Football Pub #1

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I’ve not been in a ‘football pub’ for quite a while.  If you watch the movies then every football pub is den of inequity with fights kicking off all the time.  However, they aren’t all like Green Street or The Rock in I.D but, after 11 months without seeing Birmingham win at home I felt in celebratory mood.

I like to pop down to St Andrew’s as often as I can around work commitments but the last time I saw them win a league game was 13th December 2016, ironically the last game Gary Rowett was in charge.  Since then I’ve watched a further eleven games with three different managers before it was twelfth time lucky against Alan Winfield’s favourite team this weekend.

That’s right, eleven months without watching a win and I was intrigued to see how the 98 – Royal George Hotel B9 4PN was looking these days.

To be fair to the George, it’s one of the last men standing in Small Heath as even the Garrison Tavern of Peaky Blinders fame has bitten the dust along with St Andrew’s Tavern, Brighton Arms, Watering Hole, Clements Arms, Bolton Arms, Garrison Tavern, Sportsman, Victoria inn, Oxford Arms, Redhill Tavern, Plough And Harrow to name but a few.  I’m casting my mind back to visiting these places and whilst they were highly amusing on match days I’m not sure they all had award-winning décor and cleanliness and all have all long gone. Fast food restaurants or religious community centres the most popular replacements

The Royal George has clearly had a fair bit of cash spent on it recently and it is remarkably smart inside.  It is a hotel now and, if you look on their website, the rooms look great but I’m not sure I could tempt Mrs BB to stop for a night as I’m not sure the hotel bar would be quite what she was after!

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Nevertheless, I had a great time in there at about 5pm when both the lounge and the bar were absolutely packed with punters and obviously this is when they make most of their money.

Whilst it doesn’t say ‘home fans only’ it is used almost exclusively by Birmingham fans on a matchday although my Forest supporting mate was with us but not shouting it from the rooftops!

This bar reminded me of a lot of pubs I used to drink in Birmingham and its suburbs in the late eighties/early nineties only far cleaner and well kept.

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By that I mean it was boisterous and the sort of place that gets livelier and livelier as the evening goes on.  I don’t think the Sam Smith’s policy of no swearing would hold much sway here but it was packed full of all ages and genders and a cracking atmosphere with people who were clearly just warming up for the night ahead.

The biggest difference between Brum pubs and pubs in Derbyshire is that the earthy boozers in Brum don’t tend to have ale on whereas the earthy pubs in Derbyshire do.

I had a pint of Worthington on keg at a very agreeable £2.70 and that is just one of those regional differences you tend to find as Martin has noted on his quest for cask in that part of town…

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I would be interested to see how this place looked on a non-matchday if I was stopping as a hotel guest but people make pubs and this is a cracking little place to visit on a matchday and is proving that you don’t have to like The Rock in I.D to be a successful football pub.

 

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Trying To Grab A Piece Of The Pie In Repton

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Repton is a village that is dominated by its Independent fee-paying school and, as such, has a lot of boozers trying to entice its 3,000 permanent residents to part with their cash.

There are four in the village along with a British Legion and licensed Indian restaurant and many more within close proximity so; in order to survive you need to find which slice of the pie is yours.

It’s an ongoing challenge for 97 – The Red Lion  DE65 6FLas it tries to retain its place as a ‘local’ for the villagers.

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Dave, the gaffer has been here for 18 months and is one of the friendliest blokes you could wish to meet.

The place had a smell of paint as it was being given a refurb and the front now looks a ‘bit more Repton’ and he was brutally candid about life at The Red Lion.

Friday afternoon at 1pm should be prime time in the land of plenty as there is an abundance of disposable income either permanently in the village or travelling through at weekends and, on an Exeat weekend, this is the perfect time to pack ‘em in.

However, there was just me, my daughter and her friend and when you are competing against The Bulls Head and The Boot then you need to find your market.

Both of the aforementioned boozers are slick food operations although The Boot does brew its own beer and is slightly more ‘pubby’ but the lure of pizzas and gastro food generally attracts people paying northwards of 25k per year for their children’s education.

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And, at the other end of the market, you have The Mount Pleasant Inn (pub number 46) which opens for a couple of hours every night and is rammed full of punters looking for cheap and cheerful pub grub.

Which leaves a niche, or not, for the Red Lion to fill.  Maybe as a sports pub you would think but, as Dave freely admits, they can only afford BT Sports as opposed to SKY and therefore do show live sport…but not all of it.

