The New Abnormal: Pub Boozing in Reading During Unlockdown


Reading Pubs coronavirus

It’s been a few weeks now since bally jolly Joris Bonson lifted the No Pubs Ban and allowed us all to get pissed inside a building that we don’t live in. When the news was announced, it was met with two very different reactions: joy, concern and apathy. Sorry, that’s three. Three very different reactions.

Booze enthusiasts were pleased to be able to get back down the pub, more cautious Brits saw the move as dangerous and people who don’t go to pubs (like my old man) understandably couldn’t give a monkey’s ballbag (“pay five quid to drink a pint in a bleedin’ car park?! I can get four bottles for that from Morrisons!”).

Let’s imagine, as you’re reading this, that you fall into the first category: you’re an irresponsible COVIDIOT that couldn’t care less about public health and actively want to see elderly and vulnerable people become ill and die. You want to get back down the boozer. Of course you do, they are – after all – tremendous places to get pissed.

And, as much as drinking in parks filled a gap in our collective bladder for a while, urinating in public is just not really very British, is it?

Reading Pubs coronavirus
The faces of STiR’s friends have been pixelated to protect their identities

Pubs have changed, though. They ain’t like wot they were. They all have to be ‘COVID secure’ nowadays. Which can mean anything from ‘a bit cleaner with a notepad and pen near the front door for writing names and numbers down on maybe if you remember perhaps’ to ‘advanced time-limited bookings, reduced capacity, temperature checks, one way systems, visor-wearing staff and a general feeling you’re having beers on the hospital wing of a spaceship’.

What’s it been like, though? Well, most of you will have NO DOUBT read my brilliantly comprehensive guide to post-lockdown Reading pubs and gone to a few. If so, good for you. Compare your notes with mine. If not, never fear – you can drink vicariously through me. 🍺🍺🍺

Basically, here’s me rattling on about three weekends of Reading drinking since the pubs reopened. You get the idea, it ain’t rocket surgery.


Week 1

BANG! The pubs are open! WALLOP!

Some sneaky bars (though none here in Reading) had planned to swing open their doors saloon-style at 12.01am on Saturday 4th July before the guvmunt put the kibosh on all that at the last minute. So keen ‘ding drinkers had to wait until Saturday afternoon. Unless they got themselves down the Occy Road and into our first visit post lockdown… Which opened at 11am.

The White Eagle

Reading Pubs coronavirus
The faces of these men have been pixelated to protect STiR

As much as I’d like to tell you that me and my drinking partner/missus made it into the roomy Polish-owned White Eagle for 11am, I can’t. Well, I can. But I’d be lying. The place had been opened a couple of hours before we stepped inside for our first pub drink in three months. Which was easily long enough for some of the regulars to get stuck into the Tyskies and vodkas.

Our fears of a Brave New World of near-constant hand santising, perspex screens, three people per pub and hazmat suits were unfounded. Here, at least, anyway. We strolled in sans booking to be greeted by the Eagle’s main concession to COVID: a single file queuing ‘system’ at the bar. Drinks ordered and collected, the pair of us sat outside and soaked it up… PUB PUB PUB PUB PUB.

Ah, working class blokes being fucking annoying. God, I’d missed it. Christ knows why. It was good to be back amongst people. Even if they’re not the sort of people you’d want to be amongst.

Table service was happening, but we just got our empties taken. That wasn’t an issue for round two, anyway – I wanted to do a lovely urinal wee for the first time in some 12+ weeks. As with most pubs now, every other urinal is blocked off, which means the chances of another man’s urine flecking your denims is significantly reduced.

So far, so good.

The Allied Arms

Reading Pubs coronavirus
Step aside Roy S and Sam G, The Big Dog’s in town.

Early drinks taken at a more ‘vibrant’ boozer, we wanted our first proper session with pals to go down somewhere altogether more pubby. More Reading. So the day before I’d booked a table for six (that’s right, chumps – suck it up. That’s FIVE friends…). From 7pm until 11pm, we had one of The Allied Arms’ iconic* outside benches. Lovely stuff.

