One area of pub life the Midlands does better than anywhere else is the bog standard pub chain. Sizzling Pubs, Vintage Inns, Ember Inns, Hungry Horse, Flaming Grill, Brewers Fayre, Fayre And Square, Table Table, Generous George, Hickory’s Smokehouse, Brewhouse & Kitchen, Harvester, Beefeater and Farmhouse Inns to name but a few are everywhere and anywhere across central England.
However, don’t assume that pub life in the Midlands is bland and desolate (apart that is from Brewers Fayre, I’ve never been to a Brewers Fayre ever and thought I want to go back there again, ever), it’s more a case of separating the wheat from the chaff.
Having been to a distinctly average, bordering on chaff Flaming Grill chain pub recently (see pub 28), I definitely entered a wheat version in Mickelover on a Thursday afternoon.
45 – The Nags Head DE3 9GF is a big old school, roadside pub in the centre of Mickelover but I reckon I have cracked what makes a good pub whether it is chain or not.
I have been into plenty of bang average pubs that are ‘free houses’ or so called ‘good pub chains’ so I definitely don’t arrive with any preconceptions…unless it is a Brewers Fayre of course.
Anyway, I digress. Ostensibly, The Nags Head has got a real history as a pub as it opened in 1929 and now happens to be under the guise of Flaming Grill.
So, when I walked in, it immediately felt like a pub you can drink as opposed to a restaurant that you might be able to drink in.
There was a big drinking area when you walk in and there were quite a few in for a lunchtime pint whilst the eating area was tucked away and felt like it was in a different room; you almost wouldn’t have known it was there. That was also pretty full but it was clear that this still FELT like a pub and I think pubs that have been there for years retain and build up that local feel, as opposed to a new build off a main A road.
There were blokes reading the paper…
playing the fruit machine,
and watching sport on the TV, but only a couple of screens so not too intrusive and, when I asked for a pint of Kittiwake (Allendale), the main man behind the bar rushed over to tell me it was just off but if I waited I could have one from a new barrel.
That is the sort of service I like but instead I chose a pint of Bermuda Joe’s (Greene King) which was a Golden Ale With A Pineapple Twist but I actually quite liked it and was the second time I had tried a ‘different’ ale from the GK range recently and liked it…
The acid test came when I asked a bloke at the bar, who was looking relatively mean, where the toilets were and he couldn’t have been more helpful and I think he enjoyed playing the role of helpful local, as 99% of the people do 99% of the time in pubs.
Finally, on my way out I spotted a Mickelover Sports fixture list (nice ground that has three sides and is shared with the cricket club – think Northampton Town pre Sixfields and Stourbridge and you’ll be along the right lines) and remembered it was called the Don Amott Arena.
The man himself, the king of caravans and anyone who is my age or older will remember the catchy ditty that accompanied the television adverts back in the eighties.
Like the Snibstone New Inn in Coalville (pub 19) with their scarves, supporting their local team doesn’t feel staged or contrived in any way as this place has been part of Mickelover life for almost 90 years.
So, this goes to prove that pub chains can still host cracking local boozers with a good atmosphere and food for all but be at the hub of the community and look/feel/smell like a pub.