Pub of the Month
Last Updated : 30/01/09
The Beer of the Month pages are here...
his is the archive for my "pubs of the month" during 2008. To see the latest 2009 entries, click here.
The year's winners were -
January 2008 : Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa', Rome
February 2008 : Pivovarský Klub, Prague
March 2008 : Dragon, Worcester
April 2008 : New Oxford, Salford
May 2008 : Blind Tiger, Manhattan, New York
June 2008 : Haket bar och sĺn´t, Gotheburg
July 2008 : Crown, Stockport
August 2008 : King's Head, Huddersfield
September 2008 : Harlequin, Sheffield
October 2008 : Anchor, Digbeth
November 2008 : První Pivní Tramway, Prague
December 2008 : Mochyn Du, Cardiff
With the overall winning pub being the superb Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa' in Rome, a bar which every beer tourist should visit at one point in their lives!
Pub of the Month - December 2008
|Pub: Mochyn Du||Where: Cardiff|
|Address: Sophia Close, Pontcanna|
Details: Old lodge building with an increasingly good beer range, generally from local micros such as VoG, Otley, Rhymney and the like.
As I've already said in the beer section we have been nowhere of interest this month with no foreign travel and no UK travel either, although a night away courtesy of work provided me with a meet-up in Cardiff with Uncle Knobby for a swift beer recce.
Now I know Cardiff isn't blessed with many scooper's pubs (well, none at all) but Knobby said that several were improving and so, after some food in the new Zero Degrees brewpub (the food was fine although their beers were pretty poor), we took a wander around town. After a few dismal regional beers we arrived at the Mochyn Du which I've always liked as a pub but it's never really lived up to it's potential for me - until now.
When I was working in Cardiff last year the Mochyn Du had Brains Bitter plus two or three guest beers, generally nothing too interesting, but on this visit no less than six micro-brewed ales were on sale including Otley's O-ho-ho, Rhymney's Sod Xmas and two VoG beers. Being short of time I reluctantly flagged the Otley and made do with my two scoops before a monumental trek back to my hotel in the freezing cold but I was sufficiently impressed by our visit to award the pub of the month to the Mochyn Du, although I'll stress again we didn't go anywhere of note in December and this has meant that it's won basically by default.
Saying that, the Mochyn Du is probably your best chance of a scoop in Cardiff these days and so it wins Pub of the Month for December.
Pub of the Month - November 2008
|Pub: První Pivní Tramway||Where: Spořilov, Praha|
|Address: Na Chodovci 1a (at the tram terminus!)|
Details: Unusual concrete blockhouse serving two guest beers and a worthwhile experience you'll never get in Praha 1.
Pubs and bars come in all shapes, sizes and demographic appeal but there’s something to be said for a bit of individuality. Not individuality for the sake of things, for that’s more often than not a recipe for oddballism or worse, but individuality brought upon by circumstance and/or the desire to create something different from the norm… and, on that note, allow me to introduce the Original Beer Tramway in the Southeastern Prague suburb of Spořilov (pronounced Sporzhilov).
Spořilov is a long, long way from the Karlův Most and other tourist-infested areas of central Prague both in physical distance and feel: from the tram turnaround loop where the bar is situated the panorama encompasses rows of Soviet-era pre-fabricated concrete panelácky housing blocks and tatty windblasted grass all lit by that weird greyness of perpetually overcast steel-grey skies which still lingers over such suburbs… yes, it feels a long way from Václavské Náměstí in all respects. Luckily for Spořilov it’s not the view people come to see but this amazing little bar which just gets better and better with regards to it’s beer range.
The bar is what looks to me to be the old crew hut (or some such operational building) of the tramway reversing loop which is evidenced by the fact that the incoming tram 11 pulls up within, depending on where you are sat on the pair of classic ČKD Tatra T3’s, a mere metre from the door! The bar won’t win many prizes for external styling or signwriting with it’s concrete blockhouse exterior and home-made sign but, if you trust in my judgement (come on, when am I ever wrong?), then you’ll open the door and get yourself to the bar rather than running across what passes for grass in Spořilov and jumping on the next tram back out to the safety of Prague 1.
