One of the best things about working in the industry is that going for a weekend boozing counts as market research.
That is why last weekend B & I were able to justify spending 2 days in York and 1.5 in Bristol (Fri-Mon). We didn’t manage a week away just the two of us this year for various reasons but taking some time off in November is really good for him given just how stressful December tends to get and we really needed to curl up together a bit. Unfortunately it also turns out to be quite expensive to take a city break at this time of year.
Nonetheless we grabbed a train up to York on Friday morning and arrived at the York Tap in time for ‘lunch’. The plan was to hit a few pubs in the afternoon, check-in to the B&B, then head back out for dinner before doing some tourist things on the Saturday (with a few more pubs) and heading to Bristol first thing on Sunday to find a few more pubs that afternoon/evening, amble round on Monday morning and get back in time for me to have dinner and a cosy evening in with W.
In total we went to 13 different pubs and I estimate that between the two of us we drank 42 different beers… so though we were mainly drinking thirds and halves and didn’t ever really get drunk I definitely felt I earned this week’s dry day!
There follows a more detailed summary/review if you are interested:
As a station pub we knew that the York Tap was going to be our first stop; what we didn’t realise was that it was going to be our favourite pub in York. I enjoyed the Sheffield Tap recently but this seemed layout and set-up seemed to work better. I wouldn’t want it to be my local – too many people passing through rather than enjoying a chat – but the beer range was excellent, the staff were pleasant and helpful, the decor was tasteful and it managed to maintain a mellow atmosphere at all the different times we went in (yes we went back several times..).
The second pub we found our way to was The Three-Legged Mare which is one of the five York Brewery pubs. We didn’t actually drink any of the brewery beers but what we did have was well-kept. Overall though I was underwhelmed both by the beer selection and the pub atmosphere generally – nothing wrong, just slightly like a cafe and not quite ‘me’ – I wonder what it is like when they have music on…
The third pub for the afternoon was The Maltings which we had previously walked past on our way into town. Despite its outward appearance as more of a ‘vertical-drinking’ bar this was a rather pleasant surprise – a quite varied range of beer and chatty customers/staff. We sat in the small sheltered garden and contemplated the role of sparklers (turns out Siren rather suits this dispense). I’m not sure whether I’d drink there often but I would certainly be happy to go back.
After dropping our things at the B&B we headed out to The Rook & Gaskill for dinner in the form of burgers. Of all the pubs we went to in York this one felt most like a local’s bar and if I lived nearby it would certainly be mine. There were a wide range of customers and good beer. It is also worth noting that the burgers were lovely (the chilli one really was hot as requested) if almost too filling.
On our walk back into the town centre we decided to stop at The Hop and almost immediately regretted it. This bar is one of a series backed by Ossett brewery; it allegedly has music and pizza but mostly it was full of wankers and was far too hot. I have never been to any of the others and I am perfectly happy to accept that a Friday night is no time to judge this one either. So I will only say that the Majolica tiles were pretty and the beer was fine but we left as soon as possible and headed back to the York Tap.
The following day we got up in a leisurely fashion, had brunch in a cafe near Mickelgate and took in the sights whilst trying to avoid all the rest of the tourists. Eventually we decided it was beer o’clock and headed to The House of Trembling Madness to try and find a seat. This beer shop with quirky upstairs bar has something of a phenomenal reputation and while we perched on a bench by the door we watched a number of tourists pop in to take a look as well as even more people simply give up because it was too full. I marvelled at the amount of people working behind the bar and admired the fact that only the patient, the brave and those willing to share got seats. We went for the foreign options because we could, which I think was worthwhile, and though it was too busy for my liking it is not difficult to see why it is so popular.
After a couple, our wandering took us to Pivni which as a sibling establishment to the York Tap was at this stage high on our list of ‘want-to-try’s. As an older building with multiple floors had a very different and more local-esque feel to its sister but a similarly good range of beers. Our visit was nearly spoiled by an extremely drunk group of Hooray-Henrys but the barstaff handled them superbly and we were able to settle back without worry. This pub also provided my favourite beer of the weekend (Evil Twin – Luksus fwiw). I’m not sure I can explain why this didn’t rank quite as highly as the York Tap.. prejudice?
After leaving Pivni we had dinner and then went back to the York Tap before having a reasonably early night conscious of the fact we had a train to catch in the morning.
Bristol is quite a long way from York so it was definitely afternoon by the time we arrived and after dropping our bags at the hotel (which incidentally had an incredibly comfortable mattress) we headed straight for a drink. Our route into town happened to take us straight to the door of Brewdog-Bristol and so it seemed rude not to stop. Partly this was because I’ve never been to any Brewdog bar and partly because once upon a time the GM there was a regular where I used to work. The bar was as trendy as I might have imagined with a fantastic concrete bar and little half height booths like American Diners. The beer was as wacky and yet well-thought through as I had hoped and it was less pretentious than I feared but still a little remote for my taste. On the other hand this bar provided B’s beer of the weekend (Mikkeller Funky e*).
Next stop was the Beer Emporium. This surprisingly spacious venue has a beer shop at street level and a bar-come-restaurant in the vaults below. The shop was shut when we arrived and we weren’t quite ready for the Sunday lunch they were offering but the vaults were fantastic and made a gorgeous setting (though I don’t envy how long their beer lines must be). The bottle fridges were as impressive as you would hope and the selection fairly broad – its mainly westcountry feel didn’t hurt my tastes but it was impersonal and bordered on corporate which was a real shame.
We moved inexorably on to Small Bar, which is just across the street (far larger than House of Trembling Madness) and achingly trendy feeling. I wanted to like this place more than I actually did, I approve of the independent ethos, liked their brewing club and thought the bar-tenders were good. The trouble was it was a little too trendy, a little too sure of itself and not quite intimate enough/full enough of people. Again though I suspect this was a time of the day thing – Sunday afternoon doesn’t suit everywhere – so another visit required.
Our next plan was to head to the Three Tuns but it turned out to be shut for maintenance/refurbishment so we thought that dinner might be worthwhile. Dinner turned out to be a slight challenge due to my inordinate horror about certain types of large restaurants so we ended up back at the Famous Royal Naval Volunteer (just near both the Small Bar & Beer Emporium) so that I could make a toilet break. It turned out to have a really big selection of traditional and craft beer and a really diverse range of customers – this might not quite have been the kind of pub we were in the mood for at that moment but it was a glorious surprise. Mixing a casual almost student-style space with a strong range and a comfortable generosity.
Still in search of food eventually we found our way to the Hole in the Wall. It might not have much in the way of beer (we drank Korev -St Austell’s Lager) but we did have some satisfying roast dinners and cheery staff without too many annoying people. I call that a win. And afterwards we went back to Brewdog on our way to the hotel because we could.
The next day we thought we would amble round the town about a bit before I went to meet W. So after some time wandering around St Nicholas Market we walked along the harbour to the Grain Barge. I initially resisted the temptation to head to this Bristol Beer Factory venue because I feared it would be busy and uncomfortable but actually sitting on the top deck in the sunshine was rather glorious, plus BBF beer is particularly good on keg. I think I might still hate it if it was full but what is new about that!
Finally it was time to go home. It was fascinating to see just how much effort so many bars put in to their range and their style and saddening to think we are so far behind. It was also good to spend time just relaxing with B with no time-frame and enjoying being intimate – we definitely needed a little (a lot of) time to ourselves. On the other hand of course it was also good to get home and watch University Challenge with the wife. Ah the trauma of my life…