There’s something quite militaristic in drinking now, that’s quickly become apparent. Spontaneity is on hold. Wanna have a drink up with pals of a weekend evening in a good boozer somewhere central? You’ll need to plan. Luckily for my friends, I’d gone full SAS on the planning. Well, I’d Facebooked The Allied the evening before, anyway. Chris Ryan would be proud.

Four hours of relaxed boozedrinkin’ in The Allied’s beer garden on a warm evening… Now we’re talking. All seating’s outside, drinks are ordered and paid for at the bar, glasses are collected by staff. The set-up is easy to pick up and it works. It felt like old times. Before China intentionally released germ warfare on everyone in order to cripple the world economy  someone had sex with a pangolin and somehow made a killer flu.

*in the context of Reading pubs, c’mon. Don’t be like that.


Week 2

Now eased back into the pub, the next weekend we decided to stretch our drinking legs a tad. A TRIPLE HEADER: Late afternoon drinks, early evening drinks, late evening drinks. Again, it took a bit of bloody Googling, messaging and ringing around, but we had a plan. A bloody good plan. This was Iranian Embassy siege stuff.

The plan was to get pissed up. Do you see?

The Moderation

Reading Pubs coronavirus
Safety first, safety second (and third, apparently).

First stop – The Mod. 4pm-6pm. Plenty of time for a pint and a Singapore Sling (I’m not embarrassed to admit it). I’d booked in the day before. I knew from my previous ‘research’ that this Caversham Road pub/restaurant would be taking their COVID measures very seriously indeed. And cor blimey – do they.

Bookings, outside seating, no ordering at the newly-screened-off bar (it’s exclusively table service), staff wear face coverings as well as large visors. Not only do you have to write down your entire party’s names and contact details, you’re temperature checked on entry. I very maturely managed to hold back any jokes about rectal thermometers until we were seated and out of staff earshot.

It was a bit of a faff getting in, but anyone nervy about returning to the pub would have been pretty reassured by it all, you’d think. The table service was good, too. And when table service is good, you don’t miss elbowing your way to suffering the indignity of the potential of being served by a ‘who’s next?‘ bar person. The only minor gripe is that it can make rounds tricky.

Symonds supped and sling slung at the support slot, we buggered off to our headline act – some benches on an industrial estate.

The Haunt @ Phantom Brewery Co.

Reading Pubs coronavirus
The Haunt. Not to be confused with The Horn.

It’s a tricky time for pubs, this. Which means it’s also a tricky time for the folk that make beer (called, apparently, ‘brewers’). Not that you’d know it when you visit craft beer taprooms like Phantom Brewing, Siren Craft or Double Barrelled. People bloody love ’em.

Vast warehouses mean space. And space is good at the moment. So these sorts of joints – especially if they have plenty of room outside – are ideal.

‘The Haunt’ (geddit?) is only open Saturdays at the time of writing, between 2pm – 5pm and 6pm – 9pm (the hour shutdown’s for a deep clean). You can book a slot on their website.

We ghosted into a fast-moving queue at 6pm and were soon seated outside (by choice, it was bloody hot) by their always charming taproom manager Matt. A laminated list of rules was handed to us that was almost as long as the catalogue of beers they had on the go. The headline rules being ‘stick to your own table’ and ‘wear a face covering when you nip inside to the lavs’.

Table service was prompt and the choice is almost endless. For reasons best known to her, at one point Mrs. STiR decided to order a 330ml can of weirdbeer called ‘Dessert in a Can’ which cost nine quid (see photo above). It was, I’m incredibly annoyed to say, absolutely fucking delicious.

9pm came and we had to scarper. Five hours drinking isn’t enough hours of drinking, so a sadness descended over our table. Until I remembered my ace in the hole…

Reading Railway Club

Reading Pubs coronavirus
That geezer on the left is the artist. He did all this (and loads not pictured) in less than three days, he told us.

“Hello, do we need to book or anything? Only we’re about eight minutes away.”

“I think we can just about squeeze you in, come on over.”

