Wednesday 7 January 2015

BRAPA : the archives (81-90) YORK SPECIAL

81 - BLUE BELL, York - At the time of writing, I'd probably rate the Bluebell the best pub in York, and that in itself must automatically qualify it for 'best pub in the country' contender.  Beer range, quality, staff, comfort (if you can get a seat in the backroom), hubbub - all top drawer.However, it nearly even isn't in the guide and herein lies the problem, it's strange inclusive policy.  On busy times like Christmas, bank holidays, new year, you may find a "private party" sign on the door, which actually means "locals only", not exactly living the "PUBlic house dream" is it?  And then, landlord Jim Parrack's unhelpful comments about CAMRA being a bunch of weirdy beardies (or something) didn't exactly help relations!  Unlike most pubs in York, I can actually remember my first time in here when myself and sister Lu (not a nun) used to meet on balmy, barmy summer evenings after she finished college (either June 2000 or 2001 - I'm guessing the latter) and we visited pubs we'd never otherwise get the chance to try out.  One of these was Bluebell, we sat in the front bar, probably unashamedly ordered 2 pints of Fosters if 2000, Guinness if 2001, Lu left her cardigan when it slipped down a hole in the seat, and I went back to get it for her just before our Jaronda travel bus was about to leave for Naburn.

A perfect pint of a now defunct Brass Castle beer - classic Blue Bell.

82.  BRIGANTES, York - Opening in 2006, this pub was revolutionary in immediately introducing a no smoking policy a year before it was due.  This gave it lots of bad Press, with moaning minis like a certain C.Milner and old men writing into the Evening Press to complain about unpubby smells like toilets, coffee and bleach.  Now commonplace!  A year into "dice nights", we now needed an excuse to incorporate this pub into things so I came up with ACDC (the Autoglass Cup Dice Challenge) involving York's 33-64th ranked pubs.  The likes of Stacey J and NatCsquared were present as Brigantes triumphed over Gillygate 5-3 and we realised we had a new good pub on the scene.  Nine years on, it still suffers from a newness but it is bedding in and has been as consistent as any York pub over the past few years.

John says "cowabunga, what a great pub!" at Brigantes

83. GOLDEN BALL, York - 2003 and John (pictured above) moved to York and we spent the next couple of years exploring our new GBG's and as a result, visiting a lot of York pubs for the first time - and I believed the likes of this one were in some kind of enchanted far away suburb until one day I was at our then favourite Ackhorne and realised Golden Ball was about 2 mins down the street.  I cannot put a time frame on it so will say early 2004 as it was dark and nippy but my first visit here was unique in that it was like no other since, thank goodness.  Lots of young athletic black men and perky giggly blonde girls clad in tight fitting Wells Bombardier t-shirts ran around the pub offering a full front room of students tasters of Bombardier, there was even a huge St George's cross hanging up - could it have been St George's day 2004?  An intriguing thought.  By the time dice nights started a year later, this became a classic place to visit, still retaining 'novelty factor' for a few more years til I moved and it became something of a local.  It had a dodgy spell around 2010/11 but since being taken over by the community, it has actually got better and better.  Love it in every way.

84.  MALTINGS, York - A very early visiting pub for me, it's famous in York so it stands to reason I had the urge to go, possibly before the Bluebell but definitely around the same time as I remember Lu having to lie about her age to a bouncer and quickly change her date of birth to "8th May Nineteen Eighty errrrm THREE?" No idea how she got away with it but that suggests it was 2001.  We ordered strange foreign bottles that night but we had no idea what to make of them and Lu left some of hers for me.  However, I also remember going in there and ordering a pint of Grolsch and thinking "HA take that you beer drinkers!" which I reckon was 2000, I may have been temping nearby at Norwich Union.  I've trawled my phone for pics of here or the Ball, to no avail, ridiculous!  This is a great pub, always a fantastic pint, but doesn't ever seem to do well in our dice competitions.  Maybe the extension a couple of years ago will change it's luck.

85 - MINSTER INN, York - "Double Pig!"  I have no idea when I first came here, I think JW2 may have popped in on his way home from work having seen it in our new GBG's and recommended that we visit on one of our pre-dice nights in 03/04 season.  Early experiences seemed to centre around the front side room and dodging a floor full of docile dogs.  What I like about this pub is good staff, funny locals, multi-roomed and old school and it took me an incredible amount of time to realise the beer range was actually limited to the Marston's range (should be in East Yorks - ha!) but the pub really stands out for the fantastic games room, okay so that is usually limited to duplo, double pig, playing with an irritating knitted character and that weird 'ball in the holes' thing.  

