Monday, 11 May 2015

BRAPA : the archives (201-210)

 I was supposed to be going to Rotherham on a BRAPA pub-ticking expedition today.  It seems pointless now as we will probably be playing them next season, so here's some more treasures from my pub archives ......

201 - Museum Vaults, Sunderland - The good John Watson had whetted my appetite for this proper old skool Sunderland institution (though it's history is vague) by sending me a heart-warming Youtube clip following a day in the life of this pub, interviewing staff, regulars, visitors etc. on pub life & culture.  It left me with a happy glow, which was fitting as a recent fire had left the pub closed for most of the week in the run up to our visit, and it still had a sooty smell, the whole place looking a bit sorry for itself.   It was very cold on entering, despite the morning sun, and never felt like a place we could settle in for the duration (never mind, the Kings Arms was calling).  And in a way, seeing staff I recognised almost as 'friends' from the Youtube clip just being functional and distant was a little bit dispiriting!  There was no disputing the beer quality (the range a bit more limited than both Kings and Isis), my Maxim and Consett ales however superb.  The fire was lit (a bit too late for us), Tom had a rant about Tyne and Wear not existing (he was right), and it was time to move.  I'd love to come here on an evening.  John describes this as an 'unlucky' pub but considering Sunderland's home form over the last 2 or 3 years, it'd be like me saying every Hull pub was unlucky - heck, maybe they are!  Whalebone certainly is (now),  8th Feb 2014 was the date.

A white hot fire enjoyed with a pint of White Hot by Consett
202 - William Jameson, Sunderland - This is it!  The definitive answer to the oft asked question "so what was the first Good Beer Guide pub you visited?"  A Wetherspoons in Sunderland!
It was late September/early October 1997 and part of the 'Freshers Kit' were a book of vouchers.  Me and my Panns Bank flatmates soon worked out that by far and away the best offer was a 'spicy chicken or bean burger & pint" for something ridiculous like £2.50.  So as we settled in to Uni life before our courses proper started, I often found myself coming in here with some combination of Jane Taylor, Philip Lister, Matthew Hurcum, Ieuan Griffiths and Krister Holland.  What legendary names of the past!  The best thing was, the number of vouchers was huge and Jane being Jane, she kept blagging more from 'people she knew'.  Let's just say, the staff mood went from happy & welcoming on our first visit to thoroughly despising us by about visit 15, with a stern warning they regretted the entire voucher scheme and wanted to pull the plug.  We didn't push our luck after that so I probably haven't been in this pub for about 18 years now!  It had only been open 4 or 5 months on my visit, and it felt clean and what I now recognise to be distinctively Wetherspoons, but it wasn't til my Penny Black (Northwich) visit in late 2001 that I was properly aware of the chain.

203 - Post Office Vaults, Birmingham - Pubs that have done me more of a favour than I've ever done them are in short supply, so this strange little underground place close to New St station deserves a lot of praise.  My experiences here started post match on Valentine's Day 2012 on a midweek night after a bore draw at St Andrews.  Sure, it's a "modern day drinking space" (annoying phrase) rather than a pub but it had a great range of ales, friendly quirky staff and locals.  Dad tells me later he really didn't enjoy this pub, which surprises me.  The stand out moment was we (which I think also included Mark Bainton and Chris Douglas) got talking to a rather obnoxious man, it was hard work until he revealed he was "dying" and he became nice after that!  Very weird.  A year or so later, it was early morning in Birmingham before we made our way to WBA. Villa or somewhere and I needed a poo to the extent I had serious stomach cramps.  We happened upon this pub and although Dad refused to go in for a drink, the kindly staff and locals let me obliterate their toilet without any fuss, they were even nice.  I maybe should've said "give it 10 minutes!"  Most recently, end of August 2014, we were here at the very end of a long BRAPA/cultural day in Brum (Villa had been moved to the Sunday, tickets had already been purchased) and a cancelled train meant we popped in here.  It was a pint too many (a gorgeous pale Salopian Oracle) and I left my bag.  We rang them on the train, landlord was really good, and a few weeks later, just when I was losing hope, they returned it via Hop Studio brewery, close to us.  Phew!  Yes, pub deserves a lot of praise indeed.

I was going to do a Laurent Blanc/Frank LeBeouf with Mark, but changed my mind (POV 14/2/12)

204 - Shakespeare, Birmingham - 17th November 2012 and me and Dad found ourselves in that all too familiar situation of walking around a freezing City centre waiting for our designated pub to open before 11am having booked a ridiculously early train.  This was not a GBG pub when we visited, I was just happy to see an open door at this ungodly hour, and a sign saying "Nicholson's" suggested that whilst we may not be entering any life changing pub, we would find some real ale.  And that was as good as it got - the pub was very busy (possibly due to the sub zero temperatures) and after a gang of loud men had stood in everyone's way, a hen-do came in and Dad's face was a picture,  We always joke that I can judge a pub's success based on how long it takes Dad's coat to come off.  In here, it didn't.  After a miserable half of Nicholson's Pale, we scarpered before the hen's got the feather boas out (not a deliberate euphemism).