Always good to be reminded that sarcasm’s not a lost art.

The Reading Railway Club. It’s not for everyone, but it’s for me and anyone I’m with when we’re in town and fancy one or two quick ones. It changes hands more than a croupier with ADHD, but whatever’s going on, this place is a members club where you don’t really have to be a member. Although they probably prefer that you do.

Drinks are well priced, there’s Sky, dartboards, a pool table and an ALL NEW load of utterly mad graffiti-style pictures all over everywhere. If you like that sort of thing. And you should – all the sports people daubed on the walls have waxed moustaches FFS.

(the fella responsible – Arron Lowe – has gone mental on a few other walls on places in Reading, you’ll know ’em when you see ’em…)

COVID-wise, the main thing at play is that seating has been reduced to allow for yer social distancings.

We went in, had one and stumbled home, three parts pissed. That was almost a pub crawl. It’d been a while. To paraphrase Michael Caine* in Get Carter,** I’m a big drinker, but I’m out of shape.


*For any younger readers – he’s an olden days actor
** And that’s a film he’s in


Week 3

For anyone who felt a bit condescended there by the Michael Caine explanation, I’ll drop a few very subtle Caine references in the rest of this for you, that should make you feel a bit better. Kids/people who don’t know much about Michael Caine’s work – just know that all the bits you don’t get from now on are a) about Michael Caine and b) very clever and very funny.

Anyway, yeah. Week three. Sorry, like you I’m starting to get a bit bored with this now. We’ve hit 1,800 words ferchrissakes. Let’s get through this, shall we…?

The Palmer Tavern

Reading Pubs coronavirus
What type of dog is that on the left? Answer: A GOOD DOG.

Saturday the 18th of July saw a double header of pub visits, one booked in, one just pitched up at. The first was three hours at The Harry Palmer Tavern (hang on, ‘Harry Palmer’ / ‘Hairy Palmer’ – was The Ipcress File just one big wank gag?!).

We were booked into Hope and Bear from 7.30pm, so had to keep it local. A trip to The Crown on the Bridge, for instance, would’ve been A (Caversham) Bridge Too Far.

The ‘All Our Bars’ pub on the Wokingham Road didn’t need advanced notice of us, but does have the now-expected measures you’d expect, expectation-wise: no crowding at the bar, space between tables, an encouragement to sit outside, increased glass collection, track ‘n’ trace data collection, all of that.

I was on the cider, my drinking partner opted for an Italian Job, Birra Moretti. We didn’t have thooousands of ’em, just the four each. Again, sat outside, you don’t really notice the difference with the ‘new normal’. The added bonus of being out back was the dogs. The Tavern have their own excellent little ball-obsessed Shiba Inu (I think that’s what she is). She was later joined by a couple of very well-behaved border collies (I think that’s what they are). Lovely they were. Dirty rotten scoundrels they weren’t.

A decent start. Final pint necked, I said, ‘hold up, lad. I’ve got an idea. Let’s bugger off.’ So we escaped to victory/London Road.

Hope and Bear

Reading Pubs coronavirus
This hatch: Where beers come from off of now at Hope and Bear.

7.31pm and the eagles had landed. We queued up outside behind the first arsehole of the pub return, some moaning old twat who decided to give the woman working a bit of an earful for making him wait twelve seconds before letting him in. The man was a muppet(‘s Christmas Carol), but I couldn’t be arsed to argue with him (which is lucky for him as I’m a black belt in Zulu).

The rest of our pals were already in situ, sat outside. Drinks ordered and collected at a newly-utilised hatch thing, we, er, well, we sat and drunk some booze until they kicked us out.

Altogether, you know what? It’s alright. Sure, it takes a bit of planning now. But if you think ahead, play by the rules and don’t be a dick to the people working in ’em, pubs are fine now. Just be sensible and it’s not a problem.

Jaws: The Revenge.

That’s what I reckon, anyway. You’re bloody welcome.

As ever, if you see me out in a pub, mine’s a large one. 😉

Reading Pubs coronavirus