Enjoying a pint of Sneck in the Minster Inn
86.  PHOENIX, York - Another impossible to predict first outing, probably around 2004 but it had more false dawns than a Hull City of the 1990's and was more often closed than not - I don't think I've visited a pub so many times as this to find it shut in my entire life!  It's location didn't help and this was used as the excuse as to why no-one could make a go of it.  Fast forward 10 years to the superbly run pub we have today, and that shows it really was a lame excuse.  On the few early ocassions it was open, there was a little hatch to a back room a la Waggon & Horses and there was always 3 or 4 handpulls on, even if they were a little boring by today's standards.  Even by Royal Wedding day, this pub was closed but this is the last time we've suffered this, and now it is quite rightly a jewel in the York pub crown.

City walled beer garden fun on a hot evening at Phoenix, July 2013
87.  PIVNI - Formerly 'Pivo' when this incredibly old and atmospheric creaky, timbered building became a modern bar with a nice feel (if you take away hipsters and over excitable students!)  The first floor room was a revelation with it's wide-ranging jukebox, playing the likes of Dropkick Murphys and Flogging Molly, and over the last 3 or 4 years, it has really got it's act together with real ale and no surprise to see it as a guide regular now.  Find the staff a bit aloof and clique at times, same goes for the barfly's but have had plenty of good experiences in here.  Think it opened as Pivo in 2007 so that is probably when we made our first visit.    Recently, it opened a second floor area somehow what used to just be a dodgy hallway and some loos and this has enhanced our enjoyment of the place cos none of the scenesters would be 'seen' up here because, they errm wouldn't be 'seen' (if that makes sense).

Easter 2013 and Pivni action in the first night of the current FUCKDUP dice competition
88.  ROOK & GASKILL, York - My least favourite of the current GBG pubs in York, conversely this place boasts the best beer range in York.  However, how they keep them is inconsistent, it isn't cosy, it feels dirty, it stinks, students abound, the staff are usually impatient when you are choosing your beer, and how the hell it could be considered for York Pub of the Year is beyond me.  However, it must have something as I always think "next time I go, it'll be really good and prove me wrong", yes it has potential.  It opened on the back of a new wave of York brewery pubs Last Drop Inn and Three Legged Mare (and eventually Yorkshire Terrier) and this one stood out as it was a joint venture with Nottingham's excellent Castle Rock brewery, and a great mosaic floor reflects that.  It must have opened around 2003/04 and it was establishing itself when dice nights began in 2005.  It is named after the last two people hanged in York, named by a woman named 'Chicken' I think, and many pubs of ill repute such as the Queen stood on this site in years gone by, maybe the site is cursed! My advice, cross the road and go to Waggon & Horses.  Funny, I wonder if this was a one-off football or BRAPA archive tick if I'd be raving about it?  It's true that familiarity can breed contempt.

89.  SLIP INN, York - The "Crawl of Neglect" (slogan - "the CON is on") was one the most underrated dice games of yesteryear where we'd select an area of York where we didn't know the pubs so well and visit 4 in a night.  Whilst the Groves crawl sticks in my mind the most, the one which took us here for the first time has to go down in memory (I'm thinking 2006) as back then, this pub was a rough local serving John Smith's only with a rumour that Maxine Carr was living opposite!  We came back once more, Milner loving its 'old skool' feel.  Me and JW2 like our old pubs, but friendly as it was, this was a dump which made the Cygnet look like a Wetherspoons.  News it was being taken over by the Swan people filled me, JW2 and Jig with joy.  Milner thought it was the beginning of the end (it was for him), Krzb having read something also had reservations that they were going to make it all fancy and restauranty, and when we then visited to find a very half finished look pub (which it still is today), complained they'd not done much with it, proving some people are never happy.  At time of writing, this is as good pub as any in York and is starting to eclipse it's neighbour.  

Slip Inn, Bank Hol Aug 2012 at the starts of a "wall crawl".

90.  SWAN, York - And speaking of it's neighbour, yes we really are spoilt for pubs in York and if you are asking me for the best York pub 2004-2014, this would be the winner.  Despite a lack lustre recent visit (I blame the still French Tour De France pub sign), this has been the model of consistency in York over the last ten years.  I believe my first visit was 2004 or 2005 and when dice nights kicked off, this was the only pub that could challenge the then brilliant Ackhorne for the title of best pub.  We were often just content to stand in the magnificent hallway bit, playing on the games machine.  Getting served has always been a problem here due to people sitting at the bar which I'm now putting down to admiring the heritage of the building rather than "getting in the way".  The rooms, especially the cosy one on the right were just impossible to get sat in.  More recently, we always get a place in here.  Is this the economy or the pub going downhill?  I also think the beer was marginally better - the Salamander, Anglo Dutch and Abbeydales they had circa 2005 were simply first class quality.  Or have my tastes changed?  Still, you've got to consider this a classic, my heritage book would agree.

Lu gags me from potential negative comment at the brilliant Swan

So there we go, nostalgia overload as we approach 10 years of dice nights in Feb 2015.  Two more York pubs still to come, so next time we'll incorporate them with some of the places we were looking at before this little interlude.


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