Ahhhhhhh, pubs. Whats not to love? They sell alcohol, offer up a corucopia of entertaining diversions such as quiz nights for the bright and beardy and karaoke for the not so bright but often just as beardy, they give you food for a reasonable price and best of all, are full of people. And thats why we go. We could sit in and drink cider at our own dining tables or sup wine perched on the edge of our beds, but no, we hit the town, to be surrounded by people we can slag off for being badly dressed, overloud, too timid or without trace of irony, alcoholics. We go to people watch, to commune, to pull, to be seen. They are vital to society in these ever-fractured times, where the classes converge under the levelling brilliance of a night on the lash.
Beeston and pubs are about as synonomous as horses and glue. A town grown out of the working man, be it from Raleigh, Boots or Marconi, Beeston loves it pubs. I’ve read and most definately boasted that Beeston has the greatest density of pubs in the UK, (thus, the world); and I know it sits with many towns that claim the same, and until a bored mathematician gets off his arse and bangs out an equation – pubs divided by population divided by area multiplied by local cases of gout-its a claim that can be waved with pride by us and all other claimants with an equal robustness. We nearly have the nations most famous fictional pisshead, the antihero Arthur Seaton in Saturday Night, Sunday Morning, who wasn’t too far off and must have had a wee on Wollaton Park on the way home after a few ales and a pagger in Beeston.
I didnt drink last year, a year off i spent being so abstinent I spat back a champagne toast at a friends wedding, so felt, when slipping back into the happyamber river again this year, I might have slipped out the loop. But no. Its worse than that. I’m back on the scene with a thirst to slake, and im hit with a staggering conclusion: Beeston’s gone shit.
Growing up in St. Apleford, I had limited pubs. Thus, social drinking was easy, as a visit to a pub – in this case the Sherwin Arms– was a guarantee of a night out even if contactable friends demurred: someone there would be a willing partner in paralysis. A visit there might end up in a messy squabble that might sour the evening, but was also as likely to finish in a promise that you are mates forever, you’ll do the best for each other forever, have we got time for the late R4 to town?
My drinking transferred to Beeston when I moved there in 1995, and I was not disappointed. despite the profusion of pubs, a few were eventually narrowed down to must-go-on-an-evening, each with a markedly different atmosphere and clientele but with a unified warmth within them. the regulars might be locked into routine there, and be fond of their tight regular-cliques, but they never excluded or made unwelcome the passing drop-in, rather treating them as fascinating curiosities.
Things tighten up after time if not properly maintained. Now, the pubs that actually look like pubs: The Lion, the Queens, seem locked into Regulars-only groove that doesn’t seem to encourage anything new; perhaps terrified after the demise of the Middle Street pubs, they have sank into retention and introspection. A few pubs have diversified: the Greyhound now wears its RAWWWWK colours with pride, the Durham Ox has become half Chinese restaurant, half modern bar; which oughta work, but instead tenuously hangs together like a hastily stapled and swiftly rejected specimen from the Doctor Moreau’s (pub) Island. This is in no way slating the Chinese influence: a later article here will outline my love of Beeston’s Orientalism, but the two together hang together like a badly mixed drink. I overheard on Radio Nottingham the other day an article about the Durham Ox (my neighbour, bless her, is a tad deaf, so shares her local radio tastes) whereby the presenter was astounded that a ‘pub in Beeston had a menu in Chinese’, as if there wasn’t an English version also available, and those inscrutable orientals would FORCE you to use chopsticks and never have more than one child.
