Beer Blog

Waterend Barn, St Albans

 

Is this the best Wetherspoons ever? Out of all the ones I’ve visited it’s my favourite to date, and up there with the Hamilton Hall on Bishopsgate, EC2. Although how do you compare two original sixteenth and seventeenth century barns with a restored Victorian ballroom?

The story goes something like; the larger barn containing the bar area is the younger of the two dating from the seventeenth century and was moved from Waterend Estate in nearby Wheathampstead to it’s present location in the 1930’s. The smaller barn dates from the sixteenth century and was moved from Little Hormead to partner the larger barn in the 1960’s.

Whilst at their current location the barns were used as a restaurant run by local company Thrales and in their heyday there was a dance every Thursday night. Wetherspoons acquired the site 2004 and re-opened them in February 2005 after restoration. 

Anyone doubting the integrity or the merits of Tim Martin’s company really should come here and see what they’ve done. It’s absolutely wonderful, a bit like being in a museum. You know the kind, where you’re immersed into the past and become part of it.

 

Only thing is, I’ve never been in museum where there’s two well dressed senior citizens, complete with overnight bags, eating breakfast over a bottle of Prosecco. We thought it a certain tryst, I mean, you don’t talk to each other like that at their age, do you?

But what a place for a liaison. Massive chandeliers hanging the full length of a space with more beams than all the pubs in St Albans, nay Hertfordshire, put together. There’s a wonderful light in the main barn, subdued, cosy, you expect to see smoke swirling around the rafters when you look up. A small minstrels gallery offers spectacular vistas across the hall. You can sit up there too, I just bet the staff aren’t too keen to lug your food up the steep steps.

Fireplaces, massive ones, blazing away at both ends of the main hall. Stained glass and classy original art work. Oh and two different carpets. This place is unbelievable. You’d hardly believe you were in the much maligned chain purveyor of cheap eats and VFM booze. And I’ll tell you what, I love it. It’s fantastic.

 

The smaller and older barn to the left of the entrance is lighter and airier, more sedate, a little bit smarter, almost reminiscent of a smart hotel with it’s pale pastel carpet. The gentlefolk in here concentrating on tea, coffee and food. Presumably the 1030am drinkers thinking it too far to traipse to and fro the bar in the drinking hall.

The National Trust have nothing on this place, English Heritage neither. Tim doesn’t charge a tenner to get in and they don’t serve ale and food, and they’ve carved up most of the heritage sites between them so you have to be a member of each club. Long live Tim Martin, he’s a national treasure, preserving bits of our heritage that would have otherwise disappeared whilst serving a vital function to the community.

There’s a very comfortable Blenheim Room, celebrating the fact the missus of the original Duke of Marlborough originally came from Waterend House. Unfortunately it was roped off when we visited and you couldn’t go in. Well, you wouldn’t want some piss stained alky sitting on the nice chairs would you?

 

Mind you, one climbed over the cordon between entrance foyer and his favourite chair, to the amusement of the bloke decorating the room, and everyone else too –  You can’t sit there mate I’m painting in here.

I’m still not sure why some ‘spoons do a better breakfast than others? Surely they buy centrally? Anyway, this one was brilliant, well cooked, well presented and they got the tomatoes just right, and they were really nice tasty tomatoes – maybe they source stuff like this locally?

I didn’t have a beer. I only went for breakfast. If I had, I would have chosen Adnams Old Ale. Not often you see it, I’m quite partial to it and a half would have gone well with a cooked brekkie. As well as the unholy trinity they had six additional cask ales, including three Locales; I’m counting Bedfordshire as being as near as dammit. Hopefully they are getting through them quickly as opposed to sensibly reducing the range, like many Wetherspoons seem to be doing at the minute?

15 replies »

  1. You were 24 hours behind me in using Tim’s finest barn. .
    “Is this the best Wetherspoons ever?” Yes, and yet the Cross Keys it replaced was the same as the rest of them.
    My breakfast was though just an ordinary lukewarm Wetherspoons breakfast, but it’s just I well I had one as that was it till the next day.
    Imagine my annoyance when I noticed the Adnams Old Ale AFTER I had ordered a pint from the Westgate Brewery.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You said it was good Paul, and you’re usually spot on. I honestly thought the breakfast was ‘for spoons’ top notch.

