The Dark Half

Pubs. Their very name, in its fulsomeness, is a delightful one: a public house. Someone’s house you can spend the evening (or earlier) within, using their toilets, listening to their music, watching their telly and generally being welcoming cuddles of loveliness. With beer!

They are also the best place to stick a thermometer in and measure the health and spirit of a town, and back in 2012 we ran our first Beestonian Pub Survey (not pub CRAWL. Do not call it a pub CRAWL) and published the results soon after once our hands had stopped shaking and our memories had partly returned. We did the same in 2016, and were all ready to repeat in 2020 when lockdown locked us down, and pubs were uncrawlable.

So here we are, mid-afternoon in the Marina Bar, for the much-delayed Beestonian Pub Crawl. It’s December – for some bizarre reason we’ve spilt the pubs over the year – and the sun is setting early, yet there are few finer places to watch a sunset than the Marina Bar. The Trent flows by, rippling tips of reflected gold, and it feels very much like we are on holiday: if Beeston has a seaside resort, it’s here. We discuss holidaying here: morning fry up at the Boathouse Cafe, sunbathing on the Weir, evening pints at the Marina Bar. Bliss. But it’s December, and the Sun is fast plummeting to be bathed in, so off we trot.

The Boat and Horses has always been an intriguing pub. Deceptively large (it has a separate function room and big garden) it feels a little like a sleeping giant. And talking of giants, a big man with a big beard has accompanied us here, and tells us he has designs on the pub. It’s our first meeting with Martin, and won’t be our last: as you’ll read elsewhere within, he’ll soon make good on this and tweak the pub into what, as I write this 8 months later, feels like a fulfilment of potential to give the Rylands the pub it’s long needed.

It’s proper dark as we leave despite only being the afternoon. It is full-on Saturday night at The Jolly Anglers, with a crooner in full croon and the bar packed, making it feel a lot later than it is. This in turn seems to act as an accelerant on the alcohol: we are barely three half pints in but a member of the expedition starts dancing. They shall not be named (they paid the blackmail demand in good time).

It’s a fair stroll out of the Rylands to our next stop, the cold now closing in. The Victoria Hotel (The Vic to its friends, of which it has many) is perhaps the most influential pub in Beeston, taking the mad gamble nearly thirty years ago to turn a decaying building (it used to be a zoo, y’know) into an independent, focus-on-quality pub that eschewed Sky Sports and pool tables for decent beer and quality scran. The sadly departed Neil Kelso proved to be a visionary and gave many other Beeston pubs the nerve to be, y’know, decent. It still thrives, and deservedly so.

 Saturday late afternoon slips into Saturday evening, and we are just warmed up nicely when we have to move on, and being December, we follow The Star. Not that we are necessarily wise men (or women) at this point, but we bring gifts of custom to the pub that went from a collapsing mess to a proudly brilliant pub about a decade ago, and now is a multiroom, generously gardened cornucopia of aley delight.

Pump clip to commemorate the life of ‘George the Station Cat’. Beer brewed by Karl of Full Mash Brewery in Stapleford.

The Crown is the ur-pub of Beeston, and possibly the most pub pub in publand. We’ve long saluted it in these pages, and as we have our glasses filled with brilliantly kept sparklingly fresh ale we raise said glass in salute. Alan and team, thank you. No, it’s not the beer talking.

The Last Post is cheap and sort-of cheerful, but the quarter final World Cup match between France and England is about to kick off so we need to hot foot it to a place where we can see the screens, and naturally that’s a barbers.

Yep, JG Barbers not only provide top-notch haircuts but with some judicious furniture shifting have a range of fine craft ales on offer. It may seem weird to have a beer in a hairdressers but, as I explain to others in our group, I once had a haircut in a pub (The Royal Children in Nottingham, I think). The details are sketchy, and all I truly remember was walking around for a couple of weeks afterwards with hair that looked very much like it had been cut in a pub, and by a man who knew nothing about haircuts. Thankfully, JG do know their beer as well as their skin fades.

We watch the second half of the football at The Malt Shovel, a pub that always feels quite warm and cosy even as Harry Kane fluffs a game-changing penalty. We decide that we are now drowning our sorrows. Crisps are taken.

Things get hazy from here. We try and get into The Beeston Social but it’s rammed, so we possibly go back to The Crown, but I’m happy to be contradicted if someone sees we did something else. I mean, my notes just say ‘ bhdsadasc cluck swddd’, so make of that what you will.  Could have been anywhere frankly, and as we walk home, our journalistic endeavour (half) done, we feel we have had a proper night out, and if the health of a town can be measured by its pubs, then Beeston is in fine fettle. The next morning we are anything but, yet proud of our town and our fearless journalism.


The Light Half

We start early on a Saturday afternoon, after a photoshoot featuring a lovely yellow retro umbrella by ace Beestonian lensman Christopher Frost. We end up closest to the Jesse Boot, so that’s the first port of call. Surprisingly busy in there already, we sup a quick half whilst sympathising with the bloke who had put up a sheet for people interested in playing for a new football team. Only one name on it, but that meant at least the goalkeeper position was covered.

