The Sun in Splendour Triq Ross, St Julians, promotes itself on the back of it’s quirky beer garden out the back. It’s also a very nice place to sit outside on the street and watch the world go by. Having said all that, inside it’s a pub, and not a bar, with ex-pat Brits and Irish chatting to Maltese, other nationalities seemed to stick to the outside seating. Around the two rooms, there’s banquette seats, low wooden tables and loads of football ephemera, a feature of many Maltese bars, and TV’s showing football. One feature of the more pubbier bars in the islands is the presence of live football. The Maltese are mad for it and everyone supports a Serie A team, a Premier League team and their own local team, of which there are many. An interesting feature is the fact they can tap into live football feeds from across Europe, and the middle east, at low or no cost with an appropriate decoder, no exorbitant Sky subscriptions here!
In terms of beer, there’s the full Farson’s complement; they really have everything tied up on the island, as well as a reasonable selection of Belgian bottles and the Gozitan Lord Chambray bottles. I liked the ‘No U17’s’ in the bar approach, although like other bits of regulation, this probably wasn’t going to get observed. Prices were €2.50 for a pint bottle of Hopleaf and €3 for a pint of Cisk.
If you don’t much care for Lager then go for Hopleaf a 3.8% pale ale that comes in pint, half pint bottles, and cans. I’m going to cover Farson’s separately, but again, a throw back to the times of British occupation. It’s not bottle conditioned or anything, but it’s a nice drink and sort of reminds me, and my old man too, of the old Bass Prize Medal. The bottles come straight from the fridge and are ice cold. Although it was unseasonably hot in October at around 28 – 30 C, it gets even hotter in the summer and you wouldn’t really appreciate a warm beer in the heat. To keep it cool most people opt for the pint bottle and half pint glass routine.
While your round at St Julians, there are a couple more examples of pubs on Spinola Bay. There are also a few in nearby Paceville, pronounced Par-chee-ville, but give them a miss unless you want cheap shots and a fight with drunken young tourists.
There’s even an Irish pub, which wouldn’t be out of place in any UK town centre, so I’m not going to describe it, apart from to say it was busy on a Saturday tea time and didn’t float my boat, nor exactly fit into the British Pub in Malta theme I was interested in.
Nearby is Saddles, which is definitely a British style pub, again with Maltese owners and the usual victuals. Again the clientele base leant more to ex-pats and Maltese. The guy in the yellow t-shirt was Maltese born, but raised in UK and couldn’t speak Malti, essentially resigning him as barranin (outsider).
The City of London bar, despite it’s name, is very much a pub and one with a heritage going back to 1914. Again evidence of a long term, sustaining British influence, driven by the presence of thousands of servicemen on the island. We didn’t have a drink in here. I’ve drank in there before, a good few years ago, and it doesn’t seem to have been decorated since … well, since 1914 actually.
It does however have character and Maltese trade. The main reason we didn’t have a drink was because the young lad behind the bar couldn’t find any bottles of Hopleaf (3.8%). He called the owner, who produced two bottles of Double Red strong ale, at 6.8% ABV, and tried telling me it was the new Hopleaf, saying it was now out of production. I didn’t believe him and left it at that. A visit to the brewery a few days later proved me to be correct.
The Salisbury Arms , 81 Triq Il-Kbira, Sliema, actually bills itself on the web site as an ‘English style and enthused pub’. The description is spot on, and there is absolutely no outside seating here. A smallish room with a bar and seating all round the outsides, with a smaller overflow room off it. A bit bigger than a micro pub, yet still intimate. Yeah, I know, it’s the same beers on the bar, but that’s Malta for you. If you visit when there’s a decent football match on you probably won’t get a seat, the whole main room has reserved signs everywhere, on the tables, even on the stools at the bar.
We watched the Chelsea V Man U game in there, but were resigned to table service in the overflow room. If there’s no ‘big game’, on match days expect to see several games on offer around the room, depending on where you sit/face. As well as the atmosphere there is good cheap food and the toilets are exceptionally well maintained. Two pint bottles of Hopleaf are €5.40.
I don’t claim to have been in all the British style pubs in Malta, nor is this a list, it’s just a few I revisited recently.
Just to emphasise the Britishness of the island, or at least the influence, there’s also what translate to our Working Mens Clubs. These come in different guises like the Società Nazionale and Partit Laburista; in very simple terms, the UK equivalent of the Con. club and the Labour club. There is also, an unusual one to us, the Kazin tal Banda or Band Club, every town or village has a band which are held in great esteem. The various clubs vary in size and scope, but will all have a bar and provide some sort of food. The larger ones will have snooker and pool tables, and may be extremely ostentatious. The Societa Nazionale club, in Valetta, is built in the style of a grand hotel, you walk into the entrance lobby and through double doors under a fantastic art nouveau fan light, into a nineteenth century French salon and the clacking of snooker balls.
Another exceptional example is the Ghaqda tal Mużika San Gejtanu, a 1906 break away from the the original San Guzepp society that proclaims itself as something much grander. I doubt if (m)any tourists get out to see the ‘people of the knife’ in the village of Hamrun. They should, it’s real Malta and this band club is a baroque influenced feast with ornately decorated ceilings and marble corridors. If it wasn’t for the well appointed bar room and the snooker room, you might think you were in a sacred place. The old photos of past Festa, concert parties, and snooker players, around the walls of the snooker hall are particularly interesting.