Wednesday 6 April 2016

BRAPA - Delightful Derby

Stunning carved fireplace in the Falstaff

It is ten years this month since I first visited Derby from a real ale perspective, and I'm ashamed now to see how long it took me (about 8 years) to realise there was more to the town than the ghostly touristy Dolphin pub and the pointless 'which is the best?' rivalry between the Flowerpot and Brunswick.

The last two years have shown me that Derby has so much to offer, it might even be better than Norwich and York!

We were in the car again as Dad struggled down the side streets of Normanton (a very 'real' kind of suburb, to the south of town)  and parking was difficult near our first pub of the day where two tattooed grizzly looking smokers stepped out of our first pub of the day to watch our progress.  Dad commented "I think it'll be one of those 'swift half and leg it' pubs!"  I told him not to be so lame.....

855.  Falstaff, Derby

The tattooed smokers joked that we'd finally got parked and welcomed us in, as did all the other local chaps dotted around supping deceptively strong ales from the Falstaff brewery.  The first thing I noticed was the traditional pub smell, so reassuring, a bit like the smoking ban had come into force about 12 noon that very day.  A fantastic carved fireplace and bar area (and Dad spotted the old off sales) showed what a historic gem this was too, and it had a side room where people played pool and loudly sang old country songs (and a bit of Beautiful South).  The barmaid Nicki constantly looked fearful, not surprising when the locals had things like whistle on their keyrings so they could attract her attention!  One of our greeting party asked an unsuspecting chap if he could pull his underpants up, because he couldn't reach down there .... it was that kind of pub.  I'd heard a lot of ghost stories about this pub, possibly the lamest ever, ranging from 'once the snooker chalk fell of the bar' to 'someone left a key ring on a fridge and it ended up in someone elses overnight bag.  Spooky!   No wonder Nicki screamed whenever one of them said 'boo!'  The underpant victim heard us talking about pubs and stuff, and told us about a side room with great old pub memorabilia of a long gone Offiler's Brewery but sadly the room was closed.  This place was like a mini republic, I really hope that pubs like this exist in 30 years time but it felt like something from a bygone age already!

A pint of surprisingly strong Falstaff brew
View of the bar
It was BRAPA's second birthday and what a pub to kick off the celebrations.  We even stayed for two pints and that hardly ever happens!  With the Bell & Castle not really having anywhere to park nearby, we ditched the car just to the west of centre and had a short walk to our next pub.

856.  Greyhound, Derby

It was always going to be impossible to follow the Falstaff (the old Mumford v Metallica hypothesis), but this was a nice warm modern bar and a jolly young barman with a Peter Sutcliffe beard talked us through the range of Derby Brewing Co. ales.  The only one he didn't mention was the Dangeously Dark, so I went for that partly due to his beard meaning I couldn't trust him.  He'd also called Dad 'brother' which was an amusing touch.  The pub had a nice outdoor corridor entrance and with his Heritage hat on, Dad noticed different windows showing the side we were sitting in was much older than the rest of the pub.  The toilet doors were irritating as they had cartoon emo kids representing boys & girls, think a modern watered down version of the 1970's 'woman smoking a pipe' toilet signs of that pub in Macclesfield which has probably been closed for years now (obscure reference there, sorry).  As it was, I enjoyed my pint more than either of the Falstaff ones but there was no chance we'd stay on for another.  

Out of the traps, and I'm off and running. 
Just a couple of streets away was our next pub, another one I'd not heard of before and probably why I insisted on calling it the Golden Lion, but luckily a kindly West Brom man was on hand to point out the error of my ways .....