They started selling food four weeks ago and the girls had two very nice bowls of chunky chips (you’d be surprised how badly some pubs CAN go wrong with just chips) and the prices are very reasonable.

However, Dave told me that whilst Sunday lunches were booming so much he needed  two sittings and the evening trade for food was good lunchtimes were slow so he may adjust serving times.

He admitted some days were fantastic and others weren’t and that it has been a hard slog for the 18 months he has had the boozer but, it looks as smart now as it’s ever done.

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Reputation is everything in the pub world and if your local community aren’t convinced then it can take a long time to turn that ship around.  Dave said they inherited a ‘reputation’ that wasn’t conducive to attracting people in around rumours of substances, late-drinking (I stress just rumours) and that he is slowly wining the trust of local people.

They have meetings for the local water polo team, skittles team, AGM’s of local groups and there is also live music in a bid to keep punters coming through the doors so they are reaching out.

He was positive about a party on Saturday night that was bringing in 95 people in the back room along with 60 people eating and it would be great to see this place succeed as it is the closest pub to a school that can count CB Fry amongst its alumni.

Roald Dahl, Jeremy Clarkson and Will Hughes (ex Derby, now Watford) were also educated at Repton but Fry is quite extraordinary.

Not only did he represent England at both cricket (scoring test centuries against Australia and South Africa) and football as well as making an FA Cup Final appearance for Southampton he also managed to equal the then world record for Long Jump.

Aside from his sporting prowess he also turned down the opportunity to become king of Albania (reportedly), stood as a Liberal candidate for the Brighton constituency, and was an all-round general raconteur.  He also taught at Charterhouse School, worked for the League of Nations in Geneva but, most impressively of all was his party trick.

Apparently, at the age of 70 he could leap backwards from a stationery position onto a mantelpiece.  I am pretty sure if he was doing this in the Red Lion most nights it would be packed to the rafters!

He was on the ball and showed me their new menus, talked to the girls and made us feel really welcome and shook my hand on leaving asked me to come back again. I had a decent pint of Pie In The Sky (Jennings) and there was also Pedigree on and he spoke about not wanting to put any more beers on due to footfall and turnover of ale (sensible chap).

The Red Lion does have possibly the world’s smallest beer garden (!)  but there is a gaffer who genuinely cares and is working long hours in a Marston’s tied house to earn a crust.

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Let’s hope it succeeds and my daughter was that impressed with Dave that she cheered as she saw three people walking in as we departed!   Is there enough of the pie to go round four pubs in Repton?

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You Don’t Have To Be In The GBG Or On An Ale Trail To Be A Good Pub You Know…

Windmill

What have Pete Townshend, Windy Miller and Mick Channon all got in common? The answer, fairly obviously to anyone over 45 is Windmills! They are definitely a blast from the past that don’t appear to belong to this modern age but back in the day they were more than useful from a farming perspective pumping out grain and water.  The modern world has seen them ‘diversify’ to coin an estate agent’s phrase and double up as houses and tourist attractions to name but a few.

Nevertheless, anyone who was born in the 1970s will recall windmills were far more exciting than just a building in a field.

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You had Pete Townshend ‘windmilling’ wildly whilst smashing out riffs to the likes of My Generation and I Can See For Miles and the cudgels were also taken up by Southampton and England footballer Mick Channon who would celebrate his goals with his unique one-armed windmill celebration wheeling away in delight.

Channon, of course was arguably more famous for pronouncing Gary Lineker’s surname as Line-acre when he appeared on early forerunners of Soccer AM such as Saint & Greavsie.

Slightly less exciting was the serene Windy Miller who defied all the odds by constantly avoiding the whirling razor-sharp blades whilst sliding in and out of his working windmill on the kids classic Camberwick Green.

This was of course narrated by another legend of TV Brian Cant who, in my humble opinion, had a voice to rival Jim Laker for distinctiveness and evocative memories of youth (blimey, this is supposed to be a pub blog!)

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So, whenever I see a pub associated with Windmill’s I always assume it has a history attached to it and 96 – The Windmill Inn DE21 4FY is no exception.

This boozer has been around since 1836, nestled in the Breadsall Hilltop area of Derby and is another example of a good Marston’s pub.  When they put their minds to it, Marston’s deliver some fantastic boozers (although it is the landlords who make a pub what it is) and this has the feel of a real local.

A Tuesday night visit with two drinking buddies saw not only a cracking pint of Pedigree (Marston’s) at just £2.90 but a bloke sitting in the bar with wellies and shorts despite freezing temperatures and our pub conversation reaching the heights of how unhappy a Polar Bear is in Bristol Zoo!

