A Cornish Micropub… Kind Of

We heard that a micropub had opened in St Ives back in the summer but hadn’t got round to visiting until last Friday when we popped across on the bus.

Contrary to rumour, it wasn’t hard to find — there’s a prominent gated entrance on the harbour-front, next door to Pizza Express. In true micropub fashion, however, its opening hours are limited and we found ourselves wandering about waiting for 4pm to roll around.

"Alehouse Yard" street sign.Signs on the gate: 'Micropub Open 4pm.'

Alleyway up to the front door of the pub.

Even arriving at 4:01 we weren’t the first customers. A middle-aged man and woman had settled at a corner table, a white-haired gent with some serious camera kit and a broadsheet newspaper was seated by the door, and there was a leather-jacketed regular leaning on the bar chatting to the landlord and landlady.

The pub made a great first impression. Whitewashed walls and bare wood can feel sterile but, here, everything seemed well-worn and warm. The six casks lined up behind the bar had notes in chalk so it was a doddle to see what was available but, just to be sure, the woman behind the bar also made a point of welcoming us and running through the offer. As well as beer there was also a choice of four ciders, a handful of wines, Guinness, pickled eggs and crisps. Because we hesitated before choosing a beer she offered us tasters and also mentioned the availability of third-of-a-pint measures and a three-thirds (full-pint) wooden tasting flight.

The beer selection leaned towards Cornish breweries — Rebel, Harbour, Black Flag — but the real excitement for us was the presence of one of St Austell’s small batch seasonal beers, which are weirdly hard to find in pubs in their own estate. A pale bitter with Ella hops, it was served perhaps a touch cool, and with maybe a bit less than ideal conditioning, but it certainly tasted fresh enough and passed the ‘same again’ test. Of the guest beers the staff recommendation was Tom Wood’s Shropshire Lad which we found a bit rough and cloying but everyone else seemed to be enjoying it, and vocally so.

Beer casks. The bar with stools and drinkers. Shove ha'penny board.

By 4:20 every seat in the house had gone, with strangers sharing tables and a crowd around the bar. At various points there were: a young couple in matching anoraks (tourists, we assumed); a solo artistic type with a beard and a book about esoteric spirituality; a pair of young blokes in muddy boots who’d just knocked off work for the weekend; a party of grey-haired ladies-that-lunch bewildered by the beer selection; a few older men, acquaintances rather than close pals, talking about town politics; a family with teenage daughter playing Shut-the-Box; and a couple in late middle age who seemed to be on a date perched on stools next to the shove ha’penny board.

There was a lot of chat and even occasional outbreaks of cross-group conversation, much of it centred around how lovely the pub was, what a find, just what this town needs.

And it is just what St Ives needs. For years, we’ve struggled to find a pub there we really like, and there certainly wasn’t anything we’d go out of our way to get to. And there was nowhere we could confidently recommend to visitors who asked for advice via Twitter or by email. Now, there is.

The micropub tag might be a red herring, though. It’s no smaller, for starters, than some of Penzance’s ‘proper’ pubs. It has a proper bar. There is far more opportunity for scurrying and privacy than at the ur-Micropub, The Butcher’s Arms in Herne, and that Guinness font would surely have its proprietor, Martyn Hillier, tutting even though he insists the definition of micropub isn’t prescriptive. As we were leaving we even noticed someone drinking bottled lager — very much taboo in micropubland. But in this context — and in many other cases, we suspect — micropub, just like ‘craft’, is merely a useful way of signalling that the proprietors are trying to do something different.

UPDATE 24/10/2016 14:58: See comment below from owner — it wasn’t the proprietors behind and around the bar after all! (Hired bar staff being another thing Martyn Hillier considers not very micro-pubby, by the way…)

10 replies on “A Cornish Micropub… Kind Of”

My most recent memory of St Ives (2005) was of a small Disney theme park. It’s good to know there is somewhere independent selling beer. It certainly sounds like the crowd was sociable.
What is that vertical wooden noggin in the 6th image down? Do you run a coin down the wires?

That’s a shove ha’penny board, as the man was explaining at length to his date. (A good tactic? Who knows.)

This is my pub and thanks for your visit and comments. Just one correction. The guy drinking the bottled lager is NOT the landlord, but the barmaid’s fiance. You won’t catch me drinking lager!

Ha, thanks for the correction! We did have all sorts of ‘presumably’ and ‘we guess’ in the first draft. Have fixed.

Sounds lovely. Great local beer in a congenial and unpretentious environment. Isn’t that what we all want? Well, probably not, but it’s what I want!

Just to add, there will be a different small batch beer from St. Austell every week till Christmas.

6 casks in a variety of styles, keg Guinness, 4 ciders, and a range of bottled beer including lager! Who would have thought a little random pub would have such a diverse selection.

Could you expand on your comment about the “beer condition” please; was it lacking condition or too much CO2. My brother , Nick, the landlord has turned up the cooling system a tad as you may well have been right that it was was a degree or two too cold. However, his regulars couldn’t find fault with the condition. Many thanks, Chris Simpson. (Head of Tasting)!

Chris — it was on the cold side and lacking CO2, i.e. felt a bit flat on the palate. Not disastrously so, though.

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