The Nag’s Head, 5 Russell St, Reading, West Berkshire RG1 7XD.
All ‘information’ in this review is ‘accurate’ as of March 2016.
The Nag’s Head. We had to tackle it sooner or later and we figured now was as good a time as any. You know, before you all get bored of these bloody reviews. Or an intervention sees us on a twelve step programme, standing up in the middle of some community centre in Woodley mumbling, “Hello, we’re Shit & Not Shit Pubs in Reading and we’re alcoholics.”
So here we are. Reviewing the 657-time Reading CAMRA pub of the year. This place is a bit of a Reading institution, isn’t it? It’s as ‘Reading’ as a stroll around Forbury Gardens eating a Sweeney Todd’s pie, a Saturday afternoon spent elbowing morbidly obese families out of your way as you weep walking down Broad Street or imprisoning a famous literary figure for homosexuality.
Let’s just get on with it, eh?
Drink Selection: Now then. There’s a reason that this pub has won Reading CAMRA Pub of the Year almost every year since the late 14th Century. Yep – you got it. Booze. The pub itself is a fairly modest – though cosy – one room set-up, so the environment isn’t exactly stunning. It’s the confidence juice that commands its place in the hearts of RG1’s Real Ale Twats.
There honestly is very little point running through all the options or telling you even a rough number of draughts, casks, bottles or boxes on offer. Sufficed to say that the range is impressive. Ales, bitters, lagers, white beers, Belgian beers, craft beers, normal ciders, Cornish tramp ciders… It’s actually pretty bloody mental.
Location: You find yourself strolling up the Occy Road to get to The Nag’s. But middle class readers of a sensitive disposition needn’t worry, you don’t have to walk that far up before a quick left onto Russell Street sees you at the pub. With a bit of luck, you might not even have to walk past any of those GHASTLY foreign people.
Food: We like The Nag’s approach to grub. There are rolls wrapped up in clingfilm to stave away immediate hunger. And warmed-up Jon Thorner’s pies for the more famished piss artist. And on God’s day off, they do a roast. We’ve never had one, but Mr. Roast Dinners Around Reading has – his review of them can be read with your eyes here.
Atmosphere: Clammy. It’s normally jovial and lively and got the feel of a ‘real’ pub. There’s the faint whiff of beer in the clammy air. Maybe it’s just because it’s just one room and it’s full of people boozing weird beers – but it’s always humid. We’re probably being too literal with our definition of ‘atmosphere’ here, aren’t we? Ah well, this is Reading. The home of autism. Speaking of which, don’t be surprised to see ponytailed men in wide brim hats and trenchcoats playing board games with names like ‘Rampart’s Revenge‘.
Beer Garden/Smoking Area: The picture below is extremely flattering and taken during a mini-festival. The outside space is either the pavement outside or the car park behind.
Sports? Aye. You’ll get all the main football and such. There are two TVs mounted nice and high. One of which you can see below…
Pub Games: Board games and darts only. On darts night, they wire up one of the tellies to a little camcorder so the teams and scoring people can see it. That’s cute, isn’t it? We doubt they’d hook it up for regular schmoes playing normally, but you can always ask.
Price: It depends what you order. And with a million options, there’s a million different prices. The Nag’s isn’t a cheap pub, but you are buying weird imported beers or small batch efforts from titchy breweries. You won’t be appalled, but you won’t be getting the whole pub a round in.
Decor: This is a bloody PUB. Wonky framed drawings of cottages and yellowing maps, thousands of pump clips, there’s even some old football memorabilia from Reading FC’s Elm Park days. Dark wooden beams… It’s got the lot. It’s how a pub should bloody look…
Visible Savory Snack Selection: Good old-fashioned pub snacks: Pork scratchings that are simultaneously sickenly squishy and yet tooth-smashingly hard, Scampi/Bacon Fries, nuts, crisps and even Mini Cheddars for any of you posh lot out there.
Toilets: To the right of the bar and basic. The path to the lavvies does intersect with where people play darts, though. So when people are throwing arrows, you have to time your run in a way not unlike playing one of those 2p machines at the seaside.
Seating: Benches, chairs, stools. Get there early of a weekend though if you don’t like leaning awkwardly up against walls with your head at a 45 degree angle so as to not block some bloke’s view of the Derby/Brighton match.
Punterwatch: With it’s olde worlde feel, you could be mistaken for thinking this boozer was an old man’s one. And with its excellent craft beer selection, it could even be a bit of a hipster place. But ‘Reading’ prevails and it’s the 30-50 year-old Tolkien fan IT workers that dominate. That said, Freelance Drinkers can be found, as well as the odd bloke who’ll tell you that ‘The Krays only ever hurt their own and they loved their muvva.’
If pubs were solely judged on their beers, then in the horse race that is the Reading Pub Guineas, The Nag’s wins by more than a head. Which is either a brilliant metaphor or nonsensical crap.
Bollocks. We didn’t make any jokes about Only Fools and Horses, did we? Plonkers.