Last December we made a new year’s resolution to visit during 2016 all the pubs in Penzance we had until then overlooked.
In fact, what we said was that we wanted, in general, to go to…
More and different pubs. We don’t even need to go far afield: there are pubs in Penzance we’ve never been in. This is ridiculous, and we will sort it.
With trips to Birmingham, Bolton, Dudley, Hartlepool, Manchester, Newcastle, Stevenage and a whole bunch of other places, with the specific intention of visiting pubs not necessarily known for their beer, we’ve achieved our broader goal. But the pubs of Penzance remained stubbornly unfinished until the weekend past.
We started out well, visiting The Pirate at Alverton and The Sportsman at Heamoor in April, liking both enough that we’ve made return visits despite them being out of our way. The Pirate especially has got something about it: Adnams Broadside, a verdant beer garden, a carpeted and cosy old-fashioned interior, and a proper crowd of locals who (all we ask for) don’t look at us twice. It’s become a little treat for us to wander out that way on a lazy weekend afternoon when we’re not on a train or bus somewhere up country.
But then it took us until September to make our next tick, The One & All, which used to be the town’s Irish pub until that trend fizzled out. Now it’s a kind of Cornish version of an Irish pub, with national colours and iconography all over. It had never struck as especially inviting from the outside but visiting with friends we got a lovely welcome from both staff and regulars and, having only been able to see lager fonts from the street, were pleased to find very decent pints of St Austell Proper Job, too. (Harder than you might think in Cornwall.) There was nothing about it to make us defect from our favourites but we could easily imagine The One & All becoming our local if we lived round the corner.
But then what stopped us visiting The White Lion, The Seven Stars, The Globe and The London Inn until December? Honestly, it’s been hard to summon the will to use up precious free time going into pubs that we suspected, based on advice from friends and our reading of the runes, were not going to be much good. Why take a risk when we already know we like The Yacht and The Dock and The Lamp & Whistle? Going to the pub is supposed to be fun – why had we saddled ourselves with this obligation? But the resolution weighed on us and so, finally, deadline looming, we got our arses in gear.
We started phase two with The Globe which was such a pleasant surprise it spurred us on. It’s got weird, slightly cold nightclub-style lighting, but we were astonished to find Young’s Winter Warmer on offer, in great condition at that. The crowd was excellent, too – a genuine mix of young and old, men and women, who made us feel at home with a few kind words here and there. We felt a bit daft at having not been in before and stayed for several pints.
The White Lion isn’t a smart pub despite some vestiges of its once grand status on the exterior. What it is, though, is very pubby with well-aged carpets, low light and basic fixtures and fittings. The whole place is geared up for boozing with loud music blaring at just the right level to create a sense of intimacy. Bailey got slightly emotional: ‘It’s like being back in Bridgwater.’ (If you know Bridgwater you will understand the depth of meaning here.) The only cask ale on our visit was Marston’s Pedigree which we’d been wanting to revisit for a while and it was actually pretty wonderful – obviously a cousin to Bass, faintly eggy as per spec, and certainly not the dishwater we remember from a few years ago.
The London is rather similar although there we really were conscious of being in a pub that is possessed by its regulars. Everyone seemed to know each other and there was a serious lounge and public bar dynamic, not to mention the backyard smoking gang. There was nothing special on the beer front but Plymouth sloe gin was a nice find and the bloke obsessively feeding the jukebox had great taste in country music.
The Seven Stars was one we’d been putting off because, frankly, we were chicken. It’s famous for its strong home-brewed cider, is somehow affiliated with the Aquila motorcycle club and, not to put to fine a point on it, seems to go out of its way to give off a hard vibe. But mid-afternoon on a Friday (even MAD FRIDAY!) we found it fairly quiet and got a cheerful welcome from the young woman behind the bar, even if the regulars at the bar gave us a bit of side-eye. After a while someone did approach us shouting, ‘You! Yeah, you!’ and we braced for impact but he just wanted to know if we could remember (of all things) what Clint Eastwood’s son is called. (It’s Kyle.) We can’t honestly say we’ll be rushing back – we felt the presence of two middle-aged squares might have been harshing the buzz somewhat – but the hour we spent there was worthwhile.
We must confess to giving ourselves a pass on two others. The Lugger we let ourselves off because, on close inspection, we think that, as appearances suggest, it really is a hotel, though it gets more pub-like in the summer. The Navy Inn was never open when we tried to get in, despite advertised hours, but as it pretty explicitly advertises itself as a restaurant, we reckon that’s OK to write off too.
What have we learned from this exercise? First, that every pub in Penzance has something going for it, even if it’s just that it’s ‘interesting’. Secondly, that our laziness and tendency to stick to what we know has been denying us good experiences and, of specific relevance to this daft blog, good beer.
If there’s a call to action for our readers, it’s this: pop into that pub near you that you’ve always avoided. You never know what you might find.
And for publicans: if you’d like more people to pop in, look at your pub from outside and think about what signals it is sending. Does it say friendly and welcoming, or GO AWAY? At the very least, consider some way of indicating which beers you’ve got. We’d have visited some of these pubs a lot sooner if we’d seen a sign advertising Winter Warmer or even Pedigree, because, if nothing else, it suggests someone cares.