Great pub art at (definitely) the Golden Eagle
857.  Golden Eagle, Derby

Another friendly welcome ensued (what's going on?  Was I really in the East Midlands?  Why has this never happened before?)  and a local father and son duo parted to reveal Titanic Plum Porter, I've shunned it for too long recently, and it was time to dive back in and realise it's brilliance.  In fact, combine it with some cherry tomatoes (Dad had a bag of them, as you do) and the flavours were even more amazing.  What a superb old pub this was, it looked only recently restored to some kind of former glory, all wooden and basic, and if you are a fan of the Peacock or the Furnace, you'll know the kind of Derby pub I am talking about.  And no-one was going to stop us eating our sandwiches in the corner.  Again Dad was spotting historic window frames whilst I just basked in the bliss, an old woman who looked like she'd stab me on a normal visit to Derby suddenly smiled and showed me which was the loos were.  If it hadn't been for the Falstaff, this'd have been pub of the day.

Plum Porter in another majestic Derby pub.
Back into the heart of the town centre next, I always am a bit suspicious of 'very' central pubs, but I needn't have worried.

Dad basks in the evening glow of the Old Bell Hotel
858.  Old Bell Hotel, Derby

With it's mock tudor frontage, I was expecting something grimy, sticky with families eating salmon and mash potato in the corner (I'm thinking Ye Olde Starre Inne in York, or Chequers in Oxford), so imagine my surprise when I discovered this was a proper classy old hotel.  It had been refurbished of course, and with an eye watering range of amazing beers on, though I doubt Martin Taylor will be happy that I shunned the Bass in favour of a pint of Maid Marian.  The staff were helpful and friendly, and the toilets appeared to be refurbishing themselves and there was nothing the pub could do to stop it (though possibly my take on the wording).  I now read that discerning drinkers head to a Tudor bar at the back of the pub, I didn't see this and just shows how undiscerning I can be a few pints in.  Sensing imminent Hull City disaster, Dad inquired on a sign advertising Salopian Vertigo (a so-called Black IPA) at 7.2% and glad he did.  The biggest surprise that Mrs Taxi Firm had never heard of this pub but knew exactly where Walkabout was - typical!  Time had shot on alarming quickly, perhaps the Vertigo was to blame for that. 

Ridiculous bottled ale
"We are pub toilets, we'll do what we want!"
We'll gloss over the next couple of hours, simply adding the words "inept", "woeful", "worse than Rotherham or L**ds matches" and "no hope of promotion but who cares". 

Post match saw a long walk back to the car, but luckily it took us straight past a pub I'd been meaning to visit for ages now .....

Time for post-match Derby pub commiseration pint....
859.  Alexandra Hotel, Derby

Ignoring the bouncer on the door (who actually seemed to be a railway enthusiast with a luminous jacket and a bad sense of direction), this was where Derby County's more pessimistic fans had congregated post-match.  The idiots having gone to the Brunswick with all other Hull City fans.  It was another cracker, full of railway artefacts which might not be surprising being so near the station.  Beers were mainly from a local brewery I don't know called Clarkshaws.  We sat with some nice gentle rams and talked about wonderful pubs of Derby rather than football which suited me fine.  They agreed with me on key points like Huddersfield is a great drinkers destination and that Barrowhill beer festival is good but overrated and over busy.  Derby CAMRA was first formed here back in the 70's and this is now their current pub of the year, which was a nice fact to end a fantastic day on.

Chillin' with the Rams
Gorgon's Alive! 
Onto Saturday then and thanks to a combination of Retired Martin and Huddersfield CAMRA, I can get a dead-cert pre-emptive in at Arcade Beers on Station St (11am) before heading to 1 or 2 classics to see us through to 3pm, and if Tuesday was anything to go by, I'll need to be well-oiled again!

Laters Pubbygators, 



  1. Do you feel your writing style is developing Simon ? That's a compliment, of sorts. The way you're honing your barbs (on beardies and Mumfords) and food-based vignettes is like seeing the Cockney Rejects hitting their songwriting stride with "Cockney Rip-Off". Great stuff.

    By the way, the way you describe the Falstaff implies nothing has changed in 20 years, when Mrs RM also couldn't park properly and I made fun of her over something 6% ish.

    I don't mind you not drinking Bass Simon; your time will come. Drinking Plum Porter is the right call anywhere.