Inside you’ll find the main bar area right in front of you with it’s four taps; for years the bar sold Gambrinus (a crappy cheap lager-ish fluid made by SAB-Miller in Plzeń) and in recent years stocked Primator wheat beer but what a growing number of customers came for was the “fourth tap” which dispensed a guest beer from one of the increasing number of Czech brewers and could, quite literally, be anything… take a look at the list of what’s been sold (in the back of the menus or on the wall) to see what I mean! My most recent visit, however, revealed that the bar now stocks Budvar’s new Pardál výčepní lager plus another beer I’ve forgotten and, more importantly, two guest beers rather than the previous one therefore giving us double the scooping potential!
These guests are served into 0.4l dimpled mugs at what is, for the area, a rather high price of 32Kč although the speed at which they change bears testament to the number of drinkers who are searching out independent beers and, if people want something cheap, there’s always Pardál at 20Kč or so for half a litre! On our visit the guest beers were Svijany 13° kvasnicové and Malý Rohozec Skalák Světlý 13°, both scoops, and both served at a decent temperature without excessive top pressure which can be a factor in some Prague bars.
It’s impossible to pin down one thing that makes this bar a classic but, at risk of sounding pretentious, let me just say that there’s a fiercely independent character to the place and it provides something severely lacking in 99.9% of Prague bars – guest beers – and for that reason alone it must be on any scooper’s itinerary when in town. Yet, there’s more to it than potential scoops; the food (served from 17:00) is good value and tasty, the mock-up of a tram body in the right-hand room is an amusing touch, some decent alternative music gets played and the staff, despite speaking little English – it’s nowhere near the tourist areas and learning a little Czech won’t kill you – are sociable.
Twenty minutes on tram 11 from I P Pavlova transports you to a very different Prague than the one most of the city’s millions of visitors ever see but one which is essential if you’re after good beer and a touch of mild tram and scoop-based adventure… so, I implore all Euroscoopers to get themselves out to Prague 4 and soak up the atmosphere! The bar was the local beer lover’s “pub of the year” in 2006 and even climate change-denying capitalist Václav Klaus, the current Czech president, has visited… what more incentive could you possibly need?
První Pivní Tramway is open from 14:00 daily, situated on the tram terminus at Spořilov where route 11 terminates.
Pub of the Month - October 2008
|Pub: Anchor||Where: Digbeth, Birmingham|
|Address: 308 Bradford Street|
|Details: Getting better all the time having got it's second scooping wind!|
October’s pub of the month goes to the Anchor in Digbeth, Birmingham. For years the pub was, basically, the only one in Brum which did a decent range of guest ales and it seemed as if the attitude was “we’ve got the scoops, if you don’t like it then where else can you go?” which, allied to poor beer quality and a lacklustre service, didn’t win it many friends and when the Wellington opened it seemed as if we never need bother walking all the way down to Digbeth ever again…
The Welly’s opening gave the Anchor a well-needed kick up the arse, Bishop Brennan style, and I’m please to report that it has become much more scooper friendly with a greatly improved range of beers available, of better quality, plus with much better service too. As the Welly has loosened it’s grip on the title of best scooping pub so the Anchor seems to be relishing the opportunity to wrest it back and makes it policy to source new breweries as soon as they are physically available which is making for a much better beer range all round.
Everything’s not perfect, indeed it’s rare for a pub to do everything well, but Gerry and co seem to be trying hard to get their second wind as Brum’s best beer pub and, on the basis of my visits in October, it seems to be working as I scooped more in the Anchor than the Welly both times and the beers were of much rarer “scoop value” too. So, here’s to many more years of traipsing down past that stupid metal-studded curvy building, through the hectic market, past Sing Fat (which is still funny!) and thence to the Anchor, a classic Victorian pile of a place which, on current form, deserves all the credit for making Birmingham a better place for beer scoopers.