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Again, there were a reasonable amount of people in but this place clearly tries hard with an abundance of activities allied to food, decent beer, lots of chilled out dogs and friendly bar staff.

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At the risk of sounding old even Pete Townshend would have thought the music in the bar was too loud so we retired to the lounge and carried on with usual pub conversations covering topics such as the merits of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and Texan rodeos!

The view from Hilltop across Derby are highly impressive and is one of those Derbyshire villages, of which there appear to be plenty, that is surrounded by country walks but on the edge of civilisation and urban sprawl.

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Not vastly dissimilar to our next port of call 97 – Three Horse Shoes DE7 6DF in the village of Morley.  One of my fellow connoisseurs reckoned he had the best pint of the night with a Directors (Courage) although my Hobgoblin (Wychwood) was more than respectable too.

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This pub had an impressive beer garden and play area, which suggested it might be frequented a lot by families but, at around 9pm on a Tuesday night it was still impressively busy with adults.

Considering it has a population of less than 500 I estimate that not far off a tenth of them were in here enjoying a chat, pint and the general ambience of pub life.

Apparently Morley’s Church of St Matthew has an impressive collection of medieval monuments but I’m not sure what Dawkins would make of all that after discussing his book!

As I inch ever closer to the century mark of pubs in the Midlands here are two more examples of boozers off the main ale trails that are doing very nicely indeed for midweek trade and ignoring the harbingers of doom!

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Quintessentially British In Tutbury

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A short post this one but it proves that pubs in all guises can be appreciated and survival in the modern age is a different kettle of fish to the 15th Century.

When you spy a village with tea rooms and a castle then it comes as no surprise to find a stonking looking half-timbered pub such as the five hundred year old 95 – Ye Olde Dog And Partridge DE13 9LS.

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I can’t imagine anyone would build a pub this size in a village such as Tutbury (population just over 3,000) were they designing it in 2017, but this behemoth of a Grade II listed Tudor Coaching Inn is definitely the most eye-catching building on the High Street in this picturesque hamlet.

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Whilst Tutubry also has a castle it is of the Ashby Castle variety i.e. largely ruined and not much of it, but this gem has been well kept and credit where it is due to Greene King as they are the current incumbents.

Look, it is very much food led and under the Chef & Brewer guise but, realistically, if a brewery can keep this cracking building open and viable then it should be applauded.

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Idyllic, tranquil and any other English village adjectives you can think of describe this setting and it was suitably so when I tried a half of top class IPA (Greene King) on a Thursday afternoon.

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I was the sole drinker but made to feel welcome and there were quite a few diners considering the time of day although at £1.90 for a half it did have the feel of a hotel prices compared to Staffordshire pub prices.

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Nevertheless, it has clearly had oodles of TLC and sells good beer and…it’s open all day every day.

(Tractor coming down the High St below)

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This might be a short post but if you fancy a stroll along the banks of the River Doves and wonder about a bygone age then you could do a lot worse than the Dog & Partridge to cap it off with a decent meal and a pint.

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Robin Hood’s Arrows

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“Good arrows,” was the phrase I heard as England took on Brazil in a World Cup warm up that raises the inevitable glimmer of hope before the inevitable crushing disappointment in June.

Other phrases heard were “Pickford’s better than Hart,” and “these new young players look better than the old ones,” as I watched the first half of England’s 500th reincarnation with their new funky DNA.

Meanwhile, never underestimate the importance of sports teams to a backstreet boozer.  On the night that England played Brazil, the main attraction in 94 – The Robin Hood LE67 8QQ was the Coalville Games League darts fixture.

This is a solid two-roomed boozer in Swannington that lured me in with the prospect of watching Gareth Southgate’s boys but Lee Dixon’s analysis, allied to another goalless draw, soon saw me turning round to watch the darts situated right behind me.

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I’ve often been in pubs on my travels around the Midlands with a dart board but, in many boozers, it appears to be for window dressing as it is never used but there were some serious players on view here.

The visitors were from nearby Coalville and there some hastily signed registration forms beforehand in between Carling, Rekorderlig, Guinness and Pedigree being drunk as this was darts of the pre PDC era.

Think more Leighton Rees, John Lowe, Eric Bristow and Jocky Wilson as the beer was flowing alongside the banter and friendly competitive edge of a Coalville Games League Tuesday night darts fixture!

