Sunday 28 November 2021

BRAPA in ..... A TALE OF TWO GATES (From Toll to Harro)

There was a little epilogue to my tale of Hants fun, as I travelled back towards my York home on the Monday morning.

For some inexplicable reason, I'd booked myself on a fixed 08:18 ticket out of Winchester, but was not out of Kings Cross until 12:36.

'If only there was a pub chain which I could rely on to be open before 11am, even on a Monday, offering well kept real ale at cheap prices in comfortable surroundings with zero judgement' I mused wistfully as the Tube took me north from Victoria.   

Hang about, there is!  I thumbed through the London pages of the GBG, scaring my fellow commuters by doing so, and noticed that if I carried on through Kings Cross, and got myself onto the Piccadilly line at Finsbury Park, I could jump off at this station .....

Me having jumped off at this station

Up at street level, it was your chaotic London suburb Monday morning scene.  Red double decker buses stopping me from crossing, takeaway wrappers swirling in the wind, impatient business people, toothless old men propping themselves against railings.  The pub soon appeared .....

It is no exaggeration when I say that the Toll Gate, Hornsey must be up there with the strongest Wetherspoons I've ever visited.  The landlady / pub manager is all like "what brings you here Si?" (not that she knew my name) and when I mention in confidential tones that it is GBG related, a glimmer of recognition lights up her eyes, and she tells me they are having a presentation ceremony later this week that she's looking forward to (I later overhear her telling another barmaid the same, to prove she wasn't just saying it to impress me!)  The Inveralmond Ossian is drinking superbly, a rare 'Spoons fire (not counting those deliberately started by 'overly motivated' customers) adds warmth and atmosphere, and a quick recce reveals not one sticky surface.  A 4th July 2020 level of cleaning is going on.  I hear the American barmaid and an American punter discussing 'Black Lives Matter' in "real life", I've never felt more vital.  Colin wants to take the knee, but remembers he doesn't have any.  In fact, I'd thought about getting a BRAP Lives Matter t-shirt printed, but ultimately wasn't brave enough.  I'd use this pub as the perfect blueprint to convince the army of 'Spoons naysayers of just how good they can be.

I briefly considered heading back into the City to get some of those awkward 'don't open weekends' GBG pubs done (I'm looking at you Deveraux, Temple) but in the end, grabbing a coffee, baguette and catching the 12:36pm comfortably seemed the more appealing option.

Back home, I spent a couple of days completing my 'cross-ticking' of the new GBG, overjoyed by the lack of churn, though my pumpkin hadn't survived the week, but as Mummy BRAPA says, they are squashes at the end of the day ......

And it was still one day before the official release date of the new GBG, when I headed out into the dusk of another Thirsty Thursday for a couple of bonus ticks ...... the last ones before I could start counting again.

Harrogate was the chosen location.  As it does every year, it had thrown up a couple of new entries just to buck the 'low churn' trend ........

First up, Inn at Cheltenham Parade, Harrogate.  It was so quintessentially Harrogate, it actually felt familiar despite having never been before.  I don't just mean the fact that they stuck the address in the name for a bit of added toffee-nosery posery that outsiders associate with the town, but it had a clean, smart and (slightly too) polished air about it.    It lacked character if I'm being james blunt, but a couple of points in its favour.  Being a Timothy Taylor's gaff, it allowed me a pint of 'Landlord Dark' for the first time since it changed its name from Ram Tam.  Well kept.  And, although he didn't speak to me, the main man emerges from a side door (kitchen?) and starts chatting amiably with this couple who'd previously come in for a quiet drink.  He stays 'on brand' during the chat, truffle oil and roast woodcock amongst the foodie chat.  The day you hear Harrogate folk discussing tripe 'n trotters is the day the world ceases to turn.   So, not the type of pub to stick long in the memory, but it put up a decent fight. 

Keane Lewis Otter, the new midweek mascot to give Colin a breather

Astonishingly (to me at least), this was my 12th visit to Harrogate with the purpose of visiting pubs in the Good Beer Guide.  

I've always found it a hard place to love, or even to understand.  For years, I'd simply dismiss it as being 'up itself' but I'm not sure that really tells the full story.  My modern theory is it seems that the residents are painfully aware of how the town is perceived to outsiders, sometimes unfairly, almost a sense of guilt that they are so far removed from the traditional stereotype of 'Yorkshire'.  This makes them uncomfortably self aware, so when talking to anyone not perceived as a regular or frequent visitor, it causes an unconscious 'closing of ranks'.  And yet, when all said and done, good folk exist here, honest down to earth folk.  So you do get these occasional welcome flashes of humanity and recognition, a bit like a dementia patient (I watched the Jack Charlton documentary so now I'm an expert).  That's my conclusion from twelve visits anyway.   Time to stop the bullshit psycho analysis.  Next pub.

Tap on Tower Street, Harrogate I'd later learn is what once was the Tap & Spile, which I apparently visited on my first of those twelve visits, 6th Jan 2007 to be precise, when Daddy BRAPA and me swerved Hull City's FA Cup third round home tie to come and watch the then very non league Harrogate Town.  I remember the Coach & Horses, getting my feet soaked crossing the Stray, but not this place, and tonight's visit didn't jog any memories either.  Markedly 'pubbier' than the last place (though everything is relative) the stone walled main bar doesn't have one seat free!  I perch at the bar with some other ale-forward folk, and order an ale from Little Critters, which soon descended into vinegar I'm sad to report.   I've had similar Little Critters experiences in two L**ds Wetherspoons, not a lucky brewery for me.   I'd later spy plant pots atop an old piano, but at the risk of ruining a good piano, I don't tip the beer in. The staff are nice, so I perch and smile for a while until I realise I'm being a bar blocker, so go a-wanderin', where I discover a 'games room' with more board and card games than I've seen in a pub in my life!  Fascinating, you have to pay a deposit for the privilege, and a young couple settle down for what looks like being a long evening when they discover Harrogate Monopoly - where presumably, every property is more Mayfair than Old Kent Road.  Especially as the lad keeps getting phone calls telling him he is required elsewhere!  He fobs the caller off, okay so Grandma MIGHT be dying, but somethings are more important, like purchasing the bus station with your (fake) lottery winnings.  An interesting place then, the lighting sticks in my mind too.  Some rooms seemed very dark, some too bright!

Random pile of logs disguised as giant Jenga

No doubt I'll see you back in Harrogate for my 13th visit in November 2023.

But for now, I'll see you back here on Tuesday where I'll tell you about my latest trip to West Sussex.  We can officially start counting the pubs again.

Cheers, Si 

1 comment:

  1. I always feel sorry for your posts with no comments but then I remember you never respond to comments so I stop feeling sorry.

    I missed this one when it came out, but it is another classic that reminds me why I love visiting pubs, even in Harrogate (think I must have done a dozen visits in 20 years too).

    I couldn't remember the Toll Gate, looks a very early Spoons, and got it mixed up with that Mossy Well the other side of Ally Pally. But then I remembered leaving Turnpike Lane and how good Spoons often are in London.