“They reckon this is the best pint of Guinness in Bristol.”
“Where have you heard that?”
“Er… I just read it on the wall of the pub, over there.”
“You’re such a sucker for marketing.”
It was good, the Guinness – or at least, if you like Guinness, you’d have nothing to complain about at The Star in Fishponds.
It’s an Irish pub without being an Irish Pub (see chapter 7 of 20th Century Pub for more on that distinction) with signs pointing the way to (a) the toilets and (b) Craggy Island, and customised Guinness posters all over the walls.
One such poster has the famous Guinness toucan dangling Ronald McDonald in its beak – the pub is at war with the drive-thru McDonald’s next door, though we’re not sure the feud is reciprocated.
There is cask ale on offer (lacking life) and lager (Czech-style, UK-brewed) but Guinness does seem to be the thing.
It gets its own stretch of bar where an illuminated font in the shape of the famous harp trademark dominates. Regulars know the drill: order at the front, report to the side to receive their pints when ready.
Our peers in Ireland tend to roll their eyes at the idea that one pint of Guinness is different to any other, from Dublin to Ulan Bator. It’s a pasteurised, packaged product, brewed for consistency, after all.
But we did enjoy this a little more than usual.
Perhaps because it’s autumn when stout is the thing.
Perhaps because the environment was sympathetic – dark beer, dark corners, Bristol-softened Irish accents around the bar.
Perhaps because (rightly or wrongly) there seemed to be genuine reverence for the product rather than PR-driven ‘theatre of the pour’. That’s driven by homesickness somewhere along the line, we’d guess.
Or maybe it’s just that they get through a lot of it, if you think that makes a difference. In the time it took us to drink two rounds, the Guinness font didn’t get left alone for more than 30 seconds at a time.
There are other pubs in Bristol with a reputation for better-than-standard Guinness – Seamus O’Donnells, for example, on one of the city centre’s main Going Out streets. We’ve also enjoyed pints of it there, on quiet weekday afternoons, with the fire going. (Not so much during the Friday and Saturday night Stagmaggedon.)
The Star probably wins, though, not least because its Guinness costs about £1.50 a pint less, somehow clinging on to the sub-£4 price point.
Whether that makes the beer taste better (delicious bargains) or worse (price as stand-in for quality) will depend on your attitude.