Impressions of the Pubs of Southampton

Belgium & Blues

We were only in Southamp­ton for a cou­ple of days, we didn’t go to every sin­gle pub, or even every sin­gle good pub, but it was enough to get a feel, we think.

The city cen­tre feels more like Dort­mund than, say, Bris­tol – Blitzed, and thor­ough­ly, but then opened up to let sea air blow through, and to show off big skies. It is owned by chains: Yates, Wether­spoon, Flam­ing Grill, and so on. There wasn’t even a real­ly out­landish booze bunker for us to get excit­ed about, just plain retail units with brand­ed fronts and print­ed signs, JPEG arte­facts and all.

Bel­gium & Blues intrigued us, though, and turned out to be just what you might expect: a speakeasy­ish base­ment bar spe­cial­is­ing in Bel­gian beer, but with well-cho­sen cask ale and British keg, too. It’s not cheap (how could it be?) but, with Bit­ter­ballen and Blok­jes on the menu, it was fun.

* * *

The Juniper Berry.

With our (small, infor­mal) pub his­to­ri­an hats on, our atten­tion was grabbed by a run of pubs along Bugle Street, a back route fol­low­ing the line of the old city walls. The Juniper Berry, for exam­ple, is obvi­ous­ly an inter-war pub in tidy mock Tudor, though we can’t work out which brew­ery built it or in exact­ly which year. It’s Trip Advi­sor reviews are for­bid­ding and a promi­nent sign warn­ing that shoplifters aren’t wel­come sends an unin­tend­ed sig­nal.

On Fri­day night we found the func­tion room pul­sat­ing with coloured lights and heavy music, but the main bar more sedate, though still live­ly. Around the counter, old­er men debat­ing and berat­ing; In the cor­ners, mid­dle-aged cou­ples shar­ing bot­tles of wine; in the cen­tre, a fam­i­ly with car­toons on tablets and colour­ing books; and around the pool table, burly lads play­ing semi-seri­ous pool with one eye on Sky Sports.

We admired the orig­i­nal fix­tures and fit­tings, and the prop­er­ly pub­by atmos­phere, though the beer was noth­ing spe­cial, and felt headaches com­ing on as a result of (by our count) four sep­a­rate sources of music in dif­fer­ent styles, with con­flict­ing rhythms.

Titanic pub.

Around the cor­ner, there was the Titan­ic, for­mer­ly the Queen (per etched win­dows) but for­mer­ly lots of oth­er things, too, accord­ing to What­Pub. A hand­some Edwar­dian build­ing, this place was desert­ed when we entered, with the Rocky Hor­ror Pic­ture Show on TV and a pile of tools on one end of the bar.

One by one, though, reg­u­lars turned up, mid­dle-aged but Bohemi­an, clus­ter­ing around the bar to talk about hag­gis, a recent police inci­dent of ambigu­ous detail, and a ques­tion in the last pub quiz: “Long, hard, with ‘come’ in the mid­dle? See, the minute he says, ‘Don’t think of any­thing rude’, it’s impos­si­ble to get that idea out of your head, isn’t it?”

The beer was bad but who cares?

The Duke of Welling­ton, deeply his­toric and authen­ti­cal­ly wonky, was too busy to drink in, but we enjoyed our few moments steamed-up among the crowd as a drum­mer tuned his snare and pints of Wad­worth 6X were hoist­ed over our heads.

Dancing Man Brewery

The Danc­ing Man brew­ery, at the end of the road over­look­ing the fer­ry port, occu­pies a build­ing with even denser his­to­ry – the old city wool house, built in the 14th cen­tu­ry, and lat­er used to house Napoleon­ic pris­on­ers of war. It also feels as if belongs in some Ger­man city, per­haps Nurem­berg, and eschews the min­i­mal and indus­tri­al in favour of old stone, heavy wood and dark cor­ners.

Young cou­ples on dates, old cou­ples on dates, mid­dle-aged groups in expen­sive leather jack­ets, and par­ties of what we guessed were grad­u­ates stu­dents, milled and leaned and hud­dled over hazy IPAs and pints of San Miguel. There were bounc­ers on the door but it didn’t feel like they were nec­es­sary that night.

* * *

Beyond the Alt­stadt and the ring road (so Ger­man) we explored Shirley, which remind­ed us of Fish­ponds in Bris­tol, or per­haps Sev­en Sis­ters in Lon­don. Which is to say, in need of a lick of paint, but sharp with grit.

