It’s time to depart the Midlands after four long years of pints and laughs interspersed with brief spells on floor 5. Warwick University has given me so much more than a degree: it gave me the opportunity to explore Leamington in all its pub-filled glory.
The biggest news this year wasn’t Trump, or the British election, or the Wenger in/out saga. One quiet evening in April, the famous Jug and Jester pub closed its doors for the last time. Tears streamed down many a cheek as one by one, tired, thirsty students got off the U1 and realised that the best Spoons in Leamington was gone forever (sorry, but Satchwell’s doesn’t even come close).
Of course, Leam is not short of watering holes. We all know the White Horse, the Clarendon, the Pugs (both Royal and Fat). But who wants to pay £4 a pint? And really, who cares for ambience? Leam’s Worst Bar Crawl is a journey, both physical and philosophical, from South to North, of all the pubs that you definitely haven’t visited, and probably shouldn’t.
The Fusilier, Sydenham Drive
This pub, a little off the beaten track, is down by the golf course, on the way to Asda. Situated on the canal, it’s got a big garden with views for days (if you like murky bodies of water). It’s huge inside, with a couple of pool tables; unfortunately, its sheer size only emphasises its emptiness. Kev and I wore matching grey polo shirts, figuring we’d try and blend in to our surroundings, but found we attracted a lot of stares. We thought it was either the shirts, or our raw, outstanding beauty, but then we realised we’d interrupted a wake. With 5 Birra Morettis for a tenner, however, the vibes are likely to be considerably better when they’re not hosting a funeral.
The Jet, Regency Place, 65 Brunswick Street
Next is the Jet, in the deepest, darkest south. I popped out to get cash and left Kev alone with just the female barmaid for company in a sea of rowdy old men (many of whom had copied our grey polo shirts). The girl behind the bar was very friendly – indeed, all of these pubs had lovely staff – but apparently she sang a bit loudly and a bit too much. We took our pints outside to the garden, which can only fairly be described as a prison yard; the few plants around were literally trying to die, to escape their miserable existence. The drinks were cheap and cold, but the cash only situation combined with curiously low ceilings and a pervasive atmosphere of testosterone resulted in a speedy exit.
£3 a pint, 4/10.
The Railway Inn, 12 Clemens Street
You may not know the Railway: nestled next to Spicy Bites, just past the bridge, its darkened, shadowy exterior is normally marked by a drinker smoking in the doorway, like an unofficial bouncer. As reluctant as we were to venture in, we knew it was our duty.
The pub’s reputation precedes it. Deceptively terrifying, it’s known as one of those places that you simply don’t go, even if the Jug has shut down and there’s nowhere else left. The place is divided into two rooms – the first, as you go in, is an old-fashioned cubby-hole sort of area, while the main bar at the back has a pool table, seating, and a back door to a little terrace. They have Old Rosie’s cider on tap, for the brave, but we stuck to Strongbow and Carling (getting pissed on piss made sense here).
£3.25 a pint, 5.5/10.
The Hope Tavern, 2 Court Street
This pub’s name is probably its best, and most misleading, feature. For some inexplicable reason, half of the pub was in darkness and the whole place smelt distinctly sterile. What was lit resembled a bingo night at an old people’s home – definitely jolly, but you got the feeling that no one was coming out alive.
Having said that, the woman behind the bar was a delight (as were the £3 pints being served). The beer garden translated roughly as a back alley under a bridge, lined with barbed wire. We only stayed for one.
£3 a pint, 2/10.
The Pig and Fiddle, 45 High Street
Located opposite the Hope Tavern and within a five-minute stumble to fake Spoons and Kelsey’s, this place has potential to be a south Leam fixture. Friendly, young staff and a newly refurbished bar were only bettered by the beer garden out the back. It has an artful display of fairy lights, tables with good rain coverage and some pretty decent fake grass. The Pig has a definite early to mid-thirties vibe to it, but that’s no bad thing. Despite literally bumping into a couple of boys and his mate Charlie in the girls’ toilet, it wasn’t bad for a quiet Tuesday night bev.
The Woodland Tavern, 3 Regent Street
Moving west up Regent Street, the Woodland Tavern is somewhat off the beaten track. A classic old man’s pub, it’s retained the decor from forever ago. Outside, there are some arty murals of workers which spice up the sheltered beer garden. The pub must be some sort of old stable or workshop, and it does have a pleasantly quiet, calm vibe to it. Great for a few winter pints.
Under £4 a pint, 6/10.
The Hope and Anchor, 41 Hill Street
Sizzlers, 32A Bath St
Leamington served us well over the past few years, and yet I feel like I only scratched the surface. Rumour has it that there are over 50 watering holes in our little town, and so I hope that people can be encouraged to venture a little further than the Old Library, or Benjamin Satchwell’s. If these pubs aren’t your cup of tea, then here are a few more which are worth a visit:
The Clarendon, 44-46 Clarendon Ave – arguably the north’s best bar, with cocktails and games including pool tables. I picked a bogey off the bar when I went, but I’m sure it was just a one-off. It’s fun on a good night and has an older crowd, but with constant rebranding it does seem to be closed half the time. 6/10.
The Copper Pot, 41-43 Warwick Street – with enough screens to watch multiple football matches at once and a comprehensive (and genuinely cheap) food and drink menu, this pub is a winner for sporty/family/fun vibes. A great Spoons alternative. 7/10.
House/Lounge, 130 Parade or 75 Bedford Street – the two main rooms downstairs include a traditional front-of-house bar and a quirky, louder area at the back. Upstairs is the loft garden, which has blankets and a fire in the winter. It’s pricey, but definitely worth it for the huge draught selection and fun weekend nights. Visit at the beginning of term, when your loan feels like an endless pool of disposable cash. (My friend persuaded one of the bar staff to give us £5 Aperol Spritzes all night for no good reason, so it’s worth a shot.) 8/10.
The Drawing Board, 18 Newbold Street – very expensive, but the gin selection is massive (over 20) and the menu looks pretty good too. Upstairs has board games and comfy chairs and it’s normally busy but not overwhelming. Don’t go for a pint, go for a gin. 7/10.
The New Inn, 195-197 Leam Terrace – easily my favourite pub in Leamington, and one which is often missed off the student map because it’s slightly off the grid. If you stay on the U1 and get off at the little Sainsbury’s a few stops after the church, you’re a couple of minutes away from this gem. It’s as traditional as pubs get, with a fire, pool table, screens and bar snacks, and it is almost guaranteed that there will always be a few dogs hanging around under the tables. There’s also a lovely, sizeable garden out the back, with both a sheltered, heated section and several tables dotted around. 8/10.
Newbold Comyn Arms, Newbold Terrace East – comfy seating and really pleasant staff. This pub is located at the bottom of the golf course, which has a good 3-ish km running track around it – it’s much easier when you’re running to the pub. Dogs are welcome here and they have a fireplace, so it’s perfect for when your family come up to uni in winter (they have parking too). 10/10 location, 7/10.
The Avenue, 15 Spencer Street – cheap as chips at £5.80 for two pints. They also do free pool Sunday to Wednesday (although the table is slightly tilted). It’s a bit grotty in a loveable away, with potential for a pre-circle pint when the U1 is taking forever. 6/10.
The elephant in the room is, of course, the Old Library. As a die-hard Jug lover, I have found the change difficult to bear, especially as the new pub is simply not as good in price, service or atmosphere. However, when I finished my exams not a day went by when I didn’t go, which lead to my being fairly labelled a ‘fake hater’. Make up your own mind about that, but don’t be afraid to branch out – Leam has a lot to offer.