Public Reading, 11 Castle Street, Reading, Berks., RG1 7SB.
“I wanna play a game.” Oh, no! Has that weird evil trike-boy robot with the swirly ball cheeks from daft noughties blood’n’guts orgy Saw opened a bar in Reading?! Obviously not – his tiny little Trump hands aren’t nearly capacious and agile enough to be able to pull a satisfactory pint, and he’s probably underage to boot. But still, he’d bloody love Public, the recently opened gaming pub/bar thing that’s just replaced Rynd (RYP). There’s board games, pub games and games games games bursting out of every square inch of it, and after a particularly impassioned five hour session of Monopoly fuelled by gut-bleachingly strong cocktails, there’s gonna be some dismembered corpses littering the place. Just the ticket for any psychotic child’s bike-riding killer.
But let’s assume you’re not one of those. Are YOU going to think it’s “good game, good game”? Let’s take our over-sized chins and suspiciously young Puerto Rican wives in there and check it out.
Location: Where Rynd was. Y’know, on the site of the old Dogma. That bar Evissa was. You know where we mean. Used to be The Litten Tree. So, yeah. All the best, Public. They’ve got their Christmas menu out on tables already. Our first thought? ‘Ambitious‘.
Drink Selection: A measly three or four bog-standard lagers on tap, which were all off on our visit – let’s blame teething problems for that – and a few bottled offerings along the Peroni/Rekorderlig axis, so if you want a dog-rough cask ale or some pissy craft nonsense with a Ralph Steadman illustration on the can, you’re out of luck. There’s a rather optimistic display of champagnes on the bar, in case Kim’n’Kanye blow through Reading and fancy a quick Connect 4 tournament, but seems like Public really, really want you to drink from their extensive cocktail menu. All your favourites are here – the classy ones off Sex and the City that you sip like a proper lady, the day-glo green and blue ones named after sexual positions that you chug while human bad haircuts in deep Vs stand around you shouting “WOYYYY FALIRAKI 2016!”, and the ones in mason jars that taste of ironic skateboarding and the acidic earnestness of John Grant’s beard.
The dudes behind the bar know their onions and can point an indecisive punter in the right direction, mostly – we went within a few days of opening, so there was obviously a bit of on-the-job training still happening with a section of staff who were earning their Brownie badges in Mixology. But they’ll learn quickly, because of their childish and pliant brains. They were young, basically. Or more likely, we are old. Whatever. The cocktails were universally delicious.
Food: Provided by a pop-up burger kitchen, Relish. Hope you like meat though, as among the sparse menu there was not a single veggie option to be found, if you don’t count chips (might be fried in rendered whale blubber, couldn’t tell you) or fried pickles (an abomination unto man and God). Even the mac’n’cheese had bacon on it. FUCK YOU, FRIEND TO THE FOWL AND LOVERS OF EARTH!
UPDATE: Looks like they might’ve tweaked things since our visit and whacked a veggie burger on the menu.
Sports? Nope. You make your own damn sports here, bub.
Toilets: Ladies, you will be suffering from the narrow cubicle affliction of Sanitary Disposal Thigh Chafing. Plus the cubicle walls are made of doors, complete with knobs, so fans of a nervous slash thinking people are about to burst in from all angles like it’s Takeshi’s Castle are in luck. Otherwise clean and tidy; no hand dryer yet, but what, you’re too good for a shake-and-go? Get real.
Men piss into a waterfall-esque trough while farting the theme tune to Motorway Cops in unison, as usual.
Atmosphere: Yeah! Games! Yeah! Friendly competition! Yeah! We’re all mates here! Yeah! Let’s play some foosball! Oop, sorry, miss, you’ve got my balls under your table there, haha! The noise! The noise. Oh, God, the noise. The clattering. A thousand dice rolls, a thousand Jenga blocks fall, make it stop, please, make it stop. MAKE IT STOP.
Nah, it’s fine. Nice and friendly, cheerful punters reliving their childhood with some booze and Boggle. Doesn’t seem like the place you’d get shanked over a problematic castling (that’s from chess, you brutes).
