Pint of best bitter, please — or stout, ale, or whatever you’ve got

Sharp's Doom Bar at the Golden Lion.

When we were on the way into town from Heathrow the other day, my granddaughter mentioned that she had forgotten to pack her best glitter. I couldn’t resist that opening, and immediately said, “We’ll just go into a pub and order a pint of best glitter!” She and my wife both looked at me blankly. Sigh. It went over as well as one of Jack Aubrey’s puns. But I was just as proud of it as he ever was…

So I’ve ordered a pint of bitter, and occasionally stout or lager, at various places in London, Greenwich and Oxford now. Also had some Peroni and Beck in restaurants without taps, but that doesn’t count.

I’ve had Spitfire (twice) and Samuel Smith Sovereign Bitter and some Samuel Smith stout as well (Samuel Smith was all they served at the Swiss Cottage pub near us in London). My very first pub was The Golden Lion in central London, where I had Sharp’s Doom Bar. (I had to walk ’round and see the tap myself, because the barmaid had a heavy foreign accent. It was THE best bitter I’ve had so far.) Sort of a posh clientele — I suspect some of those chaps of working at Christie’s, right across the road.

The most recent place we visited was The Turf in Oxford. It’s only been a pub since the 13th century, and I like to give these new places a try. Didn’t actually have a pint there (I was still drinking a coffee from down the road) — but J had a mulled wine.

I will continue to investigate this aspect of this lovely country, and report back to you, my readers. Someone has to do it.

I intend to carry on in spite of the fact that the new tax rates are going into effect within hours. More about that later.

14 thoughts on “Pint of best bitter, please — or stout, ale, or whatever you’ve got

  1. bud

    I thought a genuine English pub didn’t have stools at the bar but only a brass foot rest. Aside from that these places look fabulous.

  2. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Looking a tad ruddy, there. Maybe best to lighten up on the alcohol units.

    @ bud– My recollection of English pubs was that they were akin to Fran Lebowitz’s description of the outdoors as being the space between the front door of her building and a taxi “where there were never enough comfy chairs and the lighting was not flattering to a woman of a certain age.” (Although I was 21, the last time I went in a pub–not my cup of tea, they are) Certainly, the “chairs” were usually narrow 90 degree ledges like the worst old-fashioned church pew. Oy!

  3. Brad

    Yes, jfx, on your recommendation, I went down to the Head of the River here in Oxford, and had a Fullers ESB, and it was delicious. Although I did joke, after going to the loo and coming back, that my beer had gotten warm while I was gone.

    THEN, I asked the barman what else he would recommend to someone with only a few days in the UK, and he gave me a pint bottle (with a glass) of Bengal Lancer, and it was REALLY great. It’s an IPA. Specially made to refresh the troops in India, you know. Bottle-conditioned. It was delicious. Of course, it was cold, and pale, so the barman probably thought “Oh, and American will like THIS.” But it was hoppier than American beer. It was awesome…

    And Burl — I haven’t seen one of those ads, but I’d like to. You know, the Spitfire I had in Greenwich was great, but the one I had at the Red Lion in Oxford tasted funny. Almost fruity or something…

    Did you used to live in England? Of my Hawaii friends, I know that Priscilla Gummerson used to. She lived down the street from Charlie Watts of the Stones…

  4. Brad

    And Kathryn, I’m not keeping a Brigid Jones count of “units.” And I’m beginning to think these pubs are my natural environment.

    Today, I learned that The Turf was the scene of two historic events. One was that a former Australian PM broke a time record for drinking a yard and a half of beer. An Australian in our tour group — there was the Aussie, two Asians and J and me — who piped up at that point to say, “And he STILL holds it.” Nothing like national pride. Then, we learned that that was the very site where Bill Clinton had a toke, but of course, did not inhale. I hear there’s a plaque to that effect, which I will make sure to check out…

  5. Kathryn Fenner (D- SC)

    Good catch–but it’s “Bridget” Jones. Just be careful–folks over there drink like Whiskypalians.

  6. Mike F.

    That all sounds delicious. I still have fond memories of the pub in Hampstead we frequented during our stay.

  7. Emerson

    Ask for a local ale at the public house that is literally pumped up from the basement. That you just can’t often find in the US. No reason ever to drink bottled beer in the UK. Join CAMRA,, the Campaign for Real Ale. Here it’s your choice of Bud Lite, Coors Light and other tasteless brews.

  8. Steve Gordy

    One of the most fun things about a pub crawl in London is searching out those with creative names. One near our hotel during our last stay was the ‘Bag O’ Nails’. Another, located near the Tower, was ‘Hung, Drawn and Quartered.’

  9. Brad

    Had another Sharp’s Doom Bar at The Crown in Woodstock today. Very good.

    See, I’m keeping y’all posted, just as I promised.

    Burl, thanks for the number, but I won’t be in London any more — except VERY early Saturday morning, when we take a bus from Oxford straight to Heathrow.

    If I’d had it last week, I’d have given him a call — even though I’m not sure he would remember me… I tried to “friend” him on Facebook sometime back, when you mentioned him, but, ahem, he hasn’t confirmed me yet…

  10. Brad

    Oops, so sorry. I seem to have forgotten to keep this up…

    On our last night, at the Folly Bridge Inn (a Wadworth pub), I had a Henry’s IPA, while J had a Scrumpy Jack (when they didn’t have her personal favorite, mulled wine — the Turf is the best place we found for that, by the way — she went with cider.

    Then we fell into conversation with an American standing behind us ordering a whiskey, and he told us that the Oxford Folk Club was meeting upstairs, and he would be playing (you know how these Yanks are forever promoting themselves).

    That was AWESOME — these incredibly talented performers, in the upper room of a pub with perfect acoustics, singing and playing English, Irish and American folk tunes for their friends and others who happened by. This included some pretty American co-eds sitting on the front row, which some of the performers particularly enjoyed playing to.

    During a break, I popped down the stairs for another pint. I asked the barmaid for a recommendation, knowing this would likely be my last pint. I asked about the 6X, and another patron said, “That’s a proper ale, that,” so I went with it. Good call. Pat Ludford, an Irish musician living in Cornwall and one of the night’s entertainers, said he might like to try one of those, too. (I later decided that maybe he was joking, that he was already perfectly acquainted with it.) We enjoyed chatting with Pat, and Mick Henry and some of the others, during the intervals. A very open and friendly lot.

    And J won one of the door prizes…

    It’s not the monuments and museums you visit that make travel worthwhile. It’s the unexpected things you run across, like that evening at the Folly Bridge…

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