Star of the show for me was Chris, who sat next to me in between throwing his arrows and arrived just as the Brazilian national anthem was in full swing and he said “F*** me, you need a Uni degree to remember all the words to that f****** anthem!”

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In between puffing away on his vape/fag he also waxed lyrical about his darts partner, Elizabeth as I looked on at the plethora of darts trophies that were visible in every nook, cranny and shelf of the bar…along with the obligatory Coalville Town scarf too (that’s the second pub I’ve seen one of those in!).

He proudly informed me they had recently finished runners up and accrued another trophy but, having beaten county players along the way, on reaching the final, had “played like arseholes!”

Not on this occasion though as he and Elizabeth were wiping the floor with their opponents and “good arrows” was heard after most visits to the oche.

He also reckoned a visit for a game of darts to The Stamford & Warrington – as frequented by https://twitter.com/w1ght and https://twitter.com/oldmudgie – was not for the faint hearted!  I think that might be a little bit of ‘inter pub banter’…as he was clearly in good form ahead of this fixture.

I also learned that darts doubles starts at 701 not 501 and, as you can tell, the lure of England’s passing masterclass was fading into the background.

It is worth pointing out that the bar had a good turnout of locals for a Tuesday night and then, with the arrival of the opposition it got busier and they were all drinking so it makes massive sense for a pub to have a darts team.

The very friendly barmaid was also taking a steady stream of food through to the lounge so people were eating and it was good pub grub as nothing appeared to be above a tenner.

There are pie nights/fizz Friday and lots of other incentives to pop into the Robin Hood along with SKY TV but the biggest selling point was the warm welcome you receive.

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I had a very nice pint of Ruck & Maul (Marston’s) which was badged especially for the Robin Hood and in good nick to boot as pub life continues to prove it is alive and kicking in Swannington.

I left at half time but enjoyed a cracking hour in a boozer that is clearly a favourite of the local community as there were a variety of ages and genders here all night.  Another good solid local boozer that distinguishes between the lounge and bar by not only a TV but also by having different beermats in the lounge!  My kind of place!

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Some Hope Left For Bretby With The Stanhope

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Let’s start with the positives.  I’ve stopped at quite a few pubs attached to Premier Inn’s over the years and this is one of the better ones, but the bar isn’t set very high.  I say pubs, but they are definitely more like places you can eat breakfast and evening meals and they often have the feel of a hotel lobby/reception area if you just want a drink.

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I do sometimes wonder (worry) if this is how it might be in 20 years’ time with city centre pubs, country gastropubs and then Premier Inn ‘hotel bars’ as the options for a night out. I’ve stated before on this blog how the rise of Marston’s eateries, Brewer’s Fayre and Farmhouse Inns are the way forward for many ‘pub’ companies and Table Table is another version of the above under a different guise.

Anyway, as I said, I have stopped at plenty of Premier Inns where I wouldn’t even bother going to the bar so the fact that this was one of the better boozers attached to a Premier Inn is a positive.

By that I mean the barmaid was friendly, the beer was decent enough and bizarrely, given its location, it had a reasonable number of diners in for a Thursday afternoon.

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Bretby is a small village in South Derbyshire (population 893) and doesn’t appear to be close to anywhere unless, perhaps, you want a quick trip to St George’s Park (FA HQ) but the Premier Inn is obviously surviving.  The only other option in the village is a Fayre and Square ‘boozer’ so they’re not exactly spoilt for choice in this part of town.

It also has one of the least attractive churches in Derbyshire…

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…but, to be fair to 93 – Stanhope Arms DE15 0PU, it does a reasonable attempt at being a pub.

Part of the Whitbread Table Table chain, it is clearly going to lead on food and most of the pub is a ‘please wait here to be seated’ kind of place with pub/restaurant grub on offer.  However, the sign outside clearly says it is a pub but the place I grabbed a seat in felt like a hotel reception.  Hotel prices too at £1.85 for a half of Hobgoblin Gold (Wychwood) and I got the impression it would have been a far more comfortable seat if I was dining on the Table Table menu.

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Apparently The Stanhope Arms is a listed building and I would imagine it’s been there as a pub before the Premier Inn arrived but needs must in the modern age…it is surviving and selling beer to the local community and is open seven days a week.  The staff are friendly as were the fellow punters I saw making their way to the restaurant.

It is clearly more enjoyable than drinking at home but I’d like to see his place of an evening to see if it had any more of a pub feel as your average drinker was left in peace but there was not much in the way of atmosphere.

