The Great British Pub Crawl
What is it? Why do we do it? What goes on during one? I try and recall how it all works.
The pub crawl. A staple of British student life in its many forms. From the straight forward crawl to pub golf or many other varieties, this drink based excursion is almost a rite of passage for many a university student. But what is it all about? What goes down on a pub crawl? Well dear reader, I am here to hold your hand and make sense of this chaotic cacophony of Carlsberg, Carling and cider.
So what actually is a pub-crawl?
A pub crawl (sometimes called a bar tour, bar crawl or bar-hopping) is the act of drinking in multiple pubs or bars in a single night. According to wikipedia at least. But there are typically variants of it. While studying my undergraduate I partook in a variety of these crawls and drunken acts of debauchery. The straight forward crawl is just a list of drinking establishments that tend to span the town or city of choice. Usually they are laid out in an order that maximises drinking time, and reduces walking time.
A common variation of a pub crawl is pub golf. Much like a pub crawl you have a list of pubs, bars and clubs to drink into but for added variation each location has a drink to have to drink and a par for that drink. So for instance you might have to get a pint of lager at one location and for that it could be par three, where in you’d have to buy a pint and consume it in three swigs. Then at the final location you’d tot up the scores and announce a winner, same as golf, but with a bit more falling over.
My experience on a pub crawl.
So, in the name of accurate journalism I figured what better way to investigate the fine art of alcoholism than to go on a pub crawl and swot up first hand what goes down. This wasn't to be my first pub crawl, and it most likely won't be my last, but it'll be the last time I try and write down what happens as I go. The setting for this adventure in alcohol is Reading, along with some of my friends from my time there we'd been invited to join a larger group of friends, so we were rather hangers on, but by the end of the evening we'd be unified in our drunkenness. The route was set to take in a whopping 12 pubs and bars across the marvellous town of Reading, starting on our old (and for Dan at least, still current) stomping ground of The University of Reading. So sit back and enjoy as I try to decipher the rather cryptic notes on my phone from one night of imbibing indulgence.
Pub 1; Park Bar - The University of Reading
Drink; Jubel Peach - £3.60
Dan, my friend and regular drinking partner tucking into his pizza at Park Bar at the start of our adventure. And yes, he's a monstrosity who has mayo with a pizza.
Park Bar is one of the many drinking establishments on campus in Reading, and one of the most popular. It houses a massive bar, a pull it yourself beer wall, a zero waste food store, and an array of food counters for those who's halls are catered. The food is nothing spectacular, although the fresh pizzas do hit the spot after several snakebites (Vile drinks, can't stand them. And for those who don't know, it is a pint of beer and cider in equal measures, and a dash of blackcurrant cordial. Try it at your own peril. They are served in enormous double pint glasses in Parkbar.). So while the location was far from glamorous, the drink? Well, I sat down to a pint of Jubel cut with Peach. Given that this was my first pint, my notes are pretty coherent, if brief. "Fruity but almost verging on being a cider". It was very dry on the palate and I wouldn't call it hugely refreshing.
A fizzing pint of Jubel Peach. Not a fan I've decided. Also pictured, Max and Dan enjoying their pizzas.
Points for a massive range of drinks, decent prices for Reading, and also for the nostalgic memories of my undergrad degree and the many hazy nights spent in that place. Point lost for noise and lack of truly comfortable seating.
Jubel Cut with Peach
Dry, too sweet, and a little too cidery for my liking. ONWARDS!
Pub 2; The Queen's Head - Christchurch Green
Drink; Dirty Rucker - £4.00
The direct note from my phone for this one; "Smooth and rounded, with a rich flavour as expected of a ruby." Off the top of my head, this one was a lovely pint of a typical British ale, with the rich tones of a ruby beer. The pub itself, while a little more expensive than a usual student dive bar, does rather benefit from pricing grotty students out of the market. It hosts quizzes, and genteel evenings for the more refined customer as well as offering a small amount of tables, for what is reportedly a very good menu to be served at. We enjoyed our beers out in the garden at the back, where there is also a beer shed of sorts. Basically a fancy shed that offers further sheltered drinking space. As a treat as a student the Queen's Head is a nice place to go, but for the bank account, not one to spend an entire evening at.
The Dirty Rucker in question. Very nice.
And the Queen's Head itself.
The Queen's Head
Points for refinement and a good selection on offer. One point deducted for price.
A very good ale indeed. Refreshing, but full bodied with a nice blend of flavours, but not so many that it's overpowering or confusion. Would drink again.
