The last two plus years, Marie and I have got ourselves happily accustomed to sitting at the bar in certain pubs and restaurants. Instead of at a table. We love it now; it’s more sociable, often more “buzzy” and you can also get smaller, less expensive and very delicious plates of food. As well as sample some alcohol too, of course. There is often plenty of enjoyable banter to be had with the bar staff, as well as customers around you, whether you’re just around the corner at “your local”, or if you’re travelling solo.
Along with that point, it’s worth writing-up a little more on some of our favourite pubs and bars from a few different countries. These are just a few that are very special to us:
The Old Joint Stock – we often call it the “Fullers Ale House” – in Birmingham, England. My home town. You forget how tastefully ornate and beautiful this former bank is. It’s been around for a few decades now, and the venue for many a family and friends meet-up. Yes, the supplying brewery is Fullers, from Chiswick in London. Always stellar ales. The food is very good too, pies being a speciality. And they finally started to open outside of the hours that catered mainly to the office suits around. Just a lovely, classy place to linger though you might want to avoid the busiest times.
There’s a theatre (playhouse) within the pub too, which we often forget about!
Joint Stock recommended food and drink: “Pie tasting board served with 3 award winning beers”.
Another classic, Victorian – and Birmingham’s oldest – pub is the Bartons Arms in Aston (as in Aston Villa). All gorgeous old tiles. The food is mostly Thai. It’s remote from other things to do, but still well worth the effort.
I’ll have mentioned this in other posts on here, but outside of Birmingham is the large area called the Black Country. It’s named after soot-making industries and mines of a past era. There are many towns within, with friendly locals who have almost impossible accents! Many great, old pubs too some of which are quite extraordinary. Mad O’Rourkes Pie Factory in Tipton is a pub designed on a bench and lathe worksmith’s forge theme, and it has wonderful savoury pies and hearty beers. I myself have a certificate from the 1990s for eating all of a four pounds weighted Desperate Dan meat pie! It should be on my resume (or cv, as we call it in England)!
Recommended snack or meal: Famous Desperate Dan Pie, and the minted Lamb pie to name but two.
I’ve already mentioned the curry mecca pub that is the Vine in West Bromwich. If you get yourself along to the Black Country Living History Museum you can also feel yourself blasted back to the Victorian era by having a drink or two at the Bottle and Glass Inn. The film on Laurel and Hardy’s life, with Steve Coogan, was filmed there as has parts of Peaky Blinders I believe.
Cafe Royal in Edinburgh has many historic-feel qualities. Like the Joint Stock, it has a central bar. It offers a range of meals and snacks, including oysters. Again, an absolutely gobsmacking place with so many beautiful interior details, below (from google images)…
If we’re looking further at historic pubs, Briton’s Protection in Manchester has an absolute wealth of whiskey/whisky choices. Hales in Harrogate, Yorkshire is kind of amazing too. Very olde worlde, and when we last went in they had high flames on the bar to light your cigar, though watch your sleeve when you reach for your drink! Some scenes in Chariots of Fire were filmed there, they say.
And in Ilkley, Yorkshire, on the high moors is the Cow and Calf where you’re practically up on the heavenly mists amongst the sheep.
In London, oh so many…The Lamb on Conduit Street an absolute favourite. Another Lamb, the Lamb and Flag in Covent Garden is also very good. We very much like the King William IV in Hampstead. And others places away from the main crowds can be found on or off Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia. We love to watch the overspill on the street, as many punters choose to enjoy their drinks and spiel standing outside on the pavement/sidewalk.
Now briefly to abroad. I’m still trying to remember a cracking cideria I went to with my brother in Valencia, though I only went once and cannot. I also started to think about the village bar that my mother and her husband (at the time) frequented often in La Llosa de Camacho on the Costa Blanca in the 1990s. Bar Emilio, it’s not only still going but looks pretty much the same I think. In Spain they’ll serve you frustratingly small lager beers but it’s still very nice to sit at a proper Spanish village bar. This one is likely still half ex-Pat, half Spanish locals.
In Halifax, Canada we started our sitting-at-the-bar tradition at Two Doors Down in 2019. Highly rated for their food, and an eclectic choice at that, we loved it.
We enjoy a good tiki bar now and again too. Otherworldly, fun indulgence. Three Dots and Dash in Chicago was wonderful when we visited. Partly hidden and very atmospheric.
In New York, we’ve thought to one day try Bemelman’s Bar at the Carlyle Hotel (especially after seeing the entertaining documentary film on the hotel).
Browsing online just now at a recent Time Out guide, it seems like there are still a huge array of cocktail bars to try in Manhattan and Brooklyn that we’ve never heard of. Despite that NYC is partly going through a weird funk right now.
And just to give a basic tip on bars in Long Island, New York (especially those local to us in Suffolk County) we love, love, love Old Field’s Tavern in Setauket where we always strike up conversations with strangers and the vibe is so relaxing and classy.
Our Old Fields Setauket Recommended drinks: any of the cocktails or a classic IPA. Recommended snack or meal: at the bar, any of their bbq options but especially the corned beef special when they have it on, the amazing fries (they’re really chips in our book, as they’re thicker cut) and the Hawaiian roll which – though just bread – is reminiscent of a lobster roll because of the drawn-butter!
Also Prohibition Kitchen, sat with my wife Marie on a bar stool for many happy happy hour’s on a Thursday or Friday in Port Jefferson. It has a blue lighted “BOOZY” bicycle behind the bar. Food options are great, and just one recommendation is the spinach flatbread with burrata. Beer range is plentiful and excellent (they usually have a Po’ Boy cider on too). Cocktails sound very good, but for Happy Hour you’re best off with wine or beer.
And Po’ Boy Brewery, the ideal place to unwind and which is also delightfully friendly with always a big range of beers and ciders. They’re bringing back live music again soon too! Below, at Po’ Boy with family…
In Port Jeff Station is the much-loved, always hoppin’ Grumpy Jack’s Irish pub (fantastic food) and the dive bar Tara Inn if you’re in the mood for something loud and brash but which also can be very companionable. During Happy Hour you pick a number between 1-4 on a paper ticket, and if you’re luck is in you only pay pennies for your drinks.
I forgot to mention Walkers in Tribeca, NYC, but there’s a lot enthusiastically written about that on my blog already.
Finally, back to cocktails, also a special mention to Arnaud’s in New Orleans which is in my NOLA post on here.
In all of these (and the 100,000s of other amazing pubs and bars around the world that need to be visited) it’s lovely to spend a long time at a table or the bar. But you can especially forget a lot of your worries and revel in the good feeling after you’re nicely tucked in on a bar stool and forget about that stressful day at work…