The Victoria is perhaps best regarded pub. Offering a menu that lets it bandy the word ‘Gastropub’ about without recourse to breaking anyones kneecaps, and a beer policy that has forced more beards to elevate than can be counted, it should be a great pub. I thought so a few years ago, until a few things began to irk. The policy to ban mobile phones seems fair enough – to watch a group of friends sitting round a table all individually texting and ignoring each other is a sad sight, as well as the general annoying nature of phones themselves- but with the Vic its a smugness, a Daily Mail-esque desperation to pretend that its today we’re living in. Curse thee who dares check your phone formessages from late-arriving friends, and be cast out of this middle -class paradise, where lager is frowned upon and the live music is invariably awful jazz or a crappy covers band that strive so hard to be MOR they are flanked in camber, cast out back to Wetherspoons, where your braincancered breathren can Nokia each other with insistant abandon. The smugness, once detected, creeps into your conscience. The Vic is, and it hurts me to say this after some happy evenings snug inside there, the Phil Collins of pubs. Middle class, middle aged, middle of the road,a little bit techily nasty, a pub for people who dont like pubs, as the evil Collins music is music for those who’d rather be cleaning the car or ordering the occupation of the Sudentanland. Its won awards, but so did Collins.
A few attempts have been made to introduce smart, Hockey-esque drinking to Beestonia. Belle and Jerome, a new, very tastefully decorated establishment opened recently as a sister to a simialr bar in West Bridgford. It seems to be doing well, politely ambling through weekends pretty much full, and I have enjoyed a glass of Sauvignon in there on an evening, bought to the table by pleasant staff. However, the cheapest glass of wine costs more than an hour on the minimum wage, and the table service encourages meaty tipping, so it may struggle to survive as the recession bites and we all start eating our pets. Previous attempts to take Beeston upmarket have had mixed results: the dreadfulness of the old Bakery/ The Bar which is now possibly the only place in Britain with WKD Blue on tap, and two-for-one deals on all fights. Terracotta is the pheonix from the flames that Republic died in, but has reopened with more emphasis on food than booze. The fairly new Broadgate is the more pragmatic reopening of The Barrel, the bar that set out to be classy winebar, compromised with being half-winebar, halfpub, then in a glorious couple of years collapsed into the most illicit, seediest bar this side of the Mos Eisley Cantina. Many a fun night (and very early morning) were once spent there, but thats all for another article sometime, when the mental scars heal. Can Beestonians be expected to pay top dollar for their drug de jour? Well, its not just the flashier places with such prices, I recently discovered a pint of bog-standard ale in The Commercial set me back £2.90. I was so shocked I had to have a stiff drink. At a cheaper pub.
Which neatly takes us to that ubiquitous hell-hole of all English conurbations, the local Wetherspoons. The Last Post, or as its sometimes more accurately referred to, The Past Lost, is a fairly typical ‘Spoons, a cheap, busy, gaping pub which has not a seat unstained, and a daytime clientele of that hellish glimpse into the future to any male, that terrifying species lonelymanwithpintstaringintothemiddledistancesadlyasaurus, usurped after six pm by tracksuits and england shirts, a mild air of menace, and a gaggle of underaged teens amazed they are being served and as such drinking Sourz by the pint. The Last Post quite wonderfully had a shooting on its premises one afternoon and instead of closing, merely annexed the crime scene with police tape and carried on business without missing a beat. A junkie once tried to wee on me in there. I’ve seen people slumped in there that were very feasibly dead. Its a Wetherspoons, and Ive drank in them from Tunbridge Wells (a converted Opera house, replete with chandeliers, stalls, balconies and a stage) to Inner City Glasgow, which appeared to have been converted, and only half-heartedly, from an abbatoir. A little local detail tries to lend it some place in the town history-a picture of DH Lawrence by the mens toilets, in Beeston’s case, and otherwise you could be anywhere, a grey, defeated hedgemony . And thats the future. With breweries shutting down to turn a quick property profit, drinkers preferring to get arseholed on supermarket deals, soon Beeston will be just be one, bench-filled warehouse with beer and burger deals keeping the locals alive with the bare minimum of nutritional effort, silent TVs with Sky Sports News endlessly rolling before disninterested, lost eyes….
I’ve obviously not mentioned LOADS of pubs, and can’t confess to having spent much time of late in many, so help, tell me stuff and give me hope. I might even buy you a pint.