fbpx
12 Perfect British Pubs

The number of British pubs is shrinking like a crisp packet in a roaring fire.

Boozer-counting boffins reckon more than 11,000 boozers have shut their doors over the last decade and, this year, two pubs a day have disappeared.

If this deeply troubling downward trajectory continues at the same rate, then (according to some rough sums we scribbled down on a beer mat) there will be no more pubs by the year 2075. 

But don’t worry, there will always be a place for proper pubs. These iconic elbow-bending institutions have been the cornerstone of British culture for centuries.

They’re a safe place. A calming quarantine of quiet contemplation, a serene antidote to modern day madness, a cosy asylum where one can clutch a pint to one’s chest, stare blankly into the middle distance and, as one’s anxieties ebb away, slide gently into the sepia-tinted days of yesteryear.

In perfect pubs, there should be no loud music, no spirit-sapping ‘swoosh’ of Sky Sports, ideally no fancy food that requires clutching cutlery in a hand that could otherwise be holding a drink, there certainly shouldn’t be vulgar flashing fruit machines giving you the glittering glad-eye and being served should involve ordered queuing and, under no circumstances, QR codes.

These pubs don’t really like change. Especially the kind that is returned to punters on a silver platter.

They’re not theme pubs. Unless the theme is drinking.

There should be beer, wine and spirits served properly without the tyranny of too much choice. There should be nuts and crisps.

Wasabi nuts? No.

There should, preferably, be some kind of dog and a piano. If the dog plays the piano, that’s even better.

And, ultimately, there should be no compelling reason to leave.  

1) Bell in Aldworth

An idyllic pub dating back to the 16th century, and it certainly looks it. Stepping through the arched doorway is like stepping back in time.

Low beamed ceilings, an enormous oak fireplace and a fabulous flagstone floor warped by the generations of thirsty ramblers keeps tings cosy in Winter while, in summer, the glorious beer garden becomes a quintessentially English oasis of calm.

Beers are pulled in immaculate condition alongside delicious warm crusty rolls stuffed with ham, ox tongue, cheddar, stilton, and crab meat – all served with little pots of English mustard and chutney.

2) The Oxford Bar, Edinburgh

Auld Reekie is littered with lovely locals, its climate lending itself acutely to seeking refuge from the rain. But few commit themselves so steadfastly to plain and unfussy ‘pubbery’ quite like the Oxford, famously frequented by novelist Iain Rankin and his fictional detective Inspector Rebus. Refreshingly clean of Caledonian cliches and attracting every kind of character Edinburgh has to offer, it’s a great place to perch at the bar with beer or whisky in hand.

3) Southampton Arms, North London

A sign proclaiming “Ale. Cider. Meat” adorns the front of this damn fine London drinker in Kentish Town. And that’s what it does…really well. Cold-shouldering the pernicious creep of ‘corporate craft’, the 16 taps on the small bar only dispense beers and ciders from truly independent breweries and cidermakers – but don’t worry, it’s not a hipster ‘craft’ hangout and nor is it a haven for beer bores. There are tables, chairs, a piano, meats (and cheese) with no Wi-Fi, bookings or even a phone.

https://www.thesouthamptonarms.co.uk/

 

4) The Dyffryn Arms, Cwm Gwaun

Perched on the edge of the picturesque Preseli Hills, this time-warp tavern is extraordinarily, almost absurdly, old fashioned. 

Turning the traditional knob all the way up to eleven and known as “Bessie’s” after the legendary landlady, it’s more a tiny living room than a local. On ringing a bell, the hatch is opened and just one beer, Bass, is served fresh. Beyond a handful of chairs and tables, there’s a portrait of a sprightly-looking Queen Elizabeth and a bench outside. The locals chat in Welsh and there’s no toilet.