Pub of the Month - September 2008
|Pub: The Harlequin||Where: Sheffield, Yorkshire|
|Address: 108 Nursery Street.|
|Details: Increasingly good scooping pub with the best range in the city. Website.|
Sheffield is considered by most scoopers to be the "Holy city" as far as beer ticking goes and I'm in total agreement with this assertion as, if you count the cask ales available in it's various free houses, you'll find an amazing number of beers on sale at any given time with a fair proportion of these being new and/or scoops. The city has been on the up since the early 1990's and, despite the loss of a few good pubs recently, it seems as if Sheffield's hold on the title of "best scooping city in the UK" is safe.
Years back the Fat Cat was the best pub on the circuit owing to a combination of good brewing at Kelham Island and good beer choice. The Cask & Cutler, under Neil and Sheila's stewardship, grew to become - in my opinion - the best scooper's pub in Britain with a huge range of brand-new brewers and beers, and when the Kelham Island tavern and Harlequin got on the scooping trail it seemed as if the city was unstoppable.
All these pubs are still there and, to varying degrees, delivering the goods, but it's a relative newcomer that gets the award this month. The Harlequin has been around for a good few years as a pub with a good cask range although it never quite seemed to break through onto the circuit. All this has changed with the arrival of Hannah who, with some local help, has managed to elevate the pub right into the top spot with regards to sheer volume and rarity of scoops; beers are sourced direct from new brewers and from Boggart's impressive list of micros giving a range of beer unmatched on the "scooper's circuit". The food is also excellent and superb value, although it's only served at dinnertimes in the week.
The pub was flooded in the great Don floods but quickly bounced back and is now firmly embedded on everyone's Sheffield itinerary and makes a convenient first (or last) stop being only a ten-minute walk from Ponds Forge via the old Whitbread (Tennants) brewery site. Okay, so some of the decor isn't really to my taste and there's a distinct over-population of dogs at the expense of far more rateable cats, but the beer is what matters and, at this moment, nowhere in Sheffield can touch the "Harley" for it's throughput of new and interesting ales. The KIT is probably still my favourite all-round pub, but with the ascendancy of the Harlequin we now have one more great alehouse on the famous Sheffield crawl which can't be bad in anyone's books.
Sheffield is one of those cities where you really need a full day to do it justice and it's thanks to pubs like the Harlequin (and the KIT, Cask and Hillsborough) that the crawl is so enjoyable.
Pub of the Month - August 2008
|Pub: The Station / King's Head||Where: Huddersfield, West Yorkshire|
|Address: Huddersfield Station (the right-hand side as you look at it)|
|Details: Top pub with around 8 guest ales available including (usually) some whoppers.|
I've been lucky this last month in working in Leeds and so have managed to try out all the pubs around the city for size. I've realised that I'm not a huge fan of the Duck and Drake's retro-scruffy look but really like the pubbyness of the Grove, Palace and Victoria Hotel whilst the North Bar is a great little place which only needs to choose some slightly rarer beers (both cask and bottled) and it'll be a must-visit when in town. Likewise, Sheffield has been visited a number of times, and I'm still impressed with the resurgence of the Harlequin which is probably now the best "scooping" pub in town having taken over where Neil left off in sourcing rare and new beers from all over the place.
Huddersfield, however, has been a revelation. I've been going for years but only really remember the Head of Steam being consistently disappointing, the Rat and Ratchet being vaguely dodgy and the Whitbread brewpub (Old Court) being pretty dire. Now there are pubs all over selling good cask ales, even the McSpoons is a decent one, the Rat is better than it's been for quite a while, and that's not even getting to the sociable scoopfest which is the Star and the relaxed pubbiness and bottle selection of the Grove.
Surprisingly, though, the pub which impressed me the most in an all-round sense is one which I'd not even been in before this month, the Station (or King's Head, I'm not quite sure why it has two names...!). Both sides of the bar are festooned in cask engines, around ten in all, and most sell guest beers from brewers of the locality - including Golcar, Empire and the like - and, sometimes, a bit further afield too with a Pictish beer usually on too. The range of beers varies but generally includes a dark one and something strong-ish so all tastes are accounted for, even non-scooping ones! I think Taylors are the standard beers but I didn't take a lot of notice so can't confirm this.