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There is always hope at The Stanhope and it has established a niche but I can’t see too many of the inhabitants of Bretby rushing here as it feels like more of a transient stopover place, albeit with decent beer and beermats…in the middle of nowhere!

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Do The Dog, Not The Donkey

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Unless you are a fan of The Specials and their classic eponymous first album the title of this post will mean absolutely nothing at all to you.

I know I’ve waxed lyrical about the boys from Coventry before but I reckon I could find at least one tune from their back catalogue that everyone could ‘dance’ to.

The Specials “The Specials” may be almost 40 years old but the sound of Terry with his angst ridden voice and Neville ‘toasting’ menacingly in the background over biting lyrics and a ska beat is, in my humble opinion, absolutely magnificent.

On their classic album track (This is a classic album with no fillers) Do The Dog there is the line “Do The Dog Not The Donkey,” and in amongst all the social commentary amongst Punks, Teds, Mods, Rockers, Hippies, Skinheads, National Front, IRA and UDA all fighting on New Street Station it all makes perfect sense.

In terms of tenuous links this is probably the most tenuous of all but it has allowed me to wax lyrical about The Specials once more and it sort of fits with my final two pubs of the Nottingham adventure.

BrewDog is self-explanatory whilst Ned (the donkey – get it) Ludd is a slightly looser link but more of that later.

The Specials brand of ska replaced punk really as the next ‘musical movement’ and this was an era of punk music although the term ‘Punk’ appears to have been hijacked by BrewDog brewery and their belting drink Punk IPA.

This, along with their brash attitude appears to have upset a few people along the way but I have to say, I had a cracking time in 91- Brewdog Nottingham NG1 3AL.

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It was standing room only early Thursday evening and had a really good mix of ages, if slightly younger, which is surely a positive for city centre pubs.

Décor is always minimalist but I like the beer, the beermats and whilst I’m not sure Jerry Dammers would like how commercial they are, he would probably admire a lot of their ideas.

He would certainly be in favour of their BrewGooder’s Clean Water campaign, which aims to provide one million people with access to clean water by drinking a Clean Water Lager,

I learned this by reading the back of a beermat (literally) and thereby proving the benefits of them!

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On this occasion though I plumped for a Dead Pony Club (BrewDog) which hit the spot and I noted that their Punk IPA had the date it had been kegged on public display on their beer board which seems like a very good idea to me so you can see exactly how long it’s been ‘on’ for.

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This pub itself has been here for five years and was apparently a disused factory building and fits their industrial style of boozer perfectly.

Our conversation was flowing at this stage and drinking with four friends is (usually) preferable to drinking by yourself so, even taking that into account, I can’t see what there isn’t to like about this pub.

It had a good atmosphere and mix of younger people and I know far more people who have converted from Carling to BrewDog than have switched to Carling from to Cask Ale so it can say it is bringing something different to a new audience who like cold beer.

Whilst waiting for the zigzag skylink bus back to Castle Donington I had 30 minutes to kill and rejected the lure of the Bierkeller which wasn’t the case for everyone else and instead, popped into  92 – The Ned Ludd NG1 6DA for a final nightcap.

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Nottingham Brewery now owns this pub and I had another excellent pint of EPA (Nottingham Brewery).  However, in a city that holds Des Walker true to its heart I was man marked as closely as if was being shadowed by the former Forest and England centre half almost on arrival.

Basically, it was a good pub but there was a young punter in there that had the hump over something but obviously not enough for the staff to throw him out.

He parked himself next to me and proceeded to tell me how bad the place was and the staff had it in for him….cue staff coming over and asking me if wanted them to ask him to leave…..

I didn’t and moved to a different table but the modern day Des Walker followed me over and (we’ve all been there) was still banging on about he had done nothing wrong and couldn’t see why he was being given a hard time…

Cue the arrival of three far more sober and perfectly pleasant and reasonable bar staff who were clearly reaching the end of their tether, but I still said it wasn’t a problem as he wasn’t a problem to me…he was just hammered.

Thankfully, I could see the bus was looming ever closer so made my excuses and left but I wouldn’t rule this boozer out again as the staff were friendly (even to a drunken version of a Des Walker wannabee man marker), the beer was good and it was clean with a welcoming atmosphere.

I was just the bloke who happened to talk to the drunkest man in the pub with a “I can’t believe they think I’m a nause” complex as he was nausing me!

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However, an entertaining end to a funny evening and Nottingham really has some cracking pubs with BrewDog and Ned Ludd definitely on my ‘to visit again’ list.