5) Ypres Inn, Rye

A calm pub designed that appeals to the aesthete, with a white weatherboarded exterior, a low-beamed, gently lit interior with a log fire, alongside a sprawling garden with views of Rye’s magnificent medieval castle. The focus at the bar is entirely on great beer, local cider, and natural wine. Food is pork pies, Sussex cheeses and cured meats: there’s no kitchen to distract from the simplicity of it all.

https://www.yprescastleinn.co.uk/

6) Pride of Spitalfields, Brick Lane

This unwaveringly traditional East End institution has evaded the insidious tiptoe of gentrification in favour of basic boozer principles – drinking and talking. It’s a terrific, tiny throwback with a tiny bar full of old school regulars and trendy young folk drawn in by the remarkably reasonable prices and one of the few pubs to persevere with a carpet. Classic British cask is served fresh and unflustered while, as you’d expect, there’s a ‘Joanna’ in the corner.

7) Blisland Inn, Cornwall

Rich reward after a ramble on the wild and rugged Bodmin Moor, this dog-friendly destination is a genuine gem of a pub. 

There’s a bit of fancy food here but with tankards and Toby jugs dangling from the beams, the beer is, first and foremost, the focus here. The heart-warming selection of hand-pulls on the bar has unsurprisingly won it a whole load of pub gongs and you can soak up the suds with scotch eggs and pork pies.

https://www.facebook.com/blislandinn/

8) Basketmakers in Brighton

A nice touch at this lovely low-ceilinged imbibing institution is the old tobacco tins nailed to the walls. Each contains a joke, anecdote, erudite advice, or surrealist scribblings courtesy of the leftfield characters that cram into this cosy, corner Victoria pub in Brighton’s bohemian North Laines. Purists may not like the fact that proper food is served but, fear not, it doesn’t detract from the discerning drinking – it boasts eight well-kept cask ales and a superb selection of spirits. 

https://www.basket-makers-brighton.co.uk/

9) The Magnet, Stockport

You may have heard talk that Stockport is being gently tickled with the trendy stick – with The Magnet attracting a lot of attention. Quite rightly too. If everyone had a neighbourhood local like this, the world would be a better place. Spread across several rooms, it gets all the basic things bang-on with a no-frills focus on drinks, snacks and, crucially, the community. Beyond a brilliant beer selection and impressive array of gins, there’s pub games and a sun-soaked beer garden. 

https://www.themagnetfreehouse.co.uk/

10) Birch Hall Inn in N. Yorkshire

Small yet brewtiful, nestled in the spectacular North York Moors National Park, this eccentric, uplifting idyll of an inn is the smallest pub in Yorkshire. Consisting of two white-washed taverns separated by an abundantly stocked, old-school sweet shop, hikers, and holiday-makers bump elbows as they enjoy a well-maintained range of ales served alongside pork pies and pickles, stotties and its well-known “beer cake”. There’s no wi-fi. Cash only. It’s brilliant.

Website: Don’t be silly

11) Queens Head, Cambridgeshire

Renowned for its brilliant beer served direct from the barrel, bar skittles and its selection of colour-coded soups, this famous, family-run free-house, festooned in dried hops, is one of only five pubs to have featured in all 51 editions of the Campaign for Real Ale’s (Camra) Good Beer Guide. A popular pit-stop for cyclists, it also features regular visits from local food trucks.

https://www.queensheadnewton.co.uk

12) Sunflower, Belfast

The security cage on the front door (a relic from the city’s more troubled times) pays homage to Belfast’s social history – but doesn’t get stuck there. The latest in a long list of ‘inn-carnations’ on the corner of Union Street, this awesome, award-winning alehouse is unashamedly old school in its approach, shunning gimmicks in favour of great beer and live music seven nights a week. It also boats a beer garden and the “No Topless Bathing, Ulster has suffered enough’ sign has achieved iconic Instagram status.

http://www.sunflowerbelfast.com/

A VERSION OF THIS ARTICLE APPEARS IN THE LATEST ISSUE OF NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC FOOD AND TRAVEL MAGAZINE

 

2019 Thinking Drinkers © All rights reserved.