This pub wins not purely on it's scoops but on the strength of it's all round character; it's not too poncey yet not too down-at-heel, it serves a pretty decent range of ales with quite a few scoops possible, it has a superb tiled floor (which I know doesn't affect the beer, but I like it) and is right on the station so when, in 2029 or so, they eventually finish rebuilding the station you'll be able to get here without falling over stripey tape and bollards to enjoy the earthy character of a proper pub which just happens to serve a very good changing range of cask ales... if we haven't got prohibition by then.
Huddersfield is becoming a really good crawl, I have a Google map here for those who haven't ventured that far North.
Pub of the Month - July 2008
|Pub: Crown||Where: Stockport, Cheshire|
|Address: Heaton Lane, Stockport, under the viaduct.|
|Details: Superb multi-roomed pub with around a dozen cask ales on sale.|
I look upon the Crown with a lot of dewy-eyed affection; this was the place where I drank Dobbin's superlative Green Bullet which cemented my appreciation of the hop, but it's a lot more than a one-trick pony - this is a cracking pub in it's own right which deserves a visit by anyone who claims to appreciate "proper" pubs.
It has various rooms and areas, just as pubs used to have, with a central bar crammed with handpumps - 16 in all - from which a variety of ales pour; the full 16 are rarely available, Saturday is your best bet, but a good range is on at most times with guest beers from near and far accompanying the Pictish and Copper Dragon brews always on sale.
The range of guest beers varies but, on a good day, you could score a decent amount of winners in here although the Crown isn't an out-and-out scooping pub by any stretch of the imagination, merely a good pub which serves what the locals want - a good range of cask ales - and it's merely a happy coincidence that many of the guest beers are new! Still, even if there aren't many scoops on, who can resist the charms of at least one Pictish beer? Not me, certainly, and it's a fitting tribute to Brendan Dobbin's foresight that we're able to drink such beers at all.
As we don't go abroad in July (too many tenants and slobs travelling which jacks up the prices plus it's too hot!) there are no bars from abroad this month, but a special mention to the Harlequin in Sheffield which continues to impress with it's guest beers and will soon become the best scooping pub in Sheffield...
Pub of the Month - June 2008
|Pub: Haket bar och sĺn´t||Where: Göteborg, Sweden|
|Address: Första Lĺnggatan 32|
|Details: Roadside bar with a great range of Swedish and other countries' brews where you can watch the trams pass whilst scooping!|
This bar is situated out in the west of Gothenburg alongside a busy arterial road with trams whizzing back and fore every couple of minutes which, as those who know me will realise, is a very positive thing indeed, plus on a more prosaic note it makes it very easy to reach by public transport. Inside it's like many other small locals' bars you'll find in every town and city throughout the world but what makes it such a great bar and worthy of a stop by any scooper passing by is the huge bottled beer range in the fridges behind the bar... well over a hundred beers are available from a wide range of countries with local micros Ocean, Dugges and Öland all featured. The tap list isn't anything to marvel at, being mainly large and multinational brews, but everything you need for a whole day's scooping is in the fridges; we scored four beers over a leisurely couple of hours although I think the total of winners was well over 50 - that can't be bad.
Add to this the cheapness of the place in relation to others in the city - although this is Sweden, so it's still relatively expensive although not as bad as I'd feared - and some apparently pretty decent food too and there you have it; a bar with a huge range of micro-brewed bottled beer from a wide range of countries which you can drink on the pavement outside as you watch trams rumble by and ships pass along the Göta river... top notch stuff, everything a scooping pub should be (although we didn't see a cat...).
Other good pubs visited in June...
Some of the other bars in Gothenburg were very good too; Delirium café impressed with it's quiet backstreet location yet minutes from the centre of town and huge beer list from both tap and bottle, and the Rover was a classic long pub, very much in the British tradition, albeit with many more taps than is normal for bars in the UK and - likewise - very sociable barstaff!
I enjoyed a trip around Sheffield and am still a great lover of the Kelham Island Tavern and it's amazing beer range, as I am of the Harlequin which improves on the beer front with every visit I make. In London, the Wenlock Arms was - well - Wenlocky (if you've been then you'll know what this means...) and I had a good evening in the Market Porter and Rake with John Bratley, Burnley and "Tia Maria" Jim - cheers guys, good beer and good company - the Porter even put a Pictish beer on just for me (or so I like to think)!
