Yesterday, aided by a group of dedicated researchers, I undertook the fifth instalment in my mission to visit all of Gloucester’s pubs. This time it was the turn of the pubs in the centre of the city. This is a very historic collection of pubs all just a stone’s throw from Gloucester Cross.
My original ‘official’ tour around these pubs took place on 28 March 2009, but being in the centre of town most of them are pubs that I frequent quite regularly anyway, so I wasn’t really expecting much in the way of surprises on this trip.
We met up in the New Inn, undoubtedly the most historic and impressive of the city’s pubs. Built by St Peter’s Abbey (now the Cathedral) between 1430 and 1450 it’s the last of the Great Inns of the Abbey still open. Walking into the courtyard you can see why it has been described as the finest example of a medieval galleried inn to be found in Britain today.
It is a shame, therefore, that it is a bit on the shabby side. It really needs someone with deep pockets to properly restore it and bring it up to the standard that you would hope for in such a fine building: it could be a real jewel in Gloucester’s crown and a great draw for tourists.
Nonetheless, it does sell real ale – there were three on when we visited and they got a good review. Sadly, like all but one of this evening’s pubs, there was no real cider on offer. Recently the New Inn has had bands playing in the bar on a Friday night, but there seems to have been something of a falling out between the pub and the music promoter and all events have been cancelled, which is a shame. It was fairly quiet whilst we were there, but the night was still young.
Next we headed for the Old Bell in Southgate Street, just off the cross. Slightly newer than the New Inn, dating from 1665, and definitely smaller, it is nonetheless impressive. Outside it has a wonderful Jacobean timber facade and inside a magnificent carved fireplace. It is rumoured that the building was constructed using timbers from the Mayflower, the ship that took the Pilgrim Father on their voyage to America.
Don’t be put off by the somewhat unappealing staircase that takes you to the first floor pub, it is well worth a visit. It has a single beer on (which ran out whilst we were there) and an impressive range of spirits from which the bar staff will make you any cocktail you care to name: try them!
We decided to amend my planned route now to skip the Cross Keys so that we could return later as they had a band on (the one that should have been playing in the New Inn!), so we headed instead for the New County Hotel.
When I did this route back in 2009 the New County was closed: it was going through the controversial process of being transformed into a ‘lifestyle hotel’ for gay parties and swinging couples called Mystiques. This venture was short lived and now the New County is once again a normal hotel.
In my mind that is the problem: it is too ‘normal’. The Grade II listed building, which dates from 1840, has been refurbished in a garish modern style which could be any hotel anywhere. Any feeling of history or character has been completely ripped from it. Having said that, the bar staff were very friendly and a Gloucester Brewery beer was available.
The next pub, just next door, is the complete opposite. The Robert Raikes was refurbished by Samuel Smiths and reopened in 2008. At a reported cost of £4.5 million, the building, dating from 1560 and once owned by Robert Raikes, the owner of the Gloucester Journal and originator of Sunday Schools, has been beautifully restored.
Sadly, Samuel Smiths will not transport their real ale as far south as Gloucester, so only keg or bottled beers are available, nonetheless it is well worth a visit.
We now retraced our steps back to the Cross Keys, arriving, typically, just as the band took a break. The Cross keys, which was originally three cottages dating from the mid-sixteenth century, was recently split into two parts, with the larger part turned into an antiques shop. This left just a very small snug bar. Recently, however, this room has been restored to the pub for use by bands and, when we visited, it was very busy.
Our last stop for the evening was Cafe Rene. To be honest, Cafe Rene has been the last stop on pretty much every one of these trips, but this time it was officially on the list. The Cafe Rene is always loud, busy and fun on a Friday night, with a band playing right in front of the bar. On this occasion it was some good foot-stomping ska.
The Cafe Rene sells a frequently changing range of ales and, at last, real cider is also available. Having been the first bar in Gloucester to be granted a 24-hour licence in 2005 it uses this to good effect, staying open until the last man drops. I wasn’t even close to the last man: I was defeated shortly after 1:00 and left my fellow researchers to it.
Overall this was a good and very historic collection of pubs, but some have been handled more sympathetically to their history and heritage than others. Most have at least some real ale, but overall the range and quality is not as great as some of the city’s other pubs. Being right in the heart of the city, it would be nice to see these pubs leading the way. It would also be nice if at least some of them could have some decent real cider too!
Previous ‘Research’ trips