You enter the pub through a narrow ginnel, the sort of thing that, if Nottingham were on the American tourist agenda, would have them whooping and wowing with delight. This nicely dingy olde worlde feel continues throughout the pub with it’s wood panelled walls, bare floors and original brick work.
As you walk along the passageway there is a bar to the left, the Long room or Tudor bar and a bar to the right The Elizabethan bar, both of which have the cosy feel of somewhere a little more genteel, a little more refined than normal. I wouldn’t have been surprised to find some Cromwellian figure sat smoking a pipe in either. It is after all the oldest inn in Nottingham and was first built in 1420 as a monk’s refectory before becoming secular in 1538. The The Bell Inn website contains a detailed history, for those interested, but there does seem to be some uncertainty of whether the actual date of origin is 1420 or 1437, as the picture above shows?
Keeping straight ahead takes you into the larger Snack bar, which was once the stables. It’s much lighter and airy with it’s high ceilings and roof lights. Looking around, there’s no prizes for identifying it was converted in 1928. There’s even a horizontal sort of brass port hole covering the well shaft, that sticks out of the bar making a convenient note taking table.
You can book to go on guided tours of the cellars. Their ‘cut out of the sandstone rock’ on which the city stands being a feature of this and several other city centre boozers. We didn’t wander down to The Olde Trippe … as I had my card marked by a local who promised it would be unbearably busy, on what was billed as the ‘even hotter than yesterday’, hottest day of the year. I was more than happy with The Bell Inn though.
Looking round The Snack Bar you could be forgiven for thinking you’d walked into to a meeting of the local Darby and Joan. Something not reflected in the rest of the pub and the outside, in the pedestrian precinct, seating area.
I remarked to the friendly manageress that it would be nice to have the air conditioning on, but I quite understood that it would elicit complaints. She apologised, saying it was on full power, but that didn’t stop an older couple swapping seats because of the draught. You could tell the lassie was the manager as she was in black as opposed to the natty green plaid shirts all the other staff wore. And she picked up on my accent, nailing it first time.
Obviously the older crowd were regulars, all sat in exactly the same, or as near as possible, seat as they do every Sunday. The big draw being the advertised Jazz band. I like Jazz, usually a more modern variety to the neat Trad ensemble plugging away. They were quite upbeat, which leads me to form the conclusion that it is the presence of a banjo that sorts the older Jazz listener from the more progressive.
In beer terms, it seems having a banjo is like drinking a pint of one of the middle to large sized, long established, regional brewers version of bitter. I’m none too sure about the Doctor Who scarf neither, because I was sweltering and the best place by far to sit drinking were the tables outside in the street. I can see why the Canalhouse was heaving now.
The beer range itself was underwhelming, owing to the presence of far too many Greene King beers. I bet their house ale was GK too; like them if you must, I don’t and won’t even touch them. In fact I’m so prejudiced I’m as bad as the cask ale men who refuse to acknowledge that good keg beer even exists, an inverse GK Dinosaur, if you will.
Things were salvaged by the presence of Oakham Citra, which along with a half of Brewdog Clockwork Tangerine came to £5.75. How can they charge so much for keg beers? I would have asked for a CAMRA discount but it’s not in my DNA. And anyway, it was only when I went underground for a wazz that I discovered a sign proclaiming 25p off per pint for CAMRA members. No wonder they are not in the GBG when they are putting key information on the walls of the crapper. The toilets (both genders) were of the highest quality.
The beer was okay too. I reckoned my Citra was less than 3.5 but more than 3 on NBSS, if only because I’ve had fresher i.e. there was nothing wrong with it, I just think the cask had been hanging around a bit before it went on, the bright flavours weren’t quite there.
Overall, an impressive GK outlet that could be picked up and plonked in the middle of York and no one would realise (that’s a compliment by the way). Shame about all the own brand ales.