Pub of the Month - May 2008
|Pub: Blind Tiger||Where: Manhattan, New York|
|Address: 281 Bleecker Street (at Jones Street).|
|Details: Famous New York pub with a huge tap selection and cask ales. Website|
I'd made a list of "must do" pubs for my New York trip and, if you've studied the scene over there much, you'll know that the Blind Tiger must be on anyone's list. The pub has a worldwide fan club and regularly appears on "best of" lists, for example it was voted the 7th best bar in the USA in a recent Beer Advocate poll, and so I was determined to see if all the hype was justified as, so often, pubs and beers which receive massive hype fail to deliver in substance - "all fur coat and no knickers" as the saying goes. The pub moved here (well, the name did) after being displaced from it's original location and only opened on Bleecker Street in 2007 although it feels as if it's been there for much longer!
I visited the Blind Tiger twice during my trip and am very happy to report that, for once, the hype is justified; around 30 beers are on tap (including some absolutely massive scoops) plus two cask ales on pump and maybe a couple more on gravity in addition to 50 or so in bottle, so as you can see there's no shortage of scooping potential. Okay, so it's on the expensive side even for New York, but there's no pockets in shrouds - or so they say, I've not investigated this further - so I just rolled up my scooping sleeves and got stuck in!
It's one of the few NYC bars (some others are the Hop Devil and the Gate) which offer beers in anything less than a pint, in this case little 10cl-ish sampler glasses, making it possible to clear up the vast range of draught (sorry, draft!) beers without becoming a total state. I know that this may anger the "measures police" but bollocks to them; if they want to drink full US pints then good luck to 'em, but as there's rarely an indication of strength for the beers available they should be prepared to get vegged!
The food was excellent too; I had what was loosely described as an "open sandwich" but was more like a huge portion of fiery spiced chicken on bread accompanied by a spicy tomato sauce which, for the $8 price tag, was more than adequate in both portion size and quality, so you don't need to starve whilst scooping here!
So, to round up then, the Blind Tiger is a great pub which feels quite English in it's atmosphere with a huge range of draught beers available in taster glasses plus cask ale and good filling food - what more do you need? It's easy to get to via the New York subway (West 4th street is the closest station) and, as if another bonus was needed, it's in a historic and alternative area of the city with some other decent bars a short walk or train ride away.
Other good pubs visited in May...
New York is literally seething with superb bars serving massive ranges of craft beer and I could write pages (one day I will...) on my findings there. In the meantime your best bet is to read Alex Hall's superb NYC Beer Demystifyer which will tell you all you need to know about the pubs and beer of New York; Alex knows the city very well and his knowledge shows in the choice of bars which is exemplary with some very unusual places mentioned... if you're off to NYC, Alex's gen is all you really need.
Saying that, I'll mention a few particular favourites...
The Diamond in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, is an unusual little bar in a rundown ex-industrial area which gleams like the proverbial gemstone where it's beer list is concerned - in fact, Greenpoint is a great area for a bar crawl with a whole host being nearby; the Gutter, Brooklyn brewery, Pencil Factory, Lenora's Way, Barcade, Black Rabbit, Mark bar, Spike Hill and Habitat to name just a few... to put Brooklyn into perspective, I didn't leave Greenpoint and Williamsburg for 2 days and scored 48 beers... yes, it's that good!!!
The Spuyten Duyvel is an absolute cracker of a bar; yes, many others have bigger tap ranges (the SD purposefully has merely half a dozen to keep the beer as fresh as possible) and others have better interiors (it's plain, maybe even spartan) but not a lot have such well-chosen beers or such a great atmosphere - a cracker and not to be missed.
Mugs Ale House is yet another Brooklyn bar but this one is more of a scooper's paradise; at least a dozen taps are available plus two cask ales and some filling, tasty food makes for a great all-round pub which actually does feel very "pubby".