Overdraft

Our first stop was craft beer bar Over­draft which seemed a mil­lion miles from the sis­ter branch in upmar­ket Win­ches­ter, and rather cut adrift in LIDL-land. The cask ale wasn’t up to much, sad­ly, but Cam­den Ink on keg was sat­is­fy­ing and the food was excel­lent – soft tacos and crisp squid scat­tered with half a gar­den.

Waterloo Arms.

Off the main run, into the sub­ur­ban streets with their schools and church­es, we had more luck. The Water­loo Arms is a Hop Back pub and looks, feels and even smells just like the Sul­tan in Lon­don SW19. That is, plain but not aus­tere, clean but not ster­ile, ‘prop­er’. A kid in a Bat­man cos­tume was over­see­ing the meat raf­fle; darts went thump, thump, thump; and when a fam­i­ly left, the elder­ly lady next to us tut­ted: “Didn’t even take their glass­es back, look.”

Wellington Arms.

Down the road, the Welling­ton had a sim­i­lar thing going on, as well as a line-up of clas­sic ales from Land­lord to Sus­sex Best. Who told peo­ple to paint pubs grey? It’s meant to look con­tem­po­rary, we think, but feels like drink­ing on a bat­tle­ship. It says a lot that about the Wellington’s atmos­phere that, grey paint aside, it vibrat­ed with Big Pub Ener­gy.

* * *

Over­all, this is a city with every type of pub, and lots of good ones, which we found with­out much effort. ONS tells us there are 100 pubs which, though down 70 on 2001, sug­gests there are a few more to dis­cov­er yet, not least an intrigu­ing look­ing microp­ub that was shut when we passed, and oth­ers rec­om­mend­ed to us on Twit­ter.

8 thoughts on “Impressions of the Pubs of Southampton”

  1. An inter­est­ing pub scene in Southampton,a lot of good pubs but the best ones are well spread apart, so a lot of walk­ing or bus work required.

  2. A bit of dig­ging found that the Juniper Berry had been built by Strong’s of Rom­sey. I sus­pect­ed it would be either them or Brick­woods. It has had a rather “inter­est­ing” his­to­ry:

    The pub gained a full licence in 1933 fol­low­ing Sal­is­bury Arms in French Street sur­ren­der­ing its Licence, it acquired an infa­mous rep­u­ta­tion with its drag acts in one bar and ladies of the night in the oth­er. To try and com­bat this it changed its name in 1986 to the Cas­tle Tav­ern which did not quite achieve the required out­come so in 1993 it changed names again to the Bosun’s Chair.”

    Juniper Berry is actu­al­ly the orig­i­nal name, although it sounds rather like a mod­ern gas­trop­ub affec­ta­tion. Do you think it has suf­fi­cient orig­i­nal inte­ri­or fea­tures to be con­sid­ered for the Region­al list­ings of the Nation­al Inven­to­ry?

    1. I’ve often thought that The Juniper Berry may well be eli­gi­ble for the Nation­al Inven­to­ry. As a pub it’s always been a bit ‘live­ly’. My Dad grew up next door and as a child thought that fight­ing in the street was a nor­mal occur­rence. The Duke of Welling­ton was his local.

      1. We’d guess (but it is just a guess) that the wood pan­elling is all orig­i­nal and, quite unusu­al­ly, all the win­dows – met­al frames, with lead­ing. I’d be sur­prised if it’s not already on the radar of Geoff Brand­wood et al, though.

        1. As far as I’m aware the Juniper Berry inte­ri­or has not had any major changes in my drink­ing (from Feb 1982 legal­ly) life­time. It cer­tain­ly must be in with a shout for region­al list­ing.

  3. The Welling­ton was great under the pre­vi­ous land­lord. When the cur­rent land­lord took it over it got a much need­ed refurb which made it look a bit less tat­ty but with­out chang­ing the atmos­phere. Ini­tial­ly the beer qual­i­ty was as good or even bet­ter than when Bob was in charge but then went down­hill as the land­lord spent less time there and his staff, it seems, didn’t know how to keep beer well. As a result I haven’t been in for a while, but I should real­ly try it again.

    The near­by Free­man­tle Arms is worth a vis­it, a prop­er back street pub with a lim­it­ed selec­tion of beer but well kept (don’t con­fuse it with the sim­i­lar­ly named Free­man­tle, which is keg only I think though I’ve nev­er been in to check).

    I guess the intrigu­ing look­ing microp­ub was the Witch­es Brew? Def­i­nite­ly worth a vis­it. Gen­er­al­ly a good selec­tion of beers, always well kept, and the kind of place where it’s hard not to get in a con­ver­sa­tion.

    I sec­ond Ben’s rec­om­men­da­tion of the Guide Dog.

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