Wednesday, 24 February 2016

BRAPA - Ipswich at it's very best.

Urinals reminded me of 'Scream' masks in the Briarbank Tap
Tuesday night saw me get my first Suffolk pub 'ticks' in four and a half years, doubling my total from 4 to 8, all of which are in Ipswich.

The players materialise at Portman Road on a ghostly, cold night
And I like to start with an apology to this glorious town.  On previous visits, I may have described the town in less than complimentary words, but this time, with the sun shining on the quayside area through the occasional sleet shower, it was like a cross between Ely, Knaresborough and Monaco.  No sign of the drab greyness, the inwardly looking yokels, the hatred of away football fans or any chips on inbred shoulders or aggressive toothless chavs jealous of Norwich.  No, this was delightful Ipswich.

Early signs weren't amazing though.  After a slightly fraught start with our train being cancelled in York, we were thankful to still arrive on time but with my 'trickiest' pub closed from 3pm-6pm in an annoying weekday afternoon pub move, Dad came up with the good idea to ensure we made it by getting us in a taxi.  The taxi driver was the most sinister man of 2016 yet, and when he drove us towards the quay behind some unloading lorries, I was convinced he was going to store our bodies in a shipping container a la Shetland......

Still alive!  Arriving at the Brewery Tap.
820  Brewery Tap, Ipswich

....thankfully, we were dropped in a car park of a grand old pink building, and with no pub sign, I could only assume this was our destination by a 2016 GBG sticker in the window.  Early signs weren't great as we had to interrupt a business meeting involving red wine and mobile phones to find the bar, where a local pervert was complimenting the blonde barmaid before devouring a sticky toffee pudding with his shopmobility scooting parents.  However, once we'd settled down to a cracking local pint of Tolly Roger by the local Cliff Quay (Tolly Cobbold) brewery, we knew we were in a great place.  Without sounding too much like Derek Acorah, you could feel the presence of centuries of history, I'm sure Sam would have agreed.  To see pickled eggs, olives and crisps being advertised more forcefully than pub meals was reassuring.  Dad spotted an old hatch which we thought might be an old 'off sales' window, so he reminisced on being a child in 50's Hull picking up bottles to take away for his parents.  That reminded me of a heritage pub I'd read about just around the corner, but not GBG listed.  As for this pub, a real gem - as they say, "for fans of  .... Whalebone in Hull, West Cross near Mumbles, Artillery Arms in Stonehouse area of Plymouth!"

Facing the bar in the Brewery Tap
Margaret Catchpole, Ipswich

So, answer me this.  How can a pub, so friendly on arrival from both staff and locals, with a roaring real fire, amazing windows, and "the most unspoilt 1930's interior in the country" still manage to be quite shite?  I can't even blame the Doom Bar, as well kept as I've ever had it, though the only ale on.  They even had a local Suffolk dialect poster up which sadly I didn't have time to study.  I can only think the TV, fruit machines and adverts for live sport managed to totally ruin it.  

Heritage Guide pub doesn't always equal fantastic pub. 
We took the school bus back into town where we checked in at our comfy, soundproof Premier Inn (cheers Lenny) before heading to the Briarbank Tap, which was not opening for another half an hour despite what the GBG said, so we walked to pub three instead!  

821.  Mulberry Tree, Ipswich

Paranoid from the last place being closed, my half-hearted efforts at getting into this closed looking pub were not very successful.  Luckily, the barman was on the ball to chase down the street after us and joke about my lame door opening technique, though I think he was showing off to the nice Aussie barmaid.  As it was, a nicer range of beers than Doom Bar greeted us and we found a nice booth which could almost be described as a 'settle' to 'settle' into in front of a wood burner.  The radio was on, which didn't do much for the ambiance, but again, a lovely old pub which begged the question "what have I been buggering about at in Ipswich all these years going to rubbish/average pubs?" Dad treated me to a Jamie Cullen sing-a-long (delightful), and I then kept my door problems going as the toilet one was just as jammed as the main one.  Probably warped 16th century/1980's wood or something?!  In the melee, I didn't even get a pub photo!  

Back at the Briarbank, in front of the brewing equipment window!
822.  Briarbank Tap, Ipswich

With their unspecific "16:30 til Late' opening times, we had to get this one in pre-match in case 'late' meant "when we feel like closing" which for all I know could've been 7pm!!  We climbed the stairs to the first floor bar to this modern place, only opened in 2013 but wow, what a fantastic job they've made of it with shiny brewery mirrors displaying all the beer names making the long, thin room seem a lot bigger than it actually was.  No need to show my CAMRA card or be signed in, like the GBG reckoned, and whilst you could be forgiven for thinking we'd be served by a bearded man who loved cycling, it was actually an old woman, and what a star she was.  She really made the experience, nothing was too much trouble whether it was advising on the ales, opening a tab for us, getting us sausage and mash with the biggest amount of cabbage I've ever seen on one plate ..... she even identified us as Hull City fans!  So much for my disguise attempts, fake accent, and blue and white outfit.  And we didn't even get escorted off the premises.  Okay, the Briarbank ales were a bit hit and miss, but the Six Nations IPA was lovely, and we even had time to get a pre-match coffee to sober us up which I never do, it was that kind of place. 

