The Providence Inn, Plymouth: where the wild things are

The Providence Inn is a small backstreet pub full of dogs, plants and bric-a-brac – but there’s somehow still plenty of room for people.

Would we ever have thought to go there if Sam Congdon at Vessel hadn’t recommended it as “probably the best place for cask in town”?

We enjoyed walking through street after street of terraced houses on our way, up and up the hill, until we saw it glowing yellow in the blue late evening light. It looked like a relic or throwback – the very ideal of the street-corner beerhouse.

The cluttered interior of a pub with pot plants, books, framed pictures, cushions and board games.

Inside, we found a wall of warmth, in every sense.

Despite our strangeness – we gawped, took a photo or two, elbowed our way to the bar – we were given a cheery “Hello!” by the landlady from her seat by the fireplace.

The beer was typical for Devon: malty golden ale in good condition, but not in itself especially exciting. But there was enough going on in the pub that the beer didn’t need to carry the weight.

First, those dogs. There were three, two big and one small. The bigger dogs had the look of retired prizefighters about them – muscular but sleepy. They submitted to being fussed by the regulars and, at the first opportunity, stole the two armchairs and began to doze.

Two dogs sleeping in pub chairs in front of a fireplace.

Then there were the drinkers, several of whom wore Hawaiian shirts, and a couple of whom (not in Hawaiian shirts) were quite merry.

One tried to leave several times but kept spinning on his heel in the doorway and returning, like Columbo, to mention just one more thing. Another demanded of a fellow drinker: “Go on, feel my arse – I’ve got buns of steel.”

At one point, a party of five or six turned up in an already crowded pub and still managed to find a seat. We don’t really understand how.

There’s the decor, too, which ticks every box on the pub interior checklist. Carpet, dark wood, houseplants, pump clips, nautical nick-nacks… Wherever your eye lands, there’s something to enjoy. Even the gents toilet has crocheted seahorses dangling from the ceiling.

Finally, there’s the landlady. Once we’d been seated for a few minutes, she came over to say hello. “I’ve not seen you before,” she said. “I’m Shirlie. What are your names? Jess and Ray, Ray and Jess, Jess and Ray, Ray and Jess… Got it.”

This reminded us of Garvan’s approach at The Drapers Arms. It’s a way of saying to us, and to the perhaps territorial regulars, that we were welcome.

Once we’d been given the royal greeting, we couldn’t leave, so another round it was. And if we lived nearby, we’d probably be there three times a week.

The Providence Inn is at 22 Providence St, Plymouth PL4 8JQ.

bristol pubs

A new love affair interrupted

Last weekend we drank Belgian beer in Bristol’s most convincingly Belgian pub, The Portcullis in Clifton and, finally, felt as if things might be getting back on track.

It took us a couple of visits to this pub over the years before it really clicked. Unfortunately, the click happened in February 2020, and you know the punchline to that gag.

Last summer, when pubs reopened, we didn’t even consider The Portcullis. It’s compact and cosy – not qualities much in demand in recent times – and, anyway, we were generally sticking close to home for our rare pub trips.

Earlier this month, though, we sat down together and drew up a hit list of pubs we wanted to visit now that we’re both double-jabbed. Perhaps because what we’re really craving is a trip to Belgium, The Portcullis ended up near the top of the list.

That visit last February was a highlight of an admittedly highlight-light year and we had a distinct sense of unfinished business.

We walked to Clifton from Barton Hill, via Hotwells, wondering what we’d find. Would it be rammed and sweaty? Would there be tables all over the street? Plastic screens everywhere?

It was, thankfully, exactly as we’d left it, with the welcome tweak of a permanently open front door and a constant gentle breeze. We took stools on the shelf by the door – exactly where we sat last time we came in – and ordered at the bar. It felt thrillingly normal.

We hardly stopped smiling through that first round (Poperinge’s Hommelbier and Tripel Karmeliet, served in the correct glassware) as cautious, good-natured pub life went on around us.