Pub 2; The Dairy - UOR London Road Campus
Drink; West Berkshire Brewery Good Ole Boy - £3.90
The Dairy is another one of the University's many watering holes. Situated on the London Road part of campus it is opposite the Royal Berkshire Hospital, and set in some rather nice grounds. It is also a brilliant place to drown your sorrows after an atrocious mammalian reproduction exam (not a euphemism, the only reason I passed that module in third year was due to 50% of the grade coming from coursework!). Like Park Bar, The Dairy also serves food, and a decent menu of it. It's all quite traditional gastropub style munch, but is worth the walk from the main campus and halls to get. The bar while small, is rammed with over 9 different ales and lagers on tap, with a hoard of fridges behind full of bottled and canned items.
Light and swiggable, featuring the hog lumps.
One of the best parts about drinking at the Uni of Reading is that if you stray from the goliath of guzzling that is Park Bar, some of the smaller spots offer local beverages to try. Park House is a great one for offering up a range of local ales, and so is The Dairy. My beer of choice here was a local one. And I was happy to pay the little premium for an offbeat beer. "Smooth start but hit by that bitter finish. Paired well with BBQ pork scratchings", according to my notes.
A good selection of drinks, quieter than Park Bar so conversation is perfectly possible. It's lower footfall means that you can more readily get a go on the pool tables too.
West Berkshire Brewery Good Ole Boy
Small time breweries often miss the mark with a decent ale, but this was a nice malty bitter with a strong pine taste keeping it fresh on the palate. Price was my only snagging point from awarding 5*s. We move on.
Pub 4; The Turks Head
Drink; Theakston’s Old Peculier - £?.??
"Rich, smooth, with an almost smokey finish of deep caramels. Can’t remember how much it cost." That is what I wrote at the time of the beer. Theakston's do a broad range of decent beers, and I've had Old Peculier before and rather like it. Strong with cherry notes hidden in it from the hop, it is a wonderful ruby for all seasons. The pub? Well I've spent many an evening in the Turks Head. It's proximity to my halls in both first and third year made it a prime location for going for a quiet drink with a friend, and it's antiquated, yet homely decor meant that it was easy to relax in there on a quiet night. Some nights though, that peace is punctuated by live bands or stand up acts. Some good, some less so. On the night we visited on our crawl, there was a live band in there making a mockery of a Queen track. Nonetheless, it injected a bit of music and gaiety into our adventure.
For some reason, Spanish Flea by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass Band is playing at this point. I do not know why.
A pint of Theakston's and it is my trademark "sip" down.
The Turks Head
A quality pub to relax in, or go and see a live band. They also have board games which is a nice touch!
A brilliant and robust beer, that would go well with most dishes, and does well on its own too. We move on.
Pub 5; Great Expectations
Drink; Loddon Valley Ferryman’s Gold - £4.00
Loddon Valley is another localish brewery in the Oxfordshire area and is a regular brewer to be featured in Park House. Ferryman's Gold was one of their beers that I hadn't experienced yet, and was pleasantly surprised with this one noting; "Easy and smooth. Lightly hopped and refreshing." It's bright golden colour is a clue as to just how light this beer is, making it easy to swill back and I imagine it'd be perfect served chilled on a hot day. One to go back and re-experience.
Great Expectations is a novelty unto itself. It is a hotel and pub combo leaning heavily on a Dickensian theme, which I think is because the famous writer completed the titular work there. Or wrote some of it. I can't remember. The last time I visited it I was mildly inebriated. It's not a bad place to be and offers a decent range of drinks, both local and common. My earliest memory of this pub is from my first year in Reading when we ventured into town early on in the year as a flat to celebrate my 19th birthday. We enjoyed many rounds in the pub and I recall watching the qualifying sessions for the Japanese GP on the telly there.
As decent as it is, it often feels dead in G.E. and the theme feels a little forced.
Quaffable and fresh. A perfect golden ale, and quite moreish. Will be buying again.
Pub 6; The Monk's Retreat
Drink; Shipyard APA - £?.??
From here on things start to get fuzzy and the notes sparse. Our next stop was the former Wetherspoons, (Reading town centre isn't big enough to support three 'Spoons it seems) The Monks' Retreat. I can't remember if this ever was a 'Spoons or if it is just a pastiche of a spoons' but either way, it's pretty terrible. Noisy, hot, sticky and maybe over priced? I can't remember how much it cost here. And my bank statements for this night are a blur off activity so there's no point checking there. According to a surprisingly arty snap I took of the pumps I had the Shipyard American Pale Ale, which I usually like, and recall it being served very cold, which given the sweaty atmosphere was a blessed relief.
For someone who's a bit squiffy, that's not a bad photo.