      If I hadn’t been driving to Birmingham I would have had a pint of the Old Ale, it is a pleasant drink, and one I’ve only had in Southwold before.

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  2. Well said Richard and a very impressive place.

    Though there is a certain blandness/sameness in some Spoons, he still has an eye for the old buildings to renovate and repurpose.

    The man is definitely a national treasure and this must be one of the jewels in his crown.

    Liked by 1 person

    • GH,
      I’m not sure that Tim has ever had an eye for “old buildings to renovate and repurpose”.
      He got the Picture House in Stafford nearly twenty years ago not because it has a magnificent Art Deco interior but because it was vacant, on a high street where he didn’t have a presence and no dearer than a characterless building of that size would have been.
      I’m not usually one for conspiracy theories but suspect that Tim might have replaced his Cross Keys with the marvellous Waterend Barn because it’s within a mile of the beer buffs headquarters where his £20 of vouchers are annually sent out from.

      Liked by 1 person

      • He may have got them on the cheap, but he’s taken on more buildings that others didn’t want, thus preserving them. People may say it suits his business, but it suits the community in the long term. I get almost disappointed when I go into a spoons that actually was a pub before they took it on.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. much like people drink beer with their eyes and generally prefer seeing clear beer to cloudy, I think the same applies to the Waterend barn, lovely building and interior as it is all that just hides that it is not much more than an average ‘spoons at the end of the day, dont get me wrong I like the place, but when I thought about why I liked it came back to nothing other than the setting, and not the beer or the food or the service.

    and what do all mean you rarely see Old ? it will be my basic goto Adnams beer for the next 3 months 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Stono,
      Well, yes, maybe there is a bit of mutton-dressed-up-as-lamb about the Waterend Barn but it’s not your usual mid morning ‘distress purchase’ and while I was there I could almost forget that I was in one of Tim’s venues.

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    • Not bothered whether my beer is cloudy or clear, so long as it’s good, some beers are meant to be cloudy and some are meant to be clear, just like some cheeses are meant to be soft and some hard, some with a rind and some not – makes no difference whether they are good cheeses or not.

      Nothing wrong with Wetherspoons neither, Tim Martin will be seen as a philanthropist in 20 years time.

      Rarely see Adnams, in Spoons maybe, never seen Old Ale OTB in Leeds

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    • Like I said earlier, say what you want about them … but Tim Martin will be seen as a philanthropist in the future – providing good honest fair, ale and a safe place for folk to drink, when often their local has closed/gentrified/become too expensive. I hate to say it Humphrey Smith will be viewed in the same light.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I well recognise that Tim gives an earlier, cheaper and wider offering than most proper pubs and I didn’t mean to criticise the diversification that gets him customers who wouldn’t usually use pubs but, other than in St Albans, his venues just doesn’t tend to come close to the several best pubs of a town that we do on a Proper Day Out.
    New builds are rarely an option in the high street and there’s nothing wrong with Tim reusing a vacant building but I very much doubt if in the future he will be seen as a philanthropist.
    Tim and Humphrey. Compare and contrast. That’d make an interesting discussion when we get the chance.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I get what you mean but he fills a gap, a big gap, in the market – so does Sam’s in the same way. I could tell you the names of half a dozen older guys from our village who catch the bus, daily, into Wetherby for a pint and a chat in Sam Smith’s Crown. They probably only have a couple of pints and their lunch in Morrisons cafe, but they can’t afford to do it in a normal pub and they like to get out for a chat and some company. Essentially these are the blokes that were the fixture and fittings of many traditional pubs that have voted with their wallets.

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      • Yes, indeed, Tim’s venues are what they are and none the worse for it.
        Getting by on a meagre pension I can well understand the older guys from your village. I wouldn’t spend a tenner on two two-third pints of “craft” and I would rather use £10 for three pints of real ale in a proper pub than four pints in one of Tim’s venues.
        I rarely feel relaxed in a high street “barn” but a severely autistic woman I worked with will use the town’s two Wetherspoons but not an ordinary pub.
        In filling that big gap Tim contributes well to the diversity of on licensed premises and that can be overlooked as we enthuse about our favourite pubs on sites like this.

        Liked by 1 person

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