Tuesday 30 June 2020


Ready to get back to the pubs like this


On Friday 26th June, I opened my Good Beer Guide 2020 for the first time since mid-March.  It must have been a subconscious thing.  I could not bear to see all those white gaps which I could do nothing about! 

Needless to say, my pub tally for June matched my April and May figures, though you could argue I've actually hit 'minus' figures if you count the pubs that have confirmed they will not be reopening, ever ever ever.  Unless they change their minds / get taken on by someone else.


The saddest of which for me is Brigantes, York, my closest current GBG pub.  It might not be the most aesthetically pubby pub in the city, but since it opened circa 2006 up to the present day, I don't think there's been a more consistent all rounder in terms of ale quality, friendly staff and just a place where you can pop in for a drink, on your own, with friends, and feel comfortable.  I'll miss you Brig!  

My good marra John captures the turtley awesome joy of Brigantes (Apr 2013)

I think I was a bit naive when I heard about these 'pubs that won't re-open', thinking it'd probably not happen at all or it'd only affect rubbish ones.  All the ones I'm hearing about have been good or great. Take Nottingham House in Cleethorpes, fantastic on my one and only visit.  Pave in Hull, named after Princes Ave.  It offered a different type of real ale experience (i.e. modern) in Hull at a time when there wasn't really much choice.  Devonshire Cat in Sheffield, the first time I can remember seeing a huge range of ales all scrawled all over the giant blackboard, in 2002.  Totally wowed me!  Wouldn't now.  And what about the Running Pump in Catforth?  Lovely pub, and what an eclectic mix of BRAPEES were with me that day.  Sad times!

Nottingham House, feel the quality

Locating the Running Pump.  Note background cameo from Lawrenson and Britain.


"So readers you gotta let me know
Should I stay in or should I go?
I could stay inside my bubble
Cos if I 'pub' there might be trouble" 

I promise I'm being honest with you when I say that throughout much of early-mid lockdown, I'd been pretty chill when it came to the reopening of pubs. "What will be will be", "it is what it is", are the kind of things you'd hear me saying.

But since I've had that 4th July date etched into every pore and sinew, the voice in my head previously saying "Perhaps let things bed in first, give it a week or two, see what happens" (voiced strangely enough, by Dame Judi Dench) has been countered by another, more urgent voice (Willie Thorne this time) chanting in a low whisper "You love pubs don't you?  Pubs are what you do.  It might be carnage.  Imagine the blog potential.  You owe it to yourself AND the challenge!  BRAPA BRAPA BRAPA.  Go go go!"  Yeah, alright Willie, settle down pal....... thought you were dead.

'Torn' I feel, like Natalie Imbruglia after an unfortunate incident with a bicycle seat.  That's the only way I can possibly describe it.

There's been so much chatter on what this peculiar reboot of the pub will look like (apart from a general consensus it won't be in the spirit of 'what makes pubs great'), it has piqued my interest to such levels that I'm buzzing with intrigue about the prospect of walking through those doors again.  Whichever doors they might be.  IF I can get in.  Some people think Saturday will be  'Mad / Black Eye Friday before Christmas combined with  England winning a World Cup' levels of pub mayhem.  I wonder.  So much speculation.  No doubt the media will find the busiest city centre pub in the whole UK with the rowdiest scum to report from.  

The problem, BRAPA-wise is, that whilst the leisure industry or whatever they call might be opening up, the train advice is still one of "essential journeys" only.  Is BRAPA essential?   I think so.  But who would agree?  Is jumping on a train to London just to tick pubs reckless at this point?  Probably.  I might get turned around at the Donny or Leicester turnpike anyway.

So for now, I will simply toddle down to somewhere unfashionable in York though, just to see how the land lies and give it the blog the day deserves.  Never has visiting average own pubs in my own city been such an exciting prospect ...... 

Will I have to sign a book, give my details?  Is there communal hand sanitiser?  Will the staff be organised?  Can you make cheery conversation with someone behind a huge perspex mask?   Is social distancing working?  Does the online / table ordering work?   Are people following the arrows properly?  Is going to the bogs a three act tragedy?  Will different pubs do things differently or will there be a feeling of uniformity across the board?  Will some just say 'as you were, you're all adults'?      Such unknowns.  You know I love a good pub observation session.  Saturday could be highly entertaining.  Or just plain terrible.   And I love the fact that I have absolutely no idea how it is going to play out.  All these years spent building up a strong pub etiquette knowledge base.  And suddenly, it counts for absolutely nothing!  Isn't life superb like that?

BRAPA Strategy (11th Jul - late Oct)

My biggest problem over the coming weeks and months is the matter of how many pubs will reopen, and when.  'Shut pub alerts' have always stymied me, and that was long before a global pandemic.  

