Welcome back for some more delicious ale and pub reminisces from pubs I visited back in those pre-BRAPA days, which I'm delighted (and in some cases surprised) to report are still in the Good Beer Guide circa 2015.
211 - Gatehouse Tavern, Coventry - I'll take the blame for this one. In a shameful period of Welly gang history where me and Ben vied for position of "main away day organiser", I finally got my own way after a long tough season and brought us here on 12th March 2011 which proved a very damp squib. The staff were chavvy and lame, the TV's were showing no end of nonsense, the pub itself was one room but pretty uncomfy and uninspiring (no wonder an Ikea has "town-planned" Coventry of late in a way that the Germans had done in the war) and I started to think the fact it was a rare 11am opener for Cov was about all it did have going for it. As the gang arrived, I choked on a bacon sarnie and Dad was in a weird mood all day, only adding to the depressive atmosphere, and only a brilliant long ranger from Aaron "better than Sone Aluko" McLean gave us something to cheer. I have a vague recollection of being in here again at some point, but surely not!
212 - Old Windmill, Coventry - The area known as Spon Street is the most historic part of Coventry and this lovely looking sunken Tudor beamed pub must be a highlight, well, from the outside anyway. I'd been here briefly on 12th March 2011 where Dad and I were annoyed at kids running amok before 11am, but it was before we met Dad's friend on 10th December 2011 that I remember having a proper drink even though the temperature was ridiculously cold. They put a fire in but the hearth was the size of a walnut and everyone was trying to gather around it. The only other thing I remember is getting an anti-drink driving beermat with a woman on who looked like Nick Barmby. The pub has a lovely old low ceilinged creaky feel, it is obviously ancient, but it hasn't quite hit the mark on our early Saturday visits.
213 - Town Wall Tavern, Coventry - I'd probably class this as my definitive Coventry pub, and would certainly be a contender if I went back. Both Dad's friend Paul Brooksbank and my old Uni Cov friend Karl Cremin both have declared it their favourite pub in the town/city, they can't both be wrong can they? Our first visit was probably 24/9/05 when a combination of John Welsh and Chris Brown hilariously put Cov to the sword, the first team to beat them at the Ricoh. I'll never forget two men in front of us pre-match admiring the ground and saying "wow, there must be about 100,000 people in". They weren't joking. But I digress, this pub had some nice old Titanic memorabilia and when a strange clock chimed every quarter, you almost felt you were on the ship itself. Dad then made a schoolboy error asking about the local M&B brewery which is like John Smith's is in Yorkshire. I think we ate too that day, a very cosy lounge style experience. Although we tried to branch out to other GBG pubs on subsequent visits, we always found we could do no better and it culminated in meeting Dad's friend Paul here 10th Dec 2011 for a cosy little pre-match session. Again, I'd say the range of beers could be more spectacular but you can't have it all. First, we found Mark Bainton perched against the wooden beams like a tipsy Jesus. Then Paul arrived and it was all uphill from there. Corry Evans (very much the John Welsh of his day) got the winner, so a lucky pub too. A pub you shouldn't miss if you are in Cov.
214 - Whitefriars Olde Ale House, Coventry - It said early opening. So when Dad and me hung around for half an hour outside on what was probably 3/3/07 at 11am, our first away day of the season, I was expecting big things of this pub apparently dating from 1385 or something ridiculously unlikely. A food board was put outside. The staff scurried in and locked the door again. We lost patience and left for somewhere else, Beer Engine I think. A few months later, in pouring post-match rain before a replacement bus service to New St Station, we finally got our chance. 18/8/07 and the thing that most struck us, the landlord was a complete weirdo. I guess he tried to be nice n friendly in an over-bearing eccentric way, but his homo-erotic relationship with the chef was just plain creepy. We ordered bacon & egg sarnies just before large groups of couples decided to push in, and he asked if we wanted our eggs cracked or something elsed. It was a weird question we didn't know how to answer anyway. Food was decent, ales were superb, pub felt more like a new building than 1385 despite the lovely outside. I think I'd give it the benefit of the doubt, just.
