Over a few beers the other week we found ourselves making a list of pubs we love and find ourselves longing to be in.
It’s not The Best Pubs, it’s not a Top Ten, it’s just some pubs we like enough to feel wistful for. We’ve been tinkering with it since and decided to share it.
The City Arms, Cardiff
10–12 Quay St, CF10 1EA
This is, in fact, the pub where we had the conversation. It was our first visit but love at first pint. The perfect mix of old school, new school, cask and keg, it just felt completely right to us. Worn in and unpretentious, but not curmudgeonly, and serving a revelatory point of Brains Bitter. (Not SA.) Is it an institution? We assume it’s an institution.
The Brunswick Inn, Derby
1 Railway Terrace, DE1 2RU
We loved this first time, and it’s still great. Flagstones, pale cask ale, cradling corners, a view over the railway, and the murmur of lovely local accents. Worth breaking a train journey for.
The Rutland Arms, Sheffield
86 Brown St, S1 2BS
Sheffield generally, of course, but this pub in particular appeals more every time we visit. Young staff stamp their personalities, but that doesn’t seem to put off older customers who load the jukebox up with distinctly unhip oldies. Local beer, worn wood, stained glass, and stained carpets. And that diffused light that sits just right with a pint at two in the afternoon.
The Royal Oak, Borough, London
44 Tabard St, SE1 4JU
Look, when we say Harvey’s Royal Oak is the best pub in London, we’re sort of joking, and clearly expressing a personal preference. But also, it is the best pub in London. Permanent mild and Sussex Best, salt beef sandwiches, saggy-trousered cockneys telling rambling anecdotes, and violinists sipping at post-rehearsal halves. A pub that feels as if it ought to be a few more miles out, and a few decades ago.
The Ship and Mitre, Liverpool
133 Dale St, L2 2JH
We were drawn to this one by the beauty of the building, a grubby grey inter-war incisor tooth sticking up at the side of a flyover. Of course it turned out to be a great pub everyone else already knew about. There’s cask ale, keg, Belgian and German bottles, and a hatch chucking out junk food. It’s not posh, it’s not rough, just straightforwardly decent. We don’t hesitate to recommend it when asked for Liverpool tips and so far nobody has complained.
The Marble Arch, Manchester
73 Rochdale Rd, M4 4HY
We can’t go to Manchester without popping in here, just like every other out-of-town beer geek visiting the city. The interior is legendarily beautiful, the beer has a cult following, but the pub is also a local boozer, even if the people who use it that way don’t always live nearby anymore, as a bloke called Paddy once explained to us from the next table.
The Bartons Arms, Birmingham
144 High St, Aston, B6 4UP
We keep thinking about this pub even though we’ve only been once. A cathedral. A legend. A landmark. The beer was good (Oakham) but the real joy is knowing it survived against the odds, a Victorian work of art surrounded by bad post-war development; and in its details: Snob screens, mosaics, tiles, stained glass, paintings… Every surface is a delight.
The Star Inn, Crowlas
What more can we say about this one? We love it, and we miss it. We especially miss Trink and Potion 9.
The Cumberland Arms, Newcastle upon Tyne
James Place Street, Ouseburn, NE6 1LD
With a whole city to explore we couldn’t resist going back here multiple times in one week. Again, there’s a pleasure in its incongruity: an old pub cast adrift from the community it once served, but still lovely and lively. Dog walkers, teenage domino players, hippies, hikers, ordinary mums and dads taking a break on the school run… Idyllic. (And across the road, Ralph Erskine’s remarkable Byker Wall estate.)
The Great Western, Wolverhampton
Corn Hill, WV10 0DG
Batham’s, Holden’s, bread rolls, pork pies, pork scratchings, and an old man in a flat cap staring into a pint of mild as if it was broadcasting vital information. Railway memorabilia on the walls. Somewhere in the other room, a long angry tale in which both parties kept turning round to each and saying things, and then being turned round to and told they couldn’t turn round and say that. This pub really did seem magical to us.
* * *
So, that’s our list. Are there some common characteristics? Maybe…
- good beer, even full-on craft (def 2)…
- …but almost coy about it.
- A greater than average occurrence of mild.
- And of pies, rolls, dirty great sandwiches.
- Carpets, curtains, dark wood, flagstones, tiles.
- Near railway lines, wasteland, industrial estates, main roads.
- Unrefurbed, or wearing their refurbs lightly.
Do feel free to post your own list below.