The Monk's Retreat
Probably cheap to compete with 'Spoons. But doesn't have the atmosphere of a Wetherspoons where you'd forgive it for its tacky tactiles and concerning customers.
Shipyard American Pale Ale
A pretty standard APA, only real benefits here are the fact that it was cold, and I was not. Things only get blurrier still from here. And frankly also a little concerning, so get off or get with it.
Pub 7; O'Neill's
Drink; Guinness, obviously - £?.??
With half of this bar/pub having had its chairs and tables pushed aside to make a rudimentary dance floor, the atmosphere here was loud and almost depressing as until we arrived it was pretty empty and loud with flashing lights. When we were there it now had about 12 people in it, but was still loud and flashing. We drank our Guinnesses and made our way onwards.
My only notes on it are that the Guinness was well pulled and served cold. Moving on I think...
Loud, bright and dead. Not a fan.
I like Guinness, and this was done properly. Point deducted for lack of clover in the foam. Nonetheless, we soldier on.
Pub 8; Yates
Drink; Carlsberg - £5.00!
Yes, £5.00 for a pint of Carlsberg. Yates is known for its dodgy pricing policy, where a craft ale can come it at £3.50 but if you want a pint of common or garden lager you'd best remortgage your house to stump up the atmospheric cost for one crispy boi. Still, Carlsberg is what it is. A decent-ish lager but not my favourite. It's took gassy for my liking and lacks a strong body of flavour or smooth mouthfeel that you expect proper lagering to give. And Yates? Asides from being chuffing expensive, it isn't a bad place to spend time with a few friends.
By this point my photography skills have taken a clear downturn...
It has its place as a slightly more classy establishment in Reading, but is too damned pricey to be of any use to a student. Plus they now ID people on the door, they didn't do that back in my day!
Neither here nor there on this. Lots of people like it, I don't. Still, our now very merry band of men marched on to more fiscally frugal surrounds. Even if the surrounds in question were rather dubious.
Pub 9; Walkabout
Drink; Unknown - £?.??
I know I was in here. And according to when I looked at my bank statement and wept the next morning I did have a drink in here. But I haven't a clue what it was. All I remember was that it was far more of a club than a bar or pub, it was filled with an older demographic and was by and large, traumatising. I also remember it being very orange in there. From the lighting to the skin tone of the customers. Very strange.
Knowing me, that's a gin and tonic. It's highly unlikely that its vodka, as the spicy potato water and I have historically never gotten on.
Orange, disorientating and scary.
I don't know how to rate this? I've given it two stars as generally the house G'n'T in clubs is awful, with an overly sweet tonic. So 2 stars.
Now here's where it get interesting. According to the location tracker on my phone I went to McDonald's and filled up on fried food to try and quell the alcohol abomination that was raging in my stomach. Which tallies up with my bank account. Then we went to Purple Turtle.
Pub 10; Purple Turtle
Drink; Unknown - £?.??
Purple Turtle has long been a favourite of mine in Reading. It is a bit of an alternative dive bar famed for playing rock and punk music with a dingy dungeon below decks and a surprisingly large smoking garden out the back with heated benches, and a shisha bar. Many a fun night of my undergrad degree was spent here with various groups of friends for one reason or another. I love the relaxed attitude to everything there and the fun offers that are applied to the wealth of drinks on sale. The best they have is stock market events. At these the televisions above the bar display a series of drinks, beers, shots and mixers who's prices fluctuate throughout the night making it possible to save a fair amount on a night out, and getting some cheap rounds in.
The clientele at Purple Turtle (PT to those in the know) is wonderfully varied too being a blend of students who prefer music with guitars in than appalling club mixes, as well as older groups, and even older party goers too who grew up in the eras of prog rock and punk. People go to PT for the atmosphere and the music, and that makes a night there wholly enjoyable. Previous nights there have seen drunker customers than us buy us rounds (we still never got that guy's name, but cheers for the beers!), flashing (not from .yours truly, thankfully ) and some truly atrocious group pictures.
I can't remember what I drank in PT, but I enjoyed the rest of our night out there. All in, a solid PT experience as ever.
I've never had a bad night here, and would be hard pushed to rate it any lower than 5 stars.
Drinks aren't the cheapest here, but you revel in the experience as well as the alcohol.
So, all in all, how was it?
Well, now that I've completely recovered from that ordeal, both physically and financially, I can look back on it and think fondly of the memories it gave and the fun of the adventure. Even if we did cut two pubs from the list to fit it all in. If you'd asked me that question the next morning, it wouldn't have been a positive answer, however after brushing my teeth (always feel better after that), and a Greggs and Lucozade (swear by it) I felt a lot better.
So there you have it, a look into the Great British Pub Crawl. Make of that what you will.