215 - Vine, West Bromwich - 5th August 2006 and the season dawned bright and sunny, well cold and dark in a multi-story carpark in West Bromwich to face newly relegated West Brom. After a meander past the "adult shop" and a cosmopolitan market place, we reached this delightfully typical old West Midlands pub, which is one of the most "tardis-esque" I've ever seen. It looks tiny, yet it was long and thin and went back miles. It took a while to warm up at 11am with a fairly dark & gloomy feel, a few jowly old men looked suspiciously at my tigers top, and the local ales from breweries like Holdens and Bathams were okay if not earth shattering. Not sure when the change happened but by 2 o clock, we were happily chatting to families of Baggies and to this day, I declare them the friendliest of all Midlands fans. We stuck with the winning formula a year later 23rd Feb 2008 and repeated the same routine almost to the letter, I preferred the beers on this occasion. Except we had a stunning win that day so it's not even an unlucky pub. I'm sure when me and Dad were enjoying our miserable Black Eagle Tim Taylor Landlord the following season, we were both dreaming of the Vine.
216 - Great Western, Wolverhampton - 13th August 2005 and the Welly gang with Chris Irvin at the helm really came up trumps by suggesting this pub as we started life in the scary Championship playing huge clubs like Wolves and Crystal Palace in our early season fixtures. After a meander around the historic old railway station, we were in for 11am opening but it was already filling up. It didn't matter, it was clear we were somewhere special. Great selection of Locales at the bar served by friendly mainly young female staff (again, things like Holden and Bathams popped up a lot), we put in an early food order and to my shock, it arrived back at the table before I did - it was a hot pork sandwich, I was gobsmacked. We got a bit squashed in, such was the popularity and Dad who gets a bit of agoraphobia in these situations "went for a walk", we got talking to a friendly Wolves fan (yes, they do exist) it had been a truly awesome pre-match. No surprise then, we were back here Easter Monday 2007. We arrived late due to transport problems, but this time it didn't quite live up to the magic of the first visit. Chris Irvin and co had relocated our Wolves friend, who was now introducing us to other fans and told me "our clubs have an affinity due to similar colours!" I didn't argue, though I'm not convinced, there were extra Bathams ales on a side bar. Problem was, it was a hot day and we'd moved to the modern/more spacious but less good conservatory area and we were roasting. Dad again, needed some air. This experience put us off a bit and we didn't return until 29th August 2009 where we finally got a point, I controversially pocketed my hot pork roll for later to the consternation of the staff, this was again just a bit too busy and the later arriving Welly gang were not impressed with our seat choice. It was a return to form and our recent visit 16th April 2013 was great because it was an evening game so there was a lazier more relaxed atmosphere, almost as many weird Hull City fans with headphones and papers trying to look casual but again I resisted the conservatory in favour of a more traditional corner. This experience was back to the glory of our first visit here. Problem is, with 1 point from 4 games, it is not a lucky pub!
217 - Combermere Arms / Newhampton, Wolverhampton - But this pub is, problem is I can't remember it's name! One of the two but in true Elsecar style, I'll need a return trip to Wolves (next season?) to solve this mystery. Whatever, me and Dad arrived here by car Tuesday 18th September 2007, positioned ourselves between ground and pub, and walked down a long back street to arrive at quite a wide pub with a long bar, but quite shallow. We were greeted by a friendly landlady and a pleasing selection of ales and in true West Brom style, it soon busied up into a heaving prematch venue out of nowhere where we got talking to a family. Dad couldn't understand the daughter's strong accent so I spent most of the time interpreting. She cottoned on we were Hull fans, tried to tell her Mum on the sly, who was oblivious - so I leaned in and said "rubbish parents eh?" and she seemed panicked I'd blown her cover. From that moment on, we were always going to be victorious and despite Craig Fagan sitting near us, one of the best displays of individual brilliance from Jay Jay Okocha I have ever witnessed saw us win 1-0. A lucky pub, shame I can't remember it's name. Newhampton is the one I'm edging towards.
