Reading is currently enjoying a cask ale renaissance. This is evident in the central core where CAMRA stalwarts the Alehouse and the Allied Arms have been joined by the Greyfriar and the Three Guineas (blue markers). Then we have the longstanding trio of Wetherspoon pubs (yellow markers). However the hottest area (red markers) is just outside the concrete moat known as Reading’s IDR (A329). In this first of two posts we explore the area to the east: take the orange 13, 14 or purple 17 bus to Cemetery Junction, walk down Cumberland Rd to Kennet Side and the Jolly Anglers…
Long before the pub closure crisis made headline news the Jolly Anglers became the poster child for the national ‘Fair Deal for your Local’ campaign. Back in 2009, with no advance warning, the pub was closed by Enterprise Inns. The local community responded with ‘Jollydarity’ a campaign to reopen the pub. Their efforts succeeded: Enterprise sold the pub to local investors and the Jolly Anglers reopened as a freehouse in 2011.
Today the Jolly Anglers is a quiet canalside oasis particularly noted as a cider house but it keeps constantly rotating cask ales on its three handpumps. During our visit the choices were from XT, Plain Ales and Wychwood – all very good.
The pub is delightfully old school: plain wood floors; landlord John’s black Lab laying inside the doorway; basic tables, chairs and bar stools; a kitchen serving simple pub grub daily until 10 pm (8 on Sundays).
Most of the time this will be a place to hangout and chat with landlord and other like-minded folks. Sky Sports, gaming machines, etc. should be refreshingly absent. Monday is open mic night and from time to time John puts on beer and cider festivals.
This was a quick visit but we stayed long enough to munch on some freshly prepared bar snacks and enjoy some XT #8 and Plain Ales Arty Farty – both were in excellent condition. This is a great place to start a pub crawl of Reading’s Real Ale Pubs: Outside the IDR.
Fisherman’s Cottage – Kennet Side (currently closed)
Here’s another pub that recently came back from the dead. A longtime Fuller’s house, last July the brewery closed the doors and put it up for sale. To the rescue came the Wesnes family: three siblings and their dad. Together they acquired the pub and have since performed a fantastic renovation inside and out. The pub reopened as a freehouse in December just in time for Christmas. The nautical theme is really eye-catching, the kitchen is now back up and running, and the menu offers simple pub favorites daily until 7 pm (4 on Sundays).
During our visit we snacked on one of the starters and enjoyed a half of ale apiece. The three constantly rotating handpumps offered excellent choices from Two Cocks, West Berkshire and Loddon: 100% LocAle – very nice.
This Wadworth house recently emerged from a difficult past year or so. For almost 40 years Reading’s longest serving landlords made the Eldon Arms an institution among the town’s pubs until their retirement in October 2013. The young couple who took over tried hard to fill their shoes but it appears they may have been in over their heads: in July they upped and left.
Credit where credit is due: Wadworth closed the pub while they took their time finding new landlords and they found them: the Mackenzie family – recently arrived from South Africa. With no previous pub management experience the Mackenzies shrewdly attended Wadworth’s licensee training facilities in Devizes while the pub was renovated inside and out.
Our visit was yet another enjoyable time in Wadworthshire – as regional breweries go we really like this one a lot. Our numerous experiences at the Bull and the Fox & Hounds in Theale, as well as our visits to Devizes, have proved time and again that Wadworth produces consistently excellent beers. We also like their management style; how they manage their pubs and how they support their landlords. Wadworth spent some serious cash reviving the Eldon Arms when any other brewery or pubco would probably look for an easy out.
The very tasteful renovation was completed and the pub, previously a two-room setup, reopened in December 2014 with a new open plan that makes maximum use of the space in what is after all a small back street local. The newly extended bar now has 8 hand pumps typically offering a cider, a guest ale and half a dozen Wadworth ales. The recently introduced taster paddle is available: three thirds for the price of a pint of 6X. Keg fonts pour the usual fizzy yellow stuff but there’s also Wadworth’s awesome Corvus Stout and now also a new German Pilsner – Tucher.
On either side of the bar are comfy sitting areas along with a mix of standard and high top pub tables and chairs. Food is available 12-2:30 and 5-8 pm daily except Tuesdays. The dinner menu and daily chef specials, which often feature South African fare, is probably unique among Reading’s pubs. So far all indications are that the Mackenzies are doing a good job and we can look forward to the Eldon Arms regaining its former glory among Reading’s very best back street locals.
Our next port of call was the Retreat, our past favorite back street local, and the one we have visited on a number of previous occasions. Read about one such previous visit here.
It’s no secret that the Retreat has been struggling since its longtime landlords left in 2012. On this visit we met Brian, a seasoned landlord from London. He is the Retreat’s fourth landlord in the two years since we arrived but on this occasion there is real reason for optimism.
As with our previous visits the cask selection was excellent: on the 7 hand pumps were 6 real ales plus 1 cider. Live music events are once again being placed on the calendar, the pub’s interior has received a much needed refresh and now looks cleaner, brighter and less cluttered than before. New art on the walls features historic photographs of the surrounding neighborhoods which add a really nice touch.
Here, in a pub in Reading’s oldest conservation area, it only seems appropriate to be reminded of what was lost in and around the town’s historic core when massive redevelopment projects like the IDR were built in the late 60s.
In the mid-20th century the centre of Reading was redeveloped by demolishing parts of the historic core of the town to provide offices and shopping precincts. The construction of the Inner Distribution Road (the A329), which started in 1969, improved traffic circulation but literally cut the town in half. More recently, the Oracle Shopping Centre has reinvigorated the town centre but meant the loss of a number of historic buildings including Simonds’ brewery on the banks of the River Kennet.
(excerpt from Eldon Square Conservation Area Appraisal commissioned by Reading Borough Council in 2007)
The Lyndhurst – Queen’s Road (currently closed)
Literally a hop, skip and a jump around the corner from the Retreat here is yet another pub making a strong comeback following a period of instability.
When we arrived in Reading early in 2013 the Lyndhurst was being operated by Spirit House, the local pub company that has achieved success with other edge of town pubs the Moderation, the Warwick and the Queen’s Head. However it appears the Lyndhurst didn’t fit the portfolio because it was sold to Enterprise and became a revolving door for landlords for the better part of a year. However new management took over in September 2014 and the pub has been riding an upswing ever since.
Food has become a bigger part of the pub’s offer – having pinched a chef from the London Street Brasserie – and the expanded real ale and craft keg beer selection now occupies more space on the bar, all good in the Fueled by Beer scheme of things.
This Dickens-themed hotel bar (indicated on map with a question mark) is not usually associated with real ale pub crawls but it is included here for two reasons. First the bar usually has 3 or 4 decent ales on, often from a LocAle brewery, and the novel theme is worth checking out. Second the Hotel is currently undergoing a major refurbishment and recently advertised for a brewer ‘for new micro brewery opening in Reading.’
Update July 2015: removing endorsement until the quality of Dickens Brewery beer improves (read more)
Read the next installment: Reading’s Ale Pubs: Outside the IDR Part 2