One of my favorite things about traveling is discovering local hidden gems. I love nothing more than stepping out of the hustle and bustle and ducking into a little place so and so told me about. The understated café that lies just beneath the tourist radar. The pub off the beaten track that not everybody knows about (yet).
Let not the unpromising exterior deceive you and don’t be detoured by the simple interior either. Take a seat, set your preconceived notions aside, and I assure you that you will not be disappointed. If the pub dog strolling around greeting patrons is any indication, the atmosphere is laid-back. There is a piano near the rear, which leads to the beer garden, which is lit by fairy lights and has a sign that reads:
“The garden closes at 10. Please head in BY 10. Compliance is advised. Negotiations will not be entertained. The leopard will be released at 10:02. In the meantime S.T.F.U. Thanks and happy dancing!”
It is this tongue-in-cheek attitude that makes this pub an instant fave. I’ve always preferred a down to earth place with a good sense of humor to white glove service. It’s true that the decor is fairly uninspiring and certainly won’t win any interior design contests: dim lighting, plain wooden floors, a few random photos hanging on the walls as well as some cheeky signs such as the one above. But you aren’t there for the light fixtures and wall paper. It’s your love of a good ale and cider that has drawn you to this establishment and that is where the Southampton excels. The sign painted on the brick wall outside advertises: ALE, CIDER, MEAT, which is exactly what you get: 10 rotating real ales and 8 real ciders on tap and hot meat in a bap. That’s it. Simple. No pretense. Just good local brews from small independant UK breweries.
We arrive in the afternoon. Bob Dylan is playing on vinyl behind the bar and a fire is lit in the center of the room, which certainly adds to the magic, especially after coming in from the bitter cold. We sit at the bar and taste test a few ciders before settling on a couple pints of medium dry and a sausage roll (my vegetarian diet flies out the window when I travel, much to my digestive system’s dismay). I take a photo of the sausage roll and notice the bartender looking at me with a bit of a grin on his face before asking facetiously, “Have you never seen a sausage roll before?”. I’m getting used to the English taking the piss. I’m not yet quick witted enough to retort but I am quite capable of laughing it off.
We move from the bar to a small table near the back, during which time the smell of hot roasted pork baps fills the room. The bar tender had informed us that the baps would arrive at 3:30. I half expected the red carpet to be rolled out, such was his enthusiasm. What is a pork bap you might be wondering? It’s basically a bread roll filled with meat. A good old traditional English bite. I know my stomach will rebel against this pork assault later but I am a sucker for experiences and one is hard pressed to resist the smell of a hot bap, so naturally, we partake. It feels like the right thing to do.
Slowly, people trickle in after a hard day’s work (the Brits really do enjoy the pub life) and by the time we leave, the place is packed with folks from all walks of life.
There is nothing particularly extraordinary about this place but that’s what I love about it. I’ve never felt really comfortable in fancy establishments. I am a salt of the earth kind of gal so it stands to reason that the Southampton Ale & Cider House felt like home to me. And at £3 a pint, you simply can’t go wrong.
I think Time Out London said it best: “Drinking here is a bit like dropping in on an old friend who lives in a slightly shabby but utterly comfortable country cottage.”
Fancy a pint?
What is your favorite little gem (either in your own city or discovered during one of your travels)?
Jeanine Caron is a regular contributor to Gypsy Girl’s Guide.