I see some are staggering their reopening.  Antic for example, those jolly youthful quirksters of South London fame, are opening just the nine of their chain on 4th, so you can't assume that just because you can get in your Pratts & Payne, you can also get in your Shelverdine Goathouse (I'm not making these names up by the way).  There's nothing sadder than a shut pub, but a pub you've specifically travelled to only to find it shut, adds an extra layer of sadness onto pre-existing sadness, not to mention the latent sadness which will hit you next time you walk this same way.  Philosophical, or lockdown insanity?   

I'm going to approach pub ticking between now and the arrival of the 2021 GBG (late October 2020) with a sort of 'any tick is a bonus' attitude.  The year is a write-off but we can salvage something from the wreck.  Two weeks off end Jul/early Aug, could've timed it just right (unless a second wave as hit by then!)  I'm going to do away with the 'trying to complete set counties' approach, and focus on areas where you have a good selection to go at.  And then, if you do encounter a closure, you can bounce off it, straight into the next, rather than say, be stuck on a hill six miles from Carlisle.  And at only 38.93% GBG completion, there are enough gaps to allow me to do this. 

It's up for grabs now!


"The New Normal" .... 'Bringing a DJ? to watch me drink a pint of bitter and sneer at some twild?

Thursday 4 June 2020

#SWANVESTA (Si Walks Around Neighbourhood Visiting Every Shut Traditional Alehouse)

I'm taking you on a walk through York, passing three old pubs, before ending up back at home for a nice cup of tea and a sit down.

The rules are quite simple, the pubs have to feature in my Directory of York Pubs 1455-2003, still be 'active' today (outside of this crazy lockdown, obviously) and they have to have been visited by the Chief Constable during his epic 'research'  (AKA glorified pub crawl) of 1902.  Think 'Bradshaw', but my clothes are brighter than those of Portillo.  We'll call it 'Murray'.

My designated 'person I'm allowed to meet from outside my household' Joe The Wedge deserves credit for this, reminding me how close I live to Rowntree Park, which was probably built for the local chocolate factory workers a couple of hundred years back in a Saltaire way, but you'd have to look that up.

We cut across through the hopelessly white middle class (even by York standards) streets like Thorpe, Russell or Scott (take your pick), where, by mid May,  the Thursday night 8pm NHS clap is little to do with appreciating the NHS, and more to do with keeping up with the Joneses and appearing more virtuous than your neighbour. 

We cross the iconic Bishy Road (one of the top 10 streets in the UK, according to a national newspaper a couple of years back) and down Richardson Street where the gates of the park are at the bottom.

A bit like entering a pub in Central London, a gaggle of scarfed, rucksacked foreign exchange students block the way in, so I stand 2 metres back looking frustrated until they realise and apologise for their ineptitude and shuffle onwards. 

I've not been in Rowntree Park since my sister lived down here a few years back, and that always seemed to be in winter.  In full spring bloom, it really is quite majestic and frighteningly popular.  Yes, things seem to be 'easing' a bit but I'm still a bit nervous by the sheer volume of people I see - probably the most since the flight back from Lanzarote back in mid March! 

Through the little gatehouse probably made out of cast off chocolate buttons, and straight on past all the little water features full of mottled ducks, old folk and statues.  It is early Saturday afternoon, I should be in a pub at this time of the week more than any, so I need this little 'mission', power walking quickly away from the lingerers to take the mind off the demons.

We carry straight on as far as we can go, and then turn right through a small gate, which leads to a walk way covered by trees, shielding your poor delicate skin from the sun ......

At the end, you'll see York's Millennium Bridge which was probably built around the year 2000 (I should be a tour guide), so we get ourselves up onto it and cross the River Ouse, right to left ......

If we carry straight on, we'd end up in Fulford where I went to school, or eventually Heslington, where I first lived when I came to York, in the midst of studentsville.  I couldn't get to sleep one night cos a boy was on an adjoining roof singing Sit Down by James and drinking Castlemaine 4X.  I vowed I'd never go to Uni at that moment, but I did of course.

Instead, we turn left so the river is on our left as shown on the right of the above photo (if that makes any sense, like!) 

It is a ridiculously windy day despite the sunshine and mild air, and huge branches, twigs and leaves are strewn everywhere. 

I see two coppers and try to look like I'm not just lurking around taking photos for a blog, but I honestly don't think anyone cares anymore, though ideally they're off to Rowntree Park to arrest those students.

It's a good stretch this, as we head north towards the city, crossing the tiny Blue Bridge, so called because it is a bridge and it is blue.

