We’ve given the Blue Anchor in Helston, Cornwall, plenty of attention in the past and so last Friday, in town for Flora Day, we decided to make a point of drinking elsewhere.
Of course, this is no normal trading day, and all the pubs were on an emergency footing to cope with crowds of visitors and thirsty locals, so we’re not going to pass judgement based on these single visits. Still, there is something instructive in how they handle the chaos.
Our first stop was the Red Lion — not a common name for pubs in Cornwall where the default tends to be the Star or the Seven Stars — on Church Street. It’s a plum spot for watching the dancers emerge from the museum in the ‘Ancient Furry Dance’ at midday (the main event). It also seems to be the preferred destination for members of the Helston Town Band to wet their whistles and, before we could enter, we had to make way for a procession of merry blue-coated brass musicians off to join their colleagues.
Though the pub was busy, it was very orderly, and we got served immediately. We were tickled by the handmade pump-clip for St Austell Tribute and, as we took our photo, the person serving us chuckled and said:
Good, isn’t it? We can’t draw, but we know how to spell. We’re not really a real ale pub, as such — more a lager pub. We find if we serve real ale, it goes off in the lines. Today’s different, though — we know we’ll sell it. So we’ve got Tribute and Doom Bar in, special.
(She also told us the pub was for sale and asked if we were interested in buying it. We are not.)
It was not, to be honest, the best Tribute we’ve ever tasted, and was served at near-freezing temperature in plastic glasses, but we didn’t mind, especially as we sat drinking it in a coveted window seat with a view of the parade. A classic ‘not about the beer’ moment.
Next, we tried the Angel Hotel on Coinagehall Street. Tried is the right word because we couldn’t actually get served and, as our buzz began to fade, decided that we didn’t want to spend any more time waiting for two pints of St Austell Trelawny, and left.
A little further down the street, effectively acting as overspill for the Blue Anchor, is the Seven Stars. (See?) Like its near neighbour, it is housed in a cavernous historic building but seems to attract a different, younger crowd. Big screens were showing distinctly un-fun General Election post mortem coverage. The bar staff seemed overwhelmed, though they remained resolutely friendly, and pints of Caledonian XPA were all but undrinkable — gritty and acidic. Normally, we’d take them back, have a discreet word, and so on, but a Friday afternoon masquerading as Saturday night wasn’t the time. We abandoned our glasses and scooted.
The Rodney on Meneage Street is nominally a St Austell house and we had high hopes of finding trusty old Korev lager. We had no such luck so instead ended up with a bottle of Hoegaarden for Boak and a pint of Proper Ansome from (gasp!) Devon for Bailey. The entertainment was a huge TV tuned to a music channel while completely different tunes were played over the PA system — torture! The atmosphere was rather pleasant, though, with extended families occupying the front of the pub, grandparents fussing over babies and toddlers while young mums and dads partied moderately hard. Everyone seemed to be eating piping hot pasties, taking advantage of a ‘bring your own food’ policy.
After all that, we had to finish up the Blue Anchor. There were bouncers on the door, and the entrance corridor, which seems cute when the pub is quiet, was a moving game of sardines with plastic pint glasses in the mix, just for fun. That ordeal over, however, we managed to get hold of two beers without any waiting thanks to several temporary bars, including one marked BEER ONLY operating out of the stable-door to the pub cellar, underneath the brewery. We had pints of Flora Daze, served by Gareth himself, that tasted drier and more citrusy than in recent months. Spingo Middle, which we’ve sometimes found a bit rough around Flora Day, presumably as production is stepped up to meet demand for the big event, was also on impressive form.
There’s a reason the Blue Anchor is the only pub in Helston you’ve heard of.