218 - Glue Pot, Swindon - It was the summer of 2006 and my band of the moment were The Briggs, American Street Punk - I couldn't get enough of them. They were touring, I almost wet myself when I found that out, and playing in Hull but rather amusingly, I found it logistically more sound to see them in Swindon! So on 7th July 2006, I had checked in at a dodgy B&B, skipped across town, had a few pints elsewhere, found the obscure maritime themed gig venue "The Furnace", enjoyed the Briggs, and wanted a last orders BRAPA tick (although it was 8 years before I officially started) so went to the town's best thought of pub, the Glue Pot down a warren of streets in the old railway village. It was a quaint location and a relatively busy one roomer with a nice light hubbub for 10:30pm on a week night. I settled down with a Hopback Crop Circle / Summer Lightning and just wound down really from the gig, trying to drink in the atmosphere and observe what was going on around me. Nothing of note happened, it was all very pleasant and civilised. Boring you might say, I wouldn't, very nice pub would be nice to come here if they win the play off final.
219 - Wheatsheaf, Swindon - We arrived in Swindon on a very grey sleety 20th November 2004 for my, so far, only football experience here and having used my new 2004 GBG, we headed for this pub and found a nice bare boarded main bar area where a nice down-to-earth barman sold us beers mainly from the local Wadworth brewer. It all got confusing cos they had names like 2B, 3X etc and we heard the local's before asking for a "2" or a "3" so before long, I was asking for 2 2's or 2 3's but it seemed to work. This pub wins my all time award for most "human dog" in a pub experience. After it's owner scattered pork scratchings across the bar floor, it grabbed a few, went to a table by the window, rested it's paw on it's head like a human elbow, and glumly chewed away watching the snow now falling outside, occasionally rousing itself to great one of the many locals who entered. I was back here before my 2006 Briggs gig and the bar area seemed to have turned round, or at least been refurbished, it was very confusing. Some locals chatted to me as I watched the only T20 cricket game i've ever found gripping, I think it was Lancashire beating my team Somerset. Do they ever win?
220 - Cardinal's Hat, Worcester - When my Hereford mini-break circa 2007 had failed to live up to expectation, I spent day two in Worcester, a much more enjoyable city and this was my first pub after a spot of sightseeing. It wasn't a GBG pub, a GBG suggestion, or even somewhere I thought I could get real ale so why would I visit you might ask? Well, I'd read a great ghost story I can't now remember in a "Haunted Inns" book I'd been bought for my birthday, photocopied it and brought it here to see if I could "sense anything". All I really sensed was a long thin corridor, creaking woodwork and an Austrian theme with lots of continental beers (lagers) home-brewed, in ridiculously shaped glasses served by buxom Bierkeller style barmaids, who seemed genuinely Austrian! I sat in a back room and the chattier of two young men started talking to me (he actually asked if my purple Gogol Bordello top made me gay!), well I couldn't escape and the quieter one looked like he similarly was trapped so we had a drink, went to a GBG pub next door for more ale, then I made hasty excuses and left them, not before I'd told them the ghost story and why I'd been there! To read it is now a real ale and real cider pub is both frustrating and intriguing in equal measures.
221 - Dragon Inn, Worcester - And this was where I escaped to on that fateful day, away from annoying weird man and his quiet, hen pecked friend he'd seemingly only recently met - a very weird set up. So to find myself in a quiet, sloping floored, lounge style pub with an emphasis on beers from Yorkshire was so relaxing and relieving, I nearly fell asleep at my table. Therefore, I have not much to say apart from everytime the door opened (so about twice during my time there), I was worried it was that weird chap! I watched some antiques programme on TV, fitting as they had a bit of bric-a-brac around themselves, before getting the old train back to Hereford where it was pint, pizza and early night (I think Tony Blair might've resigned that night) before the train back to York - I was very pleased, not the best trip I've ever been on!
Next time, we'll have a Welsh special - betcha can't wait! And I promise I will be back on the real BRAPA trail soon after this 'birthday' break, starting in London on Saturday.