205 - Wellington, Birmingham - You know when you feel you've been overly harsh on a pub over the years and then don't want to admit it?  Well, if so, the pub in question might well be this drinkers paradise.  A lot of my early skeptism is due to the Welly (Hull) gang being a bit too over-admiring of it.  I'd been told ad nauseam about this incredible real ale cornucopia (you know from previous archive editions, what I call "Chris Irvin Syndrome" but I'll blame the likes of Ben & Mark in this case).  It took me ages to make my first visit, suspense had been building and I somehow couldn't find it stopping off in Brum on the way back from my ill-fated 2007 Hereford holiday.  I finally got the chance post-match WBA away when we'd won 3-0 and were momentarily joint top of the Premier league (ah, them were the days!) on 25th October 2008 and I wasn't impressed.  Firstly, they have so many beers on, you have to order by number causing a very sterile relationship with already miserable staff (it ain't a chinese restaurant for godssake!)  Secondly, we had to sit in a dusty corner near some old barrels/women.  Thirdly, the beer was warm and flat.  And finally, some WBA fans came over to "congratulate us" but told me we were lucky to win (3-0 away?  Are you 'avin a laff?)  HOWEVER, my visits since on 17th November 2012 and 30th August 2014 were very good.  On the former, we were technically drinking in Old Joint Stock which has a great inside but a boring beer range.  So we bought beers in the heaving Wellington, used an alleyway in the courtyard to go back to OJS (careful with spillage) and drank them in there.  Best of both worlds!  (N.B. see Tom's update below).

206 - Anchor, Digbeth, Birmingham - In what I'd call the "Peaky Blinders" area of Birmingham, in the Irish quarter in the run up to St Andrews, I first fell in love with this amazing old multi-roomed heritage pub on 9th September 2006.  By gum, there are some great old pubs in the West Midlands in terms of architecture of old. and this is a prime example.  I don't remember the details that day.  We didn't play Brum for a bit but on the next occasion, 17th April 2010 we'd persuaded the Welly gang to join us.  Before they arrived, a strange moment where an old man who'd been annoying Dad by talking too much suddenly fell asleep, what a godsend!  As Ben crashed his way through the door, this was our excuse to tiptoe out of that room and we found a hidden side room which we took over.  I mean, we all had our Hull City tops on and we basically didn't let anyone else in.  It was one of the top pre-match experience, and it rightly won away pub of the season.  The same couldn't be said for it on our third and final visit, Valentine's Day 2012 where we met a few Welly gang stragglers having checked in to our Premier Inn for the night.  They had a "Valetine's beer fest" on so the blackboard was even more chock-a-block with ales than usual - problem was, they were all rubbish with stupid names like "Cupid's Love Muscle" and even ruder, not nice when you are being served by a 6 foot 5 serious Brummie-Irish skinhead!  Also, the atmos wasn't buzzing like the previous two times.  A real shame.

207 - Sacks of Potatoes, Gosta Green, Birmingham - On the recommendation of a former Birmingham Uni student (thanks Adam Knowles if you are out there!), this really was in the heart of studentsville on the walk back from St Andrews on 17th Nov 2012 where we had loads of time to kill before the train.  We decided on a spot of dinner in here, and I was pleased to see a great selection of local ales I'd not normally get to try.  The pub was split level and I think Grant Holt was terrorising Man Utd in one of those "plucky soon to get relegated Premier team deserves to beat a top team but loses heroically" kind of matches.  There was an awkward moment as Dad (deaf at the best of times) struggled to get the food order across to a Brum student who mumbled and made no eye contact.  However, staff were generally good, my burger was amazing, as was the ale, and what a shame we had to venture back out into the scary outer Birmingham darkness for our train home. 

208 - Black Eagle, Hockley, Birmingham - 'Twas the sunny hopeful morning of 25th October 2008 and the Welly gang's West Bromwich Albion correspondent, the friendly Aiden, walked us to one of his favourite pre-match outlets, the Black Eagle.  This pub I'd heard about for some time previous,  so it is conceivable that Chris Irvin had been a fan of it too, though this was the first time me and Dad had linked up with the Welly gang for a WBA trip.    It looked a bit of a shambles as we approached from the outside, but never judge a book by it's cover I learnt in Torquay in about 1999 in the pre-ale days.  However, on this occasion, we were right to heed the warning.  Tim Taylor Landlord was the only beer not turned round or gone off as we arrived, the pub was busy and staff didn't seem to be able to cope with the demand, we squashed into a little table near the bar and suddenly the Naviagtion in Blackburn we'd visited that August didn't seems so bad as Dad returned fuming, having had some bad experience / misunderstanding with Aiden / a barmaid in ordering his ale.  I'll have to ask him if he remembers the details but let's just say, I guess we caught it on an off day otherwise how the heck is it still in the Guide? N.B. See Tom's comments below.

