Back when we ran this website properly, in 2016, we’d write a review a week. A review a week! Given we were coming up with so many, it made sense to do a little round-up at the end of that first year, a kind of awards thing. Like The Pride of Reading Awards, the Oscars or the Television X SHAFTAs.
The pub reviews are much less frequent these days (although a bit more in depth), so it seems a bit pointless coming up with an annual review of half a dozen write-ups and pretending to dish out made-up prizes.
Then again, what is life if not a completely and utterly pointless, trivial and meaningless collection of events, anyway? So bollocks. Five years on from the inaugural SaNSPiR Pub of the Year ‘Awards’, here’s the second one…
Enjoy it. Don’t enjoy it. Ultimately, none of it matters anyway. We’re all just inconsequential masses of matter parasitically feeding off the Earth until the day it finally acquiesces, stops spinning on its tiring axis and explodes into a quintillion different burning pieces, all while barely making the noise and impact of an aphid’s fart in the greater context of time and the universe.
Sorry, what were we saying? Ah, yes. PUBS.
Here’s our Reading pub podium for 2021:
3rd Place 🥉 The Retreat
There’s always been a lot to like about East Reading’s backstreet booze bolthole, The Retreat. Good beers, a cosy feel, a proper landlord, live music, pickled onions… Alright, so the slightly tired look and the freezing cold – and often slightly fragrant – lavs could count against it. But we were prepared to ignore, even embrace those at times. We needn’t consider them anymore, though. The place has well and truly been zhuzhed up.
The layout remains the same, while the outside at the front has been overhauled, with a small seating terrace replacing a rotten old wooden bench. Sure, it’s slate grey virtually throughout, but somehow it suits the place, unlike a lot of other pubs. It looks a dang sight smarter and more modern than before, but still retains that ‘local pub’ feel. Which is no mean feat.
The toilets are where the main change lies. They’re as swanky as you like now. Extra points are awarded for the picture hanging on the wall of the gents showing an old patron using the urinals in the ropey old bogs. A lovely nod to lavatorial history.
The good beers and live music remain. So too does the cosiness, the fella in charge, the onions and the added – and expected – bonus of having BT Sport.
This place is still a Re(al)treat. A fictional bronze medal is(n’t) in the post.
2nd Place 🥈 The Hop Leaf
When The Hop Leaf shut down a few years ago, it was a big miss – both locally and for anyone prepared to make the trip down to Southampton Street. A locals’ pub that was primarily stocked with Salisbury-based brewery Hop Back’s booze, it was welcoming, comfortable and not only had a decent dartboard, but a bar bloody billiards table too.
Well, it’s back. Now an ‘asset of community value’, The Hop Leaf has been refurbed and reopened and, you know what? It looks exactly the same as it used to. What a relief. A Hop Releaf, if you will (you shouldn’t).
We’ve been a few times since it opened its doors again and both times it was nicely busy, service was prompt, the drink was good, the prices were noticeably cheap and the place stayed open that extra little while longer than most other pubs. The darts set-up might be the best in Reading. And it has bar bloody billiards.
A richly deserved silver medal. Welcome back, Leafy.
1st Place 🥇 The Jolly Anglers
The Shit and Not Shit Pubs in Reading Pub of the Year can only go to one pub and that pub is the pub called The Jolly Anglers. Mostly for all the reasons laid out in our fairly recent and comprehensive review of the place here.
TL;DR? Swimming pool, weirdness, hospitality, Spanish resort-style back garden complete with swimming pool, cocktails, sheer bloody mindedness of owners, jacuzzi, comedy events, swimming pool, huge screen, sauna, swimming pool.
The central reason we’re rewarding The JA with our PRESTIGIOUS and MUCH-COVETED gold-brown medal is simple: it was there for us, maaaaan. During the various mad lockdowns and restrictions, during the Euros when they’re were fully booked… whether it was ‘substantial meals’ or chairs and space magic’d up from thin air, The Anglers – in the words of The Fly off of Jurassic Parks – ‘er, er… finds a way.’
When other establishments were shutting early, roping off half their square footage or full-on just closing their doors (all, to be fair, understandably), Xemal and Valentina were reading between the lines and finding the gaps. They were ducking and diving and coming up with answers. While never officially breaking any of the stupid and ever-changing new rules that were coming from down on high on an almost daily basis. They kept open and they kept the spirits up – and beers in – for anyone who strolled inside. And for that, they go down in Reading pub lore. Well, that and because of that daft bastard of a swimming pool, of course.
Every pub still pulling pints for locals deserves a medal, really. Even the ones we don’t particularly like. Here are some we do like, though. Just not enough to stick them in the top three:
- The friendly welcome of The Fox & Hounds in the otherwise incredibly unfriendly suburban Hellscape that is Tilehurst
- The cosy fire ‘n’ carpet combo and charming countryside feel to the garden of The Royal Oak, also in our new home of the ‘hurst
- The pleasing familiarity, consistently decent quiz and improved outside space at The Allied Arms in the town centre
- The extended outside and always great beer selection at town’s boozer jewel The Nag’s Head
- The vast expanse of The Haunt, Phantom Brewery’s snazzy neon-lit taproom/warehouse
- The comforting warmth of the scrubbed-up and now ammonia-free Alehouse
- The relentless orangeness of hipster pub/bar/beer house/brewery taproom The Weather Station
- The incredible beer offering of Caversham’s modern-pub-done-right, another Fox & Hounds
- The reliability of it always being there, like an old dog, town’s never-changing pub with a history, The Sun
What a truly shit couple of years for pubs, eh? Thanks to, if you’ll excuse my French, the FUCKING CUNTS running the country, an already tricky business has been made almost impossible. It’s a case of adapt or die (as well as adapt and then still die anyway) for a lot of hospitality. Or, in the case of the two town centre pubs we lost in 2021, don’t adapt and die.
The loss of The Bugle is a hit to town’s full-time drinker community, as well as anyone who likes ‘a proper pub’. While its demise came somewhat out of the blue, it can hardly have shocked too many folk. Little old school Irish boozers like that are a rarity in town and city centres now, especially in the south east of England. It’s gone, but not forgotten.
So, then. That’s 2021. As we squint at 2022, we glimpse at what will probably be another bastard of a year for the pubs. It really is a case of use ’em or lose ’em…
See you at the bar next year. As ever, mine’s a large one.*
*pint of Guinness