Beer Garden/Smoking Area: A cramped and covered alleyway out the back is the only concession to you noxious smoky bastards, featuring a curious drink shelf-cum-ashtray filled with cat litter, for some reason. And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Clumps Of Weird Grey Shit Stuck To Our Glasses Which We Then Leave All Over The Pub.
Pub Games: This place is a gaming themed pub through and through, offering three darts boards, a pool table, a couple of foosball tables, and one table should you fancy a spot of wiff-waff. Along with that, there’s a pretty big selection of board games ranging from Trivial Pursuit and Articulate, if you want to spaff out of your big nerdy brain, to Ker-plunk and Jenga, if you just want to make a big noisy mess and piss off the couple on a date at the next table trying to crowbar flirtatious banter into a game of Operation. Go for the wish bone, because I wish you’d bone, etc., etc.
It’s all a little bit off, though, unfortunately – the area around the pool table is a tad on the cramped side, the dart boards are all sexy and modern with snazzy neon designs as opposed to the boring old black, red and green, but that means you can’t read the numbers or see where the triples are, and they’re so damn snazzy and so damn neon that every approach to the board runs the risk of a grand mal seizure.
There’s not tons of table space so you might find yourself in a bit of an angry elbow-off with someone hovering around a Buckaroo board. And the ping-pong is right in front of the bogs, which means a post-piss flying bat to the face is a constant threat. Fair dos though – it’s a pub for games and they’ve crammed as many in as they could into a limited space. Can’t fault the effort.
Chance you are going to get a dart in the head at some point in the night because the boards are perilously close to a high-foot traffic area and the aim of people who have drunk five cocktails is going to be, let’s face it, questionable: Very high.
Price: 7-8 quid per cocktail, and if you choose right, there’s some damn strong ones in there if you like a bang for your buck. Weirdly, pints are 3.50 but halves are 3 quid. FUCK YOU, DRIVERS AND ONLY SLIGHTLY RECKLESS EXPECTANT MUMS!
Upstairs bit called Venue (geddit? Cos the pub bit is called Public and the venue bit is called Venue? Some marketing jebend got paid 20 grand for that, no doubt) which is meant to be a nightclub of some sort but was closed when we were there to review: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Novelty photo booth complete with bant-gasm props like a nawty sombrero, that horse head mask from 2014 and a cardboard cutout of the poop emoji: Yeah, go on then.
Facebook timeline of the banter-weight lad colossus who will change his profile picture to the results of him clogging up the photo booth for three hours: 75% LAD Bible fail videos with added cry-laugh emojis, 25% liking pictures of his sister’s mates’ summer holidays.
Decor: Bright and fresh, lots of neon pink and blue and concentric patterns. Could be like having an optical migraine while playing GTA Vice City but gets away with it with lots of nice calming wood, just like your dad in a sauna. Some All-Seeing Eye imagery in the très moderne wall murals which might freak out some, but y’all haters corny with that Illuminati mess. One little passage on the way to the smoking area is papered with rather cool vintage board game wallpaper, but on a good night it’s unlikely you’ll see it behind the human phalanx of snogging and bitchy whispered conversations.
Music: A DJ booth lurks in the bowels behind the ping-pong, pumping out some inoffensive early ’00s R&B – Outkast, lighter Wu Tang, that kind of thing, to match the gentle nostalgia vibe. Now That’s What I Call What Millennials Were Listening To The First Time They Got Fingerbanged, basically.
Punterwatch: Early days yet but seems to be a nice mix of post-work gatherers and the Hawaiian shirt and beard crowd, the types that would go to a cereal cafe but just the once, and didn’t know why Stranger Things on Netflix made them cry for their mummies quite so hard. Buzzfeed listicles about ’90s kids made flesh.
So there you go, babes. A night out that captures all the retro magic of a rainy Sunday afternoon at your nan’s house, but this time you’re allowed to get shitfaced and there’ll be no racist mutterings about the family that moved in three doors down and their “peculiar smells”. It’ll probably be quite a laugh down there till they lose all the pieces to the board games and have to replace them with bottle caps and fag ends. Strike while the paint’s fresh.