a five minute walk, I've got one true local that manages a tasty pint of Bass (yes, it can be done). No TV, no yobs, plenty of sarcasm. And the chip shop is on my wobble home. Result all round!

  3. I'm findin it hard to find the perfect local too, might borrow tour idea and do a similar post ;o)

    All the best pubs round here (IMO) are a car drive away but the local weatherspoons (10min walk) has really improved lately and the Cleveland with it's own brewery is good

  4. I live in a town in South Leeds, and with the greatest of respect the pubs are not great for real ale. There's one a group of us enjoy on a Friday evening every so often (with the weirdest beer garden ever!) but Becks Vier is about as good as it gets.

    Bizarrely there's a Sam Smith's pub too but it'snot as friendly as the others we've been in. Bloomin' cheap in comparison to the others though!

    So currently my local is the Rosebud in Rothwell but that involves a drive or I rely on the beer cupboard!

  5. I don't really have a local any more. When I was in Dublin, it was the Bull and Castle, in the city centre, a 20-25 minute bus journey. A bar with a great selection of beer, and there was always good company.

    The pub I go to most often here is a 25 minute cycle away (that's pretty wobbly on the way back), and that's not because it's a great pub -- although it does sell Hovels Bitterbier, Krusovice Dunkel, DAB, Schöfferhofer and a few others, has Schnitzel and Pizza nights, gets packed with students on Thursdays for a massive pub quiz and has a thoroughly acerbic barmaid -- it's because that's where some of the guys in work always end up, and all attempts to get them to go to The James or Pinkus Muller seem to fail.

    Actually, it's a pretty good pub now that I think of it.

    The closest one to me (6 min walk) just feels wrong :D

  6. The problem is, of course, most people think about price first. Most pubs juggle their costs to the best of their ability to provide a service that might be fit for purpose, just about. Those pubs that raise their game a little have to charge a little more and find that the foot fall drops as a result of the price disincentive.

    I try to get people to realise that they get what they pay for. Most punters simply don't want to pay for the level of service that us discerning punters desire.

    I believe pubs are too cheap and beer is too cheap. Until we stop complaining about price we should stop complaining about quality.

    You'll have to excuse me, I'm in a bit of a mood tonight. It seems everybody is in a "all pubs are crap" kinda angle. I know they are, but they won't improve for free.

    Coke, by the way, in most pubs is served via a post mix machine. A heavy flavoured sugar is mixed with fizzed up tap water. If your tap water is shit, or the mixing on the machine is wonky, the coke will be tat.

  7. The absence of a local is one of the few things I am really missing about life in Prague. In some ways I was spoilt rotten by having Pivovarsky klub just a five minute walk from my flat - a pub with 6 taps, 4 of which changed regularly, as well as about 200 bottled beers from the Czech Republic, Germany, Poland and Belgium, not to mention the best bar staff in Prague by a country mile.

    The nearest pub to me now is about a half hour walk, which even given that they have the complete Samuel Smith's range in bottles, Fullers ESB on tap and an eclectic selection of decent beer is just too much of a pain in the backside to get to.

    Usually though if I want a drink, I am in the same situation, opening a couple of bottles at home to polish off - thank goodness my little brewery job gives me a decent supply of good beer.

  8. I wish I at least had a choice. Luxury.

  9. Barm, P&J is actually quite modern compared to the others. A bike is a good idea, it's just the wobbly journey home that's the problem! I don't mind a 12 minute walk and if it's for beer then I can probably manage it quicker!

    Haddonsman, that's all I'm after, I don't need the greatest pub in the world, and if I did have that then I'd be spoiled and would take it for granted. And there are plenty of chip shops/kebabs/indian/chinese/pizza places on the way home from whatever pub I go to!

    Moggy, the best pubs are always a drive away!! But, RE the last comment, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

    Mark, sounds like you've got it similar to me; places you can go to, but nowhere particularly good!

    Barry, it is all about the feeling - if it doesn't feel right then how can you spend time in there regularly?! A 25 minute cycle sounds dangerous though... a 25 minute train journey is dangerous enough for me after a few!

    Dave, it's not that these pubs are crap, per se, they just aren't places that I found enjoyable. The P&J was pretty cool, welcoming, friendly, good music, good beer, it's just to get to it I have to walk past at least 3 other pubs... Price doesn't concern me so much so long as I'm not paying stupid amounts (£3.50 for a Harvey's would be too much IMO, but I'd pay £5 a pint if they offered something rare and American or strong, for example - if price was an issue then I'd stay at home with just the occasion jaunt to 'Spoons). As for the Coke, yes, that's how they were all served.

    Velky Al, who needs a pub when you have a brewery?! Or if you brew your own! half an hour is just a bit too far, I agree. I want my local to be staggering distance, as Simon says.

    BUL180, no pubs nearby?! That sucks!

