I have been lucky to have travelled far and wide with my job. Everywhere I go I try and check out as many pubs as possible and I have compiled my own list of VIPs (Very Important Pubs). These are pubs I will always return to when I am in the area. They do not have one common factor that makes them special except that they are all very special to me. It may be well over a decade since I have visited some of them but quality lasts and I believe that the majority of them continue unchanged.
1) The Royal Oak, Great Glen
This pub is special for the simple reason it is where my dad grew up. His father, Alfred, ran the pub during the second world war when it was tied to NBC (Northampton Brewing Company). I imagine that running a pub during the second world war was neither easy nor healthy and my dad lost his parents when he was in his early teens. Many times when I was growing up me and my brothers and sister would sit outside this pub in the car while our parents went for a drink meeting old friends. I last visited the pub about a year ago and I was delighted to see that the pub had been lovingly refurbished. It is situated in the heart of the old village of Great Glen just off the A6 south of Leicester. It is a tiny pub with comfortable red leather sofas at the front (with resident dog stretched out on one of them) and a roaring fire at the back. The beer selection was Fullers London Pride, Greene King IPA and the local Steamin' Billy. I chose the latter and it was served in lovely condition. I would love to see this pub in the Good Beer Guide.
2) Fat Cat, Norwich
I've worked in Norwich for a number of years and my last stint there was in 1998. Norwich was once renowned as the city with a pub for every day of the year. The number had fallen to about 240 when I first worked there but I managed to visit more than half of them. It isn't just quantity here either. There are many quality pubs in the city and this is my favourite. Located outside the inner ring road it is a traditional street corner local that has an amazing array of beers available. Every evening I would have about 20 ales to choose from and the selection was constantly changing. The pub has won CAMRA's National Pub of the Year competition twice and it is easy to see why. This is a pub you must visit if you ever visit Norwich.
3) The Guildford Arms, Edinburgh
This pub would be worthy of inclusion for the original Victorian architecture complete with revolving door entrance. It has a large standing area around the bar but there is plenty of seating too where you can spend hours supping one or two of the ten real ales including many from small Scottish microbreweries whilst admiring the spectacular high ceiling, ornate cornices and wooden screens. It's now ten years since I visited Edinburgh but this pub is timeless.
4) The Glue Pot, Swindon
Swindon gets a lot of bad press and most of my colleagues thought they had lucked out when they were sent to Swindon. Staying at the central Holiday Inn Express for 3 months I discovered this gem a short walk from the hotel. Located in the centre of Brunel's Railway Village, built in the 1840s, this street corner local, like the surrounding area, is a step back into the past. The full range of Hop Back Brewery beers are available along with local guest beers. It may be a small pub but it packs a big punch. Very friendly, fairly quiet during the week when I was there and always an excellent pint. If you are ever in Swindon and feeling exasperated by the awful 1960s architecture take a short walk to The Glue Pot.
5) The Bow Bar, Edinburgh
I make no excuse for including a second Edinburgh bar in my top ten. The city is awash with fine pubs but I spent many evenings walking between this pub and the Guildford Arms. The Bow Bar is situated near the Scottish Parliament building and it is a tiny one-roomed bar with a fine selection of beers to choose from. If you like whiskey (I don't) then you can choose from around 200 malts here too. It often got busy but by choosing the right times I usually found a seat to relax in. I could then sit and watch as the place filled up with a lively crowd of enthusiastic drinkers.
6) Porterhouse, Dublin
I spent 18 months in Dublin and within the first month one of my colleagues had taken me to 17 different pubs for lunch within a mile of the office alongside the canal. The lunchtime food was always excellent and after a while I opted for Murphys ahead of Guiness to accompany the meal. That was it though. Every pub had the same choice and however delightful most of them were it was not exactly overflowing with choice. Then I discovered the Porterhouse on the outskirts of Temple Bar. It was a good two mile walk for me but for the best part of a year I made the four mile round trip to this excellent brewpub three or four times a week. The beers may have been targeted towards the locals with a stout and a porter and a tradtional Irish Red but they did also produce a couple of fine cask-conditioned bitters.
7) Swan in the Rushes, Loughborough
This pub is situated in the town of my birth and the town where I spent the first 18 years of my life and where I began going into pubs. In the late 1970s Loughborough had plenty of town centre pubs where you could get served if you were under 18. This pub was not one of my locals though. It was a rather depressing pub called The Charnwood and I had left home for the big wide world when it was rescued and reopened under a new name and a new ethos. It immediately became my pub of choice when going home and it serves the full range of Castle Rock beers alongside a large selection of guest ales. It has a traditional bar to the right and a slightly more comfortable lounge to the left with a third room to the rear. It is always busy and it is always a pleasure to visit.