Barcade is a converted garage which has 24 ever-changing taps dispensing brews from far and wide to a youthful audience; it's a strange place with bare concrete decor and rows of garish blinking video machines but somehow it works - maybe it's the beer!
Moving across to Manhattan, Hop Devil Grill is an absolute must-visit bar with a massive row of taps which, so I'm told, springs the most surprises in town by having extremely exotic brews for sale and, commendably, sells samples as a tasting tray. Take your passport, though, as some weird bureaucratic rule means they have to verify the age of all drinkers...
The East Village Tavern is a brand-new bar in this previously dodgy neighbourhood (it's called alphabet city owing to the streets having letters not numbers!) which is setting out it's stall with over a dozen craft beers and a cask ale plus some delicious food - all in all one of my favourite bars in the whole city, and that's saying something!
The Ginger Man didn't, for me at least, live up to it's massive hype; yes it's in a great location and yes it's big and airy, but the proliferation of taps didn't offer many surprising scoops, staying with more predictable beers IMO, and it's very expensive... although it's still well worth a visit after farting in Trump tower...
I'll update my NYC page with a full blow-by-blow list of bars soon, but these will do you for a start... and, as I said, read Alex's beer demystifyer for the up-to-the-minute gen.
Pub of the Month - April 2008
|Pub: New Oxford||Where: Salford, UK|
|Address: 11 Bexley Square|
|Details: Old Vaux pub, now a superb free house, offering up to a dozen UK cask ales of the rarer variety with a decent list of foreign draughts/bottles. Runs frequent beer festivals too, a superb place!|
When the New Oxford opened in it's current form, a year or so back, I voiced concerns that it might not last that long; the nearby Crescent, for long the area's best scooping venue, looked to be a certainty for closure and redevelopment plus the area where the New Oxford is situated isn't the nicest with several old pubs burnt out and/or boarded close by (Olde Nelson, Clocktower, Black Horse) and a large council estate nearby stacked full - presumably - of alcopop bingers.
I'm very pleased to report that, despite the local problems, the New Oxford has firmly established itself on the scooper's circuit with a combination of a wide range of excellently kept scoops and sheer hard work by Tim and his partner, and I look forwards to many years of visiting this pub which I walked past for many a year on my way to the Crescent, thinking that it would be great to have a scooping pub half-way there... well now there is, and long may it remain so.
We visited in early April and the choice of beers on this, an ordinary Saturday, was amazing with around a dozen cask ales on sale of which I required five! We found time for a couple of rounds of Belgian scoops too before leaving for the Marble Arch, having spent the first two hours of our Manchester crawl in there... it's not very often that a pub of this magnitude comes along and so may I offer Tim and co every success and here's to many more scoops in the New Oxford!
Other good pubs visited in April...
April wasn't my best month for good pubs, not having been abroad, but we did visit Manchester and so I must mention the excellence of the Marble Arch which comes a very close second to the New Oxford; the own brews are still mainly delicious, despite the organic ingredient shortage which has prompted some beers to go non-organic, and the range of guest ales was as good as anywhere in the city bar the New Oxford. The Smithfield has lost Jenny, it's long serving licensee, but continues in the same vein under new management and I suppose we'll see what happens there over the next few months.
In Worcester, the Dragon continues to stock an impressive range of guest ales, the Postal Order Wetherspoons is still above average, and it seems that more Marston's pubs are now offering the seasonal and specials such as the recent Jenning's Amber Ale.
A trip to Brum revealed that the Wellington is a far better place since the smoking ban came into force although can still become uncomfortably full - sometimes if you're unlucky, as we were, with Morris Dancers - and that the Anchor has considerably upped it's game recently and the beers no longer all taste "Anchorised" and there's generally some natural light in there too!
Pub of the Month - March 2008
|Pub: Dragon||Where: Worcester, UK|
|Address: 51 the Tything, Worcester|
|Details: Free house with the best range of beer in Worcester. Website.|
A slight realignment of my opinions is in order here... recently I've been wandering around Worcester a bit more, mainly due to the McSpoon's festival, and have noticed that the standard of guest beers in the pubs has improved immensely: for example, on a recent weekend two milds were available in the Saracen's head and the stupefying total of a dozen scoops (yes, scoops, not beers!) were obtained from the city's hostelries...