We decide on the best route for covering all the other venues, concluding that working from the outside in is probably the best way to conserve valuable shoe leather and save valuable drinking time. So we head to the Totally Tapped, where we buy up all the delicious samosas made by barmaid Jo and enjoy another half. This friendly micropub has gone from strength to strength since relocating a few months ago, and has become a firm favourite for lots of Beeston drinkers.

Given the number of places we’ve got to get through, we have to limit ourselves to halves and spend no longer than half an hour in each place. Thankfully Graham manages to keep us all in check with regular time warnings so we don’t get too settled.

Something else we decide on is the definition of what counts as a pub, as there are a few bars and food-led places that wouldn’t really be described as pubs. Basically, anywhere you can go and just order a drink on a night counts.

Next up is Chequers, which we know is technically just in Chilwell, but we’re still counting it. It is a pub which has changed a fair bit over the years, now open and spacious to allow for large numbers of people to enjoy the regular gigs and televised sport. It’s nice to see the pool table still there too.

From there we nip over the road to The Berliner. A very popular cocktail bar which does some great pizzas.

From there we head back over the border to ‘true Beeston’, and into the Hop Pole. Like most Beeston pubs, they have a great range of local beers on offer. A traditional pub that has a dart board and is a great place for live music.

After another swift half we head back towards town via The Lounge Bar. It doesn’t get busy in there until much later, so the friendly barmaid serves us nice and quickly. Again, Graham keeps us on track so that we don’t dwell too long.

From there we head to Beeston institution The Crown. Never disappoints! It feels as if it has always been a brilliant traditional old pub, and it’s hard to recall that it used to be a bit crap as recently as the noughties.

After that we head to another really busy, yet more recent establishment – The Beeston Social. There’s something for everyone in here, particularly the games area. Cocktails are very popular, as is pretty much everything else on offer.

Next up is Bendigo Lounge, which someone once described as “like a middle class Wetherspoons”. To be fair the toilets are hidden miles away up the stairs! A very popular establishment, especially in the daytime, another place that offers a wide range of food and drinks and is family-friendly.

A short stroll away is Bistro 66, which has been known by many names over the years, yet has always had the same kind of atmosphere. Mainly a food-led venue now, they still have a good range of cocktails and other drinks, with lovely outdoor seating.

Beeston’s oldest micropub is The Pottle, which is a reliable place for a good range of great beers and decent conversation. Somewhere else that is nice to sit outside when it isn’t chucking it down.

The Cricketers is a pub with loads of potential, yet is often open and closed with frequent changes of ownership. Thankfully it is open on the day of our pub review, so some more halves are downed in the beer garden before we head off on our merry way.

Not many people know of the Cheers micro bar on Wollaton Road, which is a shame as it offers a really interesting mix of local beers and authentic Sri Lankan food. I defy anyone not to get peckish in here after walking in and smelling the delicious scran on offer. Matt however was a little disappointed that it was nothing like popular old US sitcom. Not everyone in there knew our names, and Ted Danson was nowhere to be seen. Anyway, this is Beeston, not Boston. We’re less Kirsty Alley, more Kirsty Twitchell.

Our final destination is The Commercial. Another great pub that has recently been restored to former glory after some time in the wilderness. We could finally relax in here, knowing that we’d completed our task. We congratulated each other on our timekeeping and discipline of sticking to halves or other quick drinks, and actually got trapped in here for a bit by an astonishing thunderstorm that deposits an astounding amount of rain.

We are lucky to have so many great places to go for a drink in Beeston, which is also good for the local economy. People travel from far and wide to come here for a night out, which would rival most large cities for choice and variety.

During both legs of the pub review, we met lots of nice, friendly, funny people (and their dogs). We got a warm reception in every place we visited. In some places we were accompanied by our children, who were made to feel welcome too. No one started on us or gave us funny looks.

Reviewing the criteria after the event, we realised that we could have included Essen as part of the review as well. Whilst they are primarily a deli that serves food too, they would welcome you calling in and serving you a drink from their wide selection.

We were hoping that The White Lion would have reopened in time, but we were a few days early. This required an individual review, which I’m pleased to say warranted a big thumbs up. Much smaller than it used to be (a large part of it is now ‘Blackshale’, a separate restaurant), it is still big enough though, with a large range of Lincoln Green beers on the bar. The brewery have done a fine job renovating this beautiful building, and it already looks to be another solid pub on the Beeston circuit.

It was a pleasure to take part in the review, and visit the places and those which have changed since we last carried one out. The main thing for all of us is to keep visiting them and giving them our business. Encourage your friends from outside the area to come and join you on a night out, give places positive online reviews etc. Use it or lose it and all that. Other parts of the country aren’t as lucky to have such choice and quality, so we mustn’t take this for granted.