Interior shot at the Briarbank Tap
After a pre-match bovril and the kind of wonderful away game experience which reminds you more of League Two than the Premier League (oh, and temporarily losing my phone in the ground!), we had time for celebratory last orders.

Dad arrives at our final pub of the night
One of the upstairs rooms in the Wolsey.
823.  Thomas Wolsey, Ipswich

You've got to love those crazy Tudors, and high on victory and the 16th century, I had to remember to wipe the big cheesy grin off my face and look like a sulky Tractor Boy as we "fought" our way to the bar after the match, not far from Portman Road.  It wasn't busy, it's just everyone insisted on standing at the bar, blocking it (PET PUB HATE number 1!) though Dad, with the air of a yokel local, quickly found some stairs leading to at least two totally empty, and I must say, magnificent Tudor style creaky uneven old rooms.  Feel the quality.  I followed with the pints and it felt just like being upstairs in the Black Swan in York (not always open to the public though).  We wandered around like being in our own private museum, even finding a view down into this little courtyard where the ghost of Catherine Howard could be heard clearing away glasses from behind a door.  Or was it me, it had been quite a long day! 

Quality stuff in the T.W. 

After a good night's sleep and a great breakfast on the quayside, I managed to solve a couple of Wetherspoon issues before the train home.  Firstly, I needed a dump quite urgently so went in the Golden Lion 'Spoons, probably can't call it a pre-emptive tick, it certainly didn't take 27.5 mins!  

Great relief at the Golden Lion!
And then, we worked out (and I've discussed this in the archives) that it was indeed the Cricketers and not the Robert Ransome 'Spoons we visited on 4th May 2008 before the Greyhound FINALLY decided to serve us.

So, great work from Ipswich.  Dove Street Inn is a great pub in my eyes, but don't waste your time on the boring 'Spoons, rip-off charmless Greyhound, the 'up it's own arse, self-satisfied' St Jude's or the 'passive-aggressive scenester' Fat Cat.  Get yourself to the four I did on Tuesday, much better! 




  1. Immensely jealous you beat me to that line about Knaresborough and Monaco. I did some work in the new University down by the Marina, which is great.

    You certainly get a different experience when you do a number of really good pubs in one day, rather than just going back each year to tick off what is probably quite a dull newbie.

    You'll have fun getting to the village pubs though, not that there's a lot of them left.

    1. Thanks, I was blown away but the difference between Marina Ipswich and the rest of it. I mentioned to Dad about how nice it'd be to work there.

      I was looking at village pub options for future, even the trainy ones like Stowmarket and BSE look like good areas. Plus I sponsor an owl down there which I'd like to visit down there one day!

  2. Which cancelled train south were you booked on?

    You should realise that in taxis you get a hood in exchange for your shoes and get dropped off on the edge of town so you can walk back. You need to be on a boat to end up in a freightliner box.

    The blonde barmaid wasn't as nice as the lady in the bank, who I am obliged to say isn't nearly as nice as Emily.

    I always think that football feels more 'real' played under floodlights. Charging £32 though is wrong.

    You've not seen my cabbage servings.

    I'd count the Golden Lion, but put it on the revisit list.

    Is your southern owl green?

    1. Gosh, really sorry, maybe Dad can remember? 9:40? Anyway, it started from Donny and they held it for us so we had to get there and then changed, AND we were due in first class! Which we did at Donny, got bacon roll and 2 waters and shortbreads (irrelevant I know).

      I thought the Hindley guy was a bit too silent but this one took the shortbread! (not literally).

      Yes, I'd be inclined to agree. To plasticky for me.

      It was a very real game, worth £32 (almost!)

      My southern owl is mottled, did I say he was called Lanark and his nickname is "the bookend".

    2. 10:03 looks about right. No delay money at any point for you, but I think you should be disappointed not to get anything between York and Doncaster. Person hit by a train according to the system.

      Lanark is a bizarre name for an owl. Is he Scottish?

  3. As good as it gets, this trip. Fine ales, friendly people, new top class pubs, a win. Thos. Wolsey upstairs rooms made me feel more at home than home. I must get a room decked out in Tudor panels and leaded lights! Sighting 60103 in Peterborough was the icing on an already fulsome cake.

    1. Nice one Dad, well as always in BRAPA, your company made it even better and you continue to be a pub lucky charm (if we take Bury out of the equation!)

      If you can recreate the Thos Wolsey at home, I might move back in!! So be very careful.