    Cool comments again. The more I think about P&J the more I like it, it's just the having to walk past other places to get there... It is only a 10 minute walk, so it's not the end of the world, let's be honest! And if you ever come to visit, it's right by the train station so we can pop in for a pint :)

  10. What? The Punch and Judy is too far away at 12 mins walk? You home drinkers really are wimps! My local is 4.5 miles away and as I don't drive, that's not even an option.

  11. Pretty much everything local to me is either a Holt's pub (which is great - as long as you only want to drink Holt's beers...) or Beefeater chain pubs, or the sort of dingy, unwelcoming, zero-ale establishment that seems to only open so the landlord can server flat lager to his mates of an evening (local pubs, for local people...)

    But luckily I live within 5 mins of a tram stop, with Manchester City Centre (The Marble Arch, THe Bull's Head, The City Arms, The Britons Protection, many more) 15 mins in one direction and Bury Town Centre (The Trackside, Malt Bar) 20 mins in the other. So I'm well served for decent pubs as long as I don't mind the tram ride back after chucking-out time, which can be An Experience... one that ranges from quite amusing to downright alarming, depending on the state of my fellow passengers.

    But yeah, I'd love for one of the pubs within 20 mins strolling distance to give themselves a kick up the arse and turn into a decent boozer with a good selection of proper beer and a nicely convivial atmosphere. Or even for just one of those Holts pubs to start serving guest ales (hey, Tandleman - are any of the Prestwich Holts boozers doing that yet?)

  12. I thought the P&J sounded lovely. Sounds like Lauren has good taste, in pubs at least... :D

    Tyson, "You home drinkers really are wimps!" should read "You really are a wimp!" :D 10 mins is not far, and if it's the place of your choice, passing other establishments has nothing to do with it.

    I consider myself a home drinker, often because of familial commitments, but I'll go out to the pub at the drop of a hat, and cycle 25 mins or more to get there. Strangely, it's usually quicker on the way back, but I put that down to my latent temporal control powers manifesting after several beers. It happens all the time! I swear though, trying to get some people out to a pub is like herding cats, and the only time I'll go drinking on my own is if my family is away and I'm in shopping, and stop off for food and a beer (sometimes ending up in a night out if I end up talking to people at the bar :))... I do miss the beery social scene in Dublin at times though.

  13. Professor Pie-Tin7 October 2009 at 18:02

    You're obviously a young man so perhaps you might take a word of advice from an older tippler.You're arse about tit.

    Never ever buy or rent a property unless you have established that there is a decent boozer within walking distance.

    It doesn't matter how brilliant the place is the day will come when you're watching the BBC 10 o'clock news with that miserable Welsh git and you'll think " Sod this, I'm off for a pint. "

    Or you'll be having a row with the missus ( very often deliberately engineered to coincide with pub time )and you'll want to flounce out with an " I'm off to the pub so sod you. "

    And the thing is if you've got to call a taxi or get on a bus or drive the whole spur of the moment has gone.

    Likewise, when enjoying your early evening drinks and the missus rings up to say " When do you want your Lobster Thermidor " you can say " In a couple of pints time love. "

    Listen to the Prof. I've owned or rented more than 20 houses and every single one of them was on account of an entry in the Real Ale Guide or the Good Pub Guide.

    Trust me on this one.

  14. Mark I live opposite a pub, but rarely frequent it (not because the beer is bad or anything) but I prefer the pub that has been my local for about 5 years (when I used to drive — or occasionally cycle — eight miles there on Sunday lunchtime and Friday evening for a couple of pints of Otter Head, the wife would drive back), which is 200 metres away, down a cobbled alley, next to the old church; I also have another local about 500 metres away down by the river, next to the ancient stone bridge, where draught Budvar (as well as decent ale) is sold. There is also an old coaching inn next to my local that does local beers as well. Mind you, it has taken me years to get to this state of serendipity (though I did have a good local in Crouch End/Finsbury Park years ago, which provided a boozy haven after an afternoon at Highbury, much to the chargrin of my then girlfriend). But I do know the pain of being surrounded by pubs, none of which are any good, whether it’s the beer or is home to glassy-eyed types who think the bar is their front room (Holloway).

  15. Tyson, I accept that. 10 minutes isn't that far, I know...!

    Darren, that sounds pretty cool - I wouldn't mind being 15-20 mins from those pubs!

    Barry, that's it, I've decided to take the P&J as my local and haul my ass up and down the hugh street. The fact that I pass other pubs just allows me a quick one on the way back!

    Prof, duly noted, I won't make the same mistake again!

    ATJ, it sounds like you are in a little beer oasis down there!

  16. Haahaa! Now that's logical thinking! :D

  17. Do you know if the Cask & Glass is still going? If so, it could be the answer to your conundrum.

  18. Brad, interesting, I haven't heard of this place but I'm very intrigued!! I might take a stroll at lunchtime tomorrow to see if it's there, it's right by the Punch & Judy too. Nothing on BITE about it though and Ian's comments are 3 years old so I might not get too hopeful...