Three men watched football on an iPad propped against the wall at the end of their table. An elderly regular was greeted with low-key delight as he made his return after months away. A student tried to order a pint of Leffe and was firmly told it comes by the half. The landlady trapped a wasp under a beer glass with a beermat and took it out into the street – four times. 

We carried ourselves out, trapped under a beer haze, after several happy hours.


Pub life: moving tables

A pub garden in an unusual summer. Hand sanitiser stations and tables two metres apart. Masks folded on tables. Cautious equilibrium. Then, enter chaos.

A party of fifty-somethings, twenty strong, zeroes in on a large table and sets about enlarging it further, dragging chairs from around the pub.

The sound of metal on stone, the clattering and shouting, summons the bar manager: “GUYS, I’M SORRY, BUT…”

Gently, smiling, as friendly as he can be, he makes them put the chairs back where they found them and the party reluctantly spreads out across half the garden, grumbling and tutting.

Over the next hour, they’ll swap seats and rearrange the party five or six times, before driving off in different cars and taxis.

At the other end of the garden, a party of twenty-somethings descend on two picnic tables. It takes a moment for them to decide they’re too far apart and the lads roll up their sleeves.

Knees bent, biceps popping, grunting and giggling, they lift one table and move it so it butts up against the other.

The whole party cheers.

The manager appears like a genie in a puff of subdued stress: “GUYS, I’M SORRY BUT…”

Like naughty schoolchildren, the boys move the table back and then the entire group of ten finds a way to sit in a single table, piled on laps and perched on bench-ends.

They order tequila, lick salt from their hands, hug, kiss, take bites from each other’s burgers and feed each other chips.

Image by Victor Figueroa via Unsplash.


Just one more

It can be bloody difficult to leave a good pub.

You go in with the intention of having a quick half, seriously, just the one, or perhaps just a couple, and you leave hours later with the hangover already at your heels.

It’s not always the pleasure of the beer itself – let’s be honest, does the fourth pint in a session ever taste even remotely as satisfying as the first? – but the particular juxtaposition of company and situation.

On Friday, we stayed out later than intended because we were enjoying each other’s company, not distracted by TVs or errands, sorting out Brexit and the environment and debating why some Bristol pubs work and some don’t.

On Saturday, we stayed later than intended in the pub because we were enjoying the company of Ray’s parents, euchre cards and family stories flying.

On Sunday, we stayed later than intended in the pub because two Texans came to say hello at The Drapers and the Drapers insisted on being its idyllic best, all warm conversation and handshakes with strangers.

And we knew when we did get up and go, chased out of the pub after time at the bar and the appearance of the bleach bucket, that we were leaving the weekend behind, with all its promise and space to breathe.


Pub life: Do you like yer prog?

On a stool at the bar on his own, arranging his beer money in stacks on the runner, the Old Rocker stares at nothing in particular.

The landlord appears to empty the glass-washing macine and the Rocker perks up.

“Do you like yer prog, then?”


“Are you into yer prog?”

He points at the landlord’s T-shirt. The landlord looks down. King Crimson.

“Oh, right. Well, no, not particularly.”

“The Floyd, obviously.”

“Pink Floyd? No. Not particularly. Not after Syd Barrett left.”

“Gotcha – more of a psych guy.”

“Well… No, not really.”


“Well…” The landlord waves a hand, refusing to commit.

The Old Rocker shifts in his seat, blinking blankly.

“So you’re not into prog much at all?”

“I like Krautrock.”

The Old Rocker thinks he’s done it – he’s found an in.

“Oh, yeah, man – great stuff! That driving motorik beat. Did you read the MOJO article a couple of months back–”

“Well, no, I don’t really have time to read magazines. I work thirteen days out of fourteen, and most evenings. The only music I hear is what’s on in here. And that’s on a loop.”

During the silence that hangs after his outpouring, he escapes to the other bar.

The Old Rocker settles down, moving his coins around, eyes fixed on a memory of ELP in ‘77.