    1. I like the comparison, I've seen Cockney Rejects a few times and as my friend says, lead singer is like Scrappy Doo in a puffer jacket, trying to be a West Ham hooligan but you just want to give him a cuddle! Seriously, I'm enjoying writing my blogs more than a year ago, I feel freer. Perhaps it is knowing people might now be reading it!

      Can't imagine Falstaff has changed clientele or anything much in 100 years, might just recycle the odd barmaid. Dad will be pleased Mrs RM had similar parking problems, did she have a severed finger too as an excuse?

    2. Mrs RM is a lady. She doesn't need an excuse. A severed finger (or head as in Ipswich) are good excuses.

      By the way,you do know retiredmartin and Martin Taylor are one and the same, don't you. Paul from Kent didn't, with hilarious results. Thinking of changing my name to TheOriginalBRAPA4501 but don't really have a legal team.

    3. Haha don't even think about it! Yes I did know that, did Paul from Kent try to get you to get in touch with yourself? Is he the same guy as Kent Paul ;). Is there just one nice West Brom man who keeps changing his Twitter name? Am sure Mrs RM would park perfectly at Falstaff given a second chance.

  2. I initially read the Dolphin as ghastly tourist pub rather than ghostly. I thought it only a little harsh.

    I miss the smell of proper pubs. I say repeal the smoking band. I don't care if I die a little ealier than the currently expected 70.

    I notice your comments about not trusting the man with the Peter Sutcliffe beard. Do you feel I am less trustworthy when beardy?

    The Alex is a proper outside of station pub. As is the Brunswick for that matter. I would not be surprised if they had a crank as a doorman. It is places like this that makes me glad that Derby has not joined the Tap / Head of Steam club, and makes me lament many places that have.

    We are staying up.

    Dagger for Duncan

    1. It was often remarked that after the smoking ban, the smell of tobacco was replaced by the smell of sweat, stale food, cleaning fluid, flatulence and urine.

      I used to love the Dolphin when it was a proper Bass pub, but on my most recent visit it seemed to have lost something.

  3. I remember when Brigantes in York was our first pub to go non-smoking (well, it was from it's 2006 opening) and everyone complained about all of those smells, and coffee seemed to upset people even more.

    I have to confess though, I hated going out at Uni in Sunderland and feeling I'd have to put my bonfire night clothes on for a night out because they'd need washing the next day. I was a student, I was too lazy to wash so many clothes! Now, I can wear the clothes on about 23 consecutive pub outings.

    Dolphin was incredible on our first visit, the atmosphere and energy, wow Dad was talking like he was Derek Acorah but since then, it has never lived up to that first visit. Have the resident ghosts shunned it when it became too touristy?

    Tom, what is a crank? York is better for York Tap, a wonderful place, but I agree with you generally. p.s. your beard is so free-form and unkempt, it actually adds an honesty to you.

    1. I would say though that Brigantes quite high on the coffee serving level of pubs anyway.

      Surely pre ban, as all pubs had the same smell you could wear the same clothes 23 days in a row an nobody notice because all pubs carried the smell. I'm going to start inspecting my pub clothes for other smells from now on in.

      A crank is a railway enthusiast, normally specifically a basher.

      I would say that the York Tap is the best of the new wave of station pubs, but remember its predecessor was effectively the Maltings in its heyday.

    2. I would say so too.

      Yes but I could smell them on my chair and the smell on my hair and as an asthmatic non-smoker, I just felt grimy. Maybe they could bring back smoking with a little 'changing' booth where you swap your normal clothes for your bonfire outfit on entering and leaving.

      Maltings is still ace but such a bloody long walk nowadays :)

    3. Am I the only person who thinks the Tap is a bit overrated then. Not very pubby and too many beers. I still always visit when I'm in York though.

      Great suggestion on brinking back smoking with changing booths.

    4. Of course you are right Martin, but catch it on a peaceful afternoon with the sun shining in through the wonderful roof light just after the tables and toilets have had their weekly clean, and you are in heaven.

  4. They are pricey, but no more than if you got tickets from a reseller and made your own hotel reservations. Just a thought.

    Hotel Derby