I still think the Plough is the best place in Worcester pub-wise, but for scoops the Dragon doesn't really have a lot of competition and this scoop factor can improve many-fold if the landlord is around as he'll sometimes get beers from the cellar if he's feeling suitably munificent towards you and/or society in general. Six beers are usually on handpump from a shortlist of brewers such as Mighty Oak, Cannon Royall, Salamander, West Berkshire, Pictish and Oakham so despite the scoops not always being the rarest around there's generally a clutch to be had from the handpumps and usually a few others lurking in the cellar.
The Dragon wins by default this month as I've not been around and about that much and, on our trip to Zagreb, none of the bars we visited really stood out as a good scooping pub - which, after all, is what this award is all about! If it were about bars with great locations, top food and sociable staff then one of the Zagreb pubs would have probably taken the crown but, being about the pub where I've experienced the best scooping experience of the month, I have to award it to the Dragon for the impressive haul of scoops it has netted me recently.
Other good pubs visited in March...
I've already mentioned my trip to Zagreb where some cracking pubs were visited including Route 66, a strange converted farm (or that's what it looked like) close to a major road south of the city centre and attached to a live music club, which played some decent alternative music when we were there and served cheap (12Kn) Ličanka beers and some good espresso too. Also in Zagreb was Hopdevil Pivnica, a Belgian-style bar, which would generally have me running a mile at the sight of fake monastic walls and Breugel prints but strangely enough it worked there - kind of - and the list of over 100 Belgian brews contained some decent enough examples to enable us to spend a couple of evenings in there.
Back in the UK, Worcester has been my main port of call this last month and I've been re-evaluating some pubs which I've not visited for quite a while. The Saracen's Head is an old coaching inn almost opposite the Dragon which has really picked up it's game recently with the back bar hosting up to four guest ales from a variety of brewers; well worth a look. When a tacky "Oirish" pub close to the Plough closed a few months back I can't say I paid much attention, but now it's morphed into a trendy bar called the Hand in Glove named after the old glove works nest door. Prices are high and surroundings are posh but they are clearly going for the top end of the market with the superb Pieminister pies from Bristol and local Dayus sausages and meat in the meals. There's only one handpull but it's graced with either a Wye Valley or Windsor Castle beer which can't be bad - overall a welcome addition to the scene, although I doubt I'll get many scoops in there to add to one on my first visit - Sadlers Mellow Yellow!
My favourite "pub" in Worcester for it's eccentricness, good beer range (although not scoopability) and decent food is still the Plough on Fish Street which is always a delight to visit to see what beers will be on the five handpumps. There's the occasional scoop on sale but it's the atmosphere of the place I love and the fact that the greedy capitalist solicitors next door said, when trying to close it and turn it into offices, that no-one wanted to use it as a pub... witness the many happy faces inside to see just how wrong they were. A pint in the Plough means one step further away from it being de-licensed and so feels more like an investment rather than actually paying for beer...
Pub of the Month - February 2008
|Pub: Pivovarský Klub||Where: Praha, Czech Republic|
|Address: Křižíkova 17, Florenc. Open 11:00-23:30 daily.|
|Details: One of a very small number of Czech bars which serve guest beers, this one trumps the lot by having six! It's owned by the same people as Pivovarský Dům so expect the same level of excellence... website.|
I've been meaning to visit this bar for a very long time, but owing to four years having passed since my last Prague visit (was it really that long? It felt as if I'd never been away...) I'd not had the chance until the rather spontaneous trip with old scooping mate Dean last month.
The bar is situated on an anonymous road east of the centre yet easily reached - as it almost everywhere in town - by tram and metro. The first impression is of the insufferably cute little brewplant in the window which I'm told can be used by customers to brew their own beer and, apparently, also makes the occasional brew for the bar too. Inside, the pub is nothing spectacular, just a white room lined with bottles and beer paraphernalia, yet it oozes beer culture despite being a mere few years old... fridges hold well over a hundred bottled beers to drink there or take away (for it's a shop, too) although the bar is arguably the most interesting part with it's six taps known only by number and, above the bar, six sheets of paper indicating what beer each of them is dispensing.