209 - Lord Clifden, Hockley, Birmingham - In excruciating pain from a Root Canal, Dad and I made up our minds to come here pre-West Brom on 21/12/13, making it one of my later pub ticks before BRAPA became a seedling in my brain.  Our early drinking days pre-WBA had seen us go to the Vine (which will be pub 215) and this had the same long, thin, old world feel, but in this case with rooms off to the side.  The kindly staff seemed to be looking on me and Dad sympathetically as we drank our early pints of Church End, Elland and Wye Valley.  It soon became clear as it was THAT time of year and a group of students in Christmas jumpers arrived to spoil our solitude.  Dad, always one for "making things happen" moved us to the ornate smaller front bar where one old man was watching Gillette Soccer Saturday.  Guess what?  The Christmas jumper gang doubled in size and followed us in!  So we moved back again, the staff were chuckling along with us by now and they showed their hard working ethos by getting a new Rudgate Christmas ale on which was the pick of the bunch.  People were "dining" by now and tables were full of old food plates but it beat Christmas jumper wankers.  All in all, an excellent pub, I'd go again, just not pre-Christmas.  Oh, and it cured my toothache for a day at least.  

A pint of HPA on a table fitting for the Jewellery Quarter area

210 - Barton's Arms, Newtown, Birmingham - When people ask me what my favourite pub in the GBG is (another commonly asked BRAPA question), I often say this one though technically, I visited long before BRAPA on 4th May 2009 (if only we'd been aware of it on the so-called "Thriller at the Villa" all those years previous where the bouncers on the pub we did go to pretended Dad was the landlord to stop too many fans coming in!)  I digress.  It was a balmy Monday night and with not too many pub options in this part of the world, this place stood out like a beacon over the desolate wasteland.  Dad and me sat down to a great pre-match session, it's such a beautiful building, ornate tiling and such a heritage gem I almost have tears in my eyes wishing i was there (ok, maybe I'm getting carried away).  This was the one time we got to sit in the little booth under the stairs which I love.  It was also my first introduction to Oakham ales which has become my favourite brewery in the intervening six years.  Our second trip on 5th December 2009 (such a relief when it finally opened) was a chance to show Ben how good it was, shockingly he wasn't a fan!  I cannot believe it, maybe he has changed his mind since.  This time, we sat more in the front bar and staff kept popping out of little hatches to pass beer along so we didn't have to walk around the vast circular bar.  Nice touch.  Some talk in the media of this pub being smashed in during the "London riots" (when they spread to Brum) had me fuming like a smoke bomb and this pub was out of action for a while.     3rd May 2014 brought our next trip, a total no brainer anyway for our pre match pub but it also had a beer festival on.  Bumping into an old school friend's brother now with  Welsh accent was bizarre, but more bizarre is why this pub even needs to have a beer festival?  And finally, 30th August 2014 me and Dad caught a taxi here after we met up in the afternoon.  It was calming with no football on, an Arbor brewery "takeover" was going on, and we tried amazing beers from each brewery.  This experience is particular was as close to utopia as it gets,  What a pub!  If we get relegated, any tears will be for not coming here next season.  Bruce out, Allam out.   

The wonderful, amazing Barton's Arms near Villa Park
So there we go, plenty more pubs to follow with more from the West Midlands before moving into Wiltshire and Worcestershire.

See you soon, Si



  1. I have a feeling your first visit to the Wellington was after a 2-0 defeat at Molineaux. The railway was shut so we caught a tram from Wolves to Snow Hill. I verbally abused a motorist in Wolves on the way to the tram terminus.

    The Black Eagle was brilliant on our first visit and has got steadily worse. By a funny coincidence, it has got steadily busier. My theory is that the staff can't really cope with the football crowds so the beer doesn't get replaced. It manages to justify being in the GBG by presumbably being brilliant on the 340 odd days a year when Albion aren't at home. The only way to test the theory I suppose would be to go on a non-football day.

    Where did you go instead of Rotherham?

  2. Thanks Tom, I had a feeling I'd been in Wellington before this date so that's more like 2005 isn't it? Explains why I was frustrated not to find it post-Hereford.

    Inclined to agree re Black Eagle, even Aiden had to admit how poor it was that day.

    Nowhere instead of Rotherham, taking some time out to recover liver/finances after a birthday fortnight of excesses. Thanks re delayed Manc ticket, form done. Also, had to get my season ticket replaced - and the man put it on blue stock at last - hurrah!

  3. No worries Si, I always try to help. Seasons issued for periods longer than (but not including) a month should always be issued on blue stock. You should find that it lasts longer.

    I'm still working outwhen to fit Coalville in.