8) Wild Boar,Warwick
This is a recent addition to my top ten. It really is a fantastic pub and towards the end of my stint at Stratford-upon-Avon I began to make the train journey to Warwick in preference to visiting one of the few decent pubs in Statford. The close proximity to the station certainly helped and it was the pub I chose to have some leaving drinks at when my time in Stratford came to an end. It is a friendly locals pub showcasing the excellent beers from the Slaughterhouse Brewery. It also has its own microbrewery which is used to produce house specials. The pub consists of a main front bar with a small wood-panelled snug behind. Further back there is a function room that has regular music nights. The microbrewery can be seen from the snug. In addition to the Slaughterhouse beers they have four or five ever changing guest beers which are always served in perfect condition.
9) Tom Browns, Dorchester
My best friend lives in Dorchester and it was he who educated me into drinking real ale as much as anyone. We met in the final year of university and since then we have met up regularly for the GBBF and Saints games as well as numerous other occasions. When I visit him in his home town, Tom Browns is always a regular stop. It opened up as a brewpub in the late 1980s if my memory serves me right and although it has gone through a change of ownership in recent years following the sad death of the founder, it is now once again my friends local and a pub well worth visiting with an excellent selection of beers and it is largely unchanged from when I first visited twenty or so years ago. It has a strong local following but it is very welcoming too. It is now managed by Dorset Brewing Co and the beers are brewed off-site just outside Dorchester.
10) Maypole, Yapton
I moved to Yapton in 1997 and this quickly became my local. It is also the current venue for the Western Sussex CAMRA meetings every two months so I am now regularly going back to this excellent pub and it is therefore a recent entry to my top ten. It is hard to find down a road that leads to nowhere but it is well worth searching for. Their range of beers is constantly changing so you will always find something new to try. There is a basic public bar with darts and pool and a smaller lounge which has a cosier feel to it. There is a traditional skittle alley that can be hired out and which is also used for our CAMRA meetings. In the Summer months you can enjoy the recently constructed large decked garden area too. It is a totally unpretentious pub and I love it. Read my review of this pub here.
Bubbling under the top ten are the following pubs. Some of these I have visited more recently and could become long-term VIPs once I get to know them more and could even replace some of the current top ten in time. Some of them are favourites from the past that could not quite match the current incumbents. They are all worth visiting though if you find yourselves near one of them.
11) The Windsor Castle, Lye
The Sadlers Ales brewery tap is a tremendous pub with the full range of Sadlers Ales fantastic beers. Even without the brewery it makes a perfect pub with welcoming staff, excellent food and comfortable modern decor.
12) The Victoria Works, Studley
Another excellent brewery tap. Brewery taps are always worth visiting and the Weatheroak Brewery tap is one I am constantly raving about.
After a short spell working in Bristol last year this pub moves straight into my top twenty. This pub is perfect and you can click here to read my review of it.
Stratford-on-Avon is sparse when it comes to good pubs so I was delighted to discover this excellent pub within the Swan's Nest Hotel. Enter through the revolving door and the door to your immediate left takes you into the pub. The bar has fine array of 8 handpumps, 4 of which showcase local microbreweries.
A rural brewery tap and I never tire of walking in and seeing the complete range of Woodforde's magnificent beers. Situated in the tiny village of Woodbastwick in the Norfolk Broads this beautiful thatched pub is well worth seeking out.
16) The Sole Bay Inn, Southwold
More upmarket than when I first visited this fine Adnams pub, it is still worth locating and it is probably the most photographed pub in the UK as it is dwarfed by the towering lighthouse across the road.
17) The Rockstone, Southampton
For many years The Alexandra was my chosen destination for a pint or two before a Saints game. This has now been replaced by the Rockstone and so this is a new entry in my top twenty. A city pub with the feel of a village local serving an excellent range of beers from local microbreweries as well as a house beer brewed by Sadlers Ales. A superb pub reviewed here.
Micropubs are opening up all over the place and this is my favourite one of those I have visited so far. It is the perfect place to enjoy a quiet pint of one of their constantly changing beers. Every town should have a micropub. Read my review of it here.
A home from home when I worked there in 1989. Over 300 bottled beers from all around the world as well as many beers from American micros on tap. My name still appears on the board listing the members of their '101 Club'.
20) The Griffin, Loughborough
My first local when I was 'under 18'. It was an excellent town centre Marstons pub and it probably still is although it has been smartened up.
I have been to many more wonderful pubs but the ones listed are special and always will be. If you ever visit one of them I hope you have a good time and enjoy an excellent pint.