As I've said, this is extremely rare in the Czech republic, but here they really push the boat out; as well as generally having a Pivovarský Dům beer available (on our visit a very strange Tokaj concoction) the others can be literally anything from Czech and even beyond... this place is truly an altar to beer culture and thus noses ahead of the other very worthy entries for the month on "scoop factor" and enthusiasm for different beers alone - not a bad thing, I'm sure you'll agree!
Other excellent bars visited on our whirlwind Praha rampage were U Medvídků - especially the cunningly hidden X-Beer bar - where we enjoyed some superb Old Gott in almost total seclusion from the bustling beer hall downstairs, and U Bulovky Richter Pub, an absolute classic of a local's bar, with a very prominent brewery looking just like something you'd walk into on a tour of Vienna, where we enjoyed some delicious food plus some of the best beer we had in the city. The new Sousedský pivovar Bašta brewpub impressed me greatly with it's almost Rheinland air and cutesy little brewplant (again making some top beer) although it's still a little new and I'd like to return in a year or so to see how it's bedding in.
On the bar front an absolute cracker was Hrom do Police, the only bar in Praha to serve the rare Polička beers, and a great little cellar bar it was too with a very convivial atmosphere and a full six beers to choose from, two being kvasnicové (yeasty) brews, which were very nice indeed and all for very reasonable prices considering it's not a million miles from the centre of Prague. Another bar which we really enjoyed was Prvni Pivni Tramway out at the end of tram route 11 at Spořilov; this bar looks like (and probably is) the old crew hut but inside it's a little strange with various cosy rooms including one where a fake tram has been constructed for patrons to sit in... all very surreal, but the main reason to come here is for the "4th tap" which houses a permanently changing guest beer from anywhere in the country; thanks to Evan Rail's Czech beer guide for this one.
Back home I managed to visit a pub which, somehow, has managed to completely bypass my radar over the years - the Bath Hotel in Sheffield. This traditional old pub is a strange shape owing to it's position on a road junction but there's nothing strange about the beer range (well, nothing strange in Sheffield!) with half a dozen cask ales issuing from the pumps to an appreciative clientele. It's hidden down a road just off the garish, alcopop-fuelled brashness of West Street and as such is a perfect antidote for the atrocious bars and beer found there... this may have been my first visit, but it certainly won't be my last!
Pub of the Month - January 2008
|Pub: Ma Che Siete Venuti A Fa'||Where: Rome, Italy|
|Address: Via Benedetta 25, Trastevere|
|Details: Also called the "Football pub", this is Rome's best scooping bar! Also, Bir&Fud across the road is under the same ownership and has up to 9 Italian brews plus great food! website.|
The name, apparently, means "what the hell are you doing here?" although as soon as we entered the place, looking at the bar loaded with a dozen excellent brews, I knew exactly what I was doing there - drinking top-quality beer! Manuele the landlord is a superb host and will gladly discuss beer well into the night and keeps one of the best bars I've ever been to - it easily gets into my top-5 anywhere with the varied and quality range of beer from all over Europe and even the USA and Denmark! One cask ale was available, the sublime Del Borgo ReAle extra (see here), along with some great brews from Birrificio Italiano plus whoppers such as the rare Achouffe Houblon and De Ranke Pere Noel making the beer range one of the widest and best I've seen in any pub for a long time.
There's no food available but that's not a problem with the team's new business, Bir&Fud, literally across the street serving up some excellent pizzas and suchlike plus, amazingly, up to nine Italian beers on tap and all different than in the pub! These included a whole load more Del Borgo brews including the experimental Ke-to Reporter infused with Kentucky tobacco leaves (I'm not making this up, honest!) and a beer from the micro Drago Della Selva with added chestnuts!
So, to sum up, just get yourself to Ma che siete venuti a fŕ and experience the temples to great beer that are the Football Pub and Bir&Fud - you'll have to go a long, long way to find places that good.
My Rome google map is worth a look to find these great establishments.