Hugging the riverbank as closely as we can without falling in, we come to St George's Field Car Park where Derek Acorah once was supposed to channel Dick Turpin from his graveside (Dick's, not Derek's) in a live Most Haunted Hallowe'en Special but gave up cos the weather wasn't very good.

Carry on under Skeldergate Bridge ......

... and carry on along the path with river still on left, Tower Gardens on your right and it finally becomes what is known as King's Staith.

Bit of a flashpoint here as an ambulance and Creamy Wayne's ice cream van form a kind of blockage, made worse by a huge flock of greylag geese looking quite angry, meaning people have to shimmy through the gap, making the 2 metre rule rather hard to observe!

We squeeze through, and the first of our two pubs looms large on the riverside ........

The Lowther is a real kind of 'rites of passage' pub to the York students and yoofs, and 1998-2001 was my era here, always in here on a Fri/Sat, mates puking in the river at midnight, slush puppy cocktails, gravity defying staircase, and in the early days at least, was a bit of a 'rockers' pub and I remembered following a bloke with a bright green mohawk in on my first ever visit.  Decent jukebox for a while too.

Before you get too old, you realise how shite it is though, and recent visits have been desolate affairs, and as me and my mates asked for the one real ale, they disappeared into the street, and brought it back from Lil's next door!  Problem is, we all arrived separately so they had to make four separate journeys. I tried to apologise but the barman said he was 'glad of something to do'.

Lowther handpump situated 'off-site' 

This is how the Lowther looked in 1880 when it was known as the Crown & Anchor ......

Back then, it was part of the notorious 'Water Lanes' part of the city, full of horrid men with knives, hookers on every corner, pirates and criminals.  A bit like Wrexham today, perhaps, and a year after the above drawing, the Crown & Anchor and the whole Water Lanes area was demolished, and in 1884, the Lowther was built on the same site.  In 1902, our mate the Chief Constable came for a visit and loved the fact there was a billiard room on the top floor and that you could get food if you asked nicely.

Simply glance to the left and you'll see pub two, the Kings Arms, famous for being the one that features on every news story every time York floods, which is several times a year.  

As Sam Smith's pubs go, this must be one of the weakest, certainly in York.  The lack of handpulled OBB doesn't help, but isn't the sole reason, staff are often miserable, the indoors has zero atmosphere, and is only really popular for the cheap prices and extensive riverside seating.  

It's been a pub since at least 1783, though in 1867, the silly licensee Mr Duckitt renamed it The Ouse Bridge Tavern which just doesn't sound right.  The name stuck til 1974 when it went back to being the good 'ole Kings Arms just like nature intended. 

In 1902. the Chief Constable must've been surprised just how many rooms there were, 3 bedrooms, club room, bog, kitchen, taproom, dram shop, smoke room, flippin 'eck, seems pretty poky on my visits so a few walls must've been knocked together.  

For our final pub, we head up the cobbles of King Street to the right of the Kings Arms, studiously glossing over such delights as Stone Roses Bar which didn't get a Chief Constable visit (he felt that Fools Gold was a self indulgent meandering beef stroken-off of a tune) and we cross straight over Castlegate which is Coppergate (you need a degree to remember these York street names).

Our pub is situated a third of the way down on the right hand side ......

I've always had a soft spot for the Three Tuns, though I can tell when I go out with friends they don't quite have the same enthusiasm for it that I do!  

True, it is a pretty miserably staff fronted Marstons, average beer quality, over priced, but something about the wonky floors, the warped old beams, the long thin interior, that means you can really appreciate the hubbub, as long as no nobheads are present as it does get its fair share of racegoery drug taking Christimassy jumpered staggy hennie geordie smoggie monstery tossery fuckwits if you go in at the wrong time, being quite a prominent building in a central location.  Midweek evening in late Jan is your best bet.  Oh, and the front of pub near door is more atmospheric than further back, which is quite rare.

My book tells me it first got a mention in 1783, just like Kings Arms, but our old mate the Chief Const was fuming in 1902 cos it had a six day licence, AND closed early (imagine if he'd lived in the micropub era?)   It was 1960 when it started opening full time and it is Grade II listed of course, like Kings Arms, and so it should be.  Sometimes, it got called Thackwray's when it was what'd now be called their brewery tap, from 1898-1929.  Just so you know.  

Here it is in 1935 looking a lot plainer, but you get the gist .......

A good 45-50 min circular route in total, carrying on back to my part of York, and the good thing about it, I could do this same walk several dozen times and show you 3 different York pubs, though am kind hoping lockdown will be over before I get chance to do too many more of these!  

If you made it to the end, well done, thanks, you must be mad, and here's to getting in some open pubs before too much longer.

Cheers, Si