A day out in search of good bars, great pubs and craft beer in Kingston-upon-Hull
Recently, with local new bars opening or reinventing every month, I've been rather devoid of beer adventures. There's been fewer trips out to previously undiscovered towns or cities with friends for the sake of just having a traditional booze. No shopping. No sight-seeing. No build-up to a gig or other event later. Just a train journey out, a day of new pub discovery and a train home. This used to be much more common.
After deciding to come back to this day format and picking our destination based on somewhere simple to reach on the Transpennine route, three friends and I headed for the city of Kingston Upon Hull. Our choice came down to two factors; the first being that none of us had ever been and the second being high praise from my Aunt and Uncle who visit the coastal city at least twice a year. Much of their love stems from the supposed close proximity of the pubs. "You can stumble into ten good beer pubs all within a 200 yard stretch."
I rarely write about such days out, but decided to give a guide on the pubs we visited based on my own difficulties in finding such a guide or blog to assist us on ours. Even social media was short on reccomendations, perhaps with it not being such a highly visited city (though thank you to those that did contribute.)
We only had around 9 hours with which to fit in as much as we could. Because of this, we concentrated much of our effort within the city centre's ring road, that holds a lot of the shopping area and the famous Old Town area.
The Minerva Hotel
We began the day with the only pub we visited outside the inner ring road. Ten minutes walk from the train station and on the sea front is the historic Minerva Hotel. This numerous-roomed pub once boasted it’s own on-site brewery and still lays claim to “The Smallest Pub room in the country” (though the Dove in Hammersmith would apparently have something to say about that.)
Sat now next to the modernised marina and looking out to the North Sea, the interior of the Minerva is still beautiful with a hotel feel. Carpeted floors, telephone table next to the staircase and a coat/hat stand suggest more of a B&B, but this isn't a negative. A push for food is apparent but not interrupting. The bar room looks out onto the sea and the only criticism would be that this room out of the many should be focused as a drinkers room to chat and look at the water. As it was we were lucky enough to mooch into the “Smallest Pub Room,” which was big enough for four of us and we had a wonderful hour. The choice of four cask beer was varied with Rat Brewery's Ratsberry Ripple tasting delicious. The staff were a little distracted by food orders and this place was definitely enjoyed more with it being still early and relatively quiet at this point.
Furley & Co
Back inside the ring road and opposite the moat encircled Princes Quay shopping centre, Furley & Co’s was the highest recommended place on the list. Understandably so. Entirely modern, everything about this establishment screams “craft;” not least the impressive beer offerings. Five cask lines are accompanied by twelve keg lines. Welcomingly there’s plenty from local Atom Beers. The barman was chatty, engaging and keen to know about our day, whilst also keeping up the sales pitch. He wasn’t boasting when he said Furley and Co’s would be the “best beer we had in Hull.” It was.
We spent the majority of our time here discussing the interesting toilets that provide a conversation piece from the staircase leading to them, the multi-coloured urinals, security camera (??????) and Justin Bieber blasting out in them. An Atom India Pale Ale was enough for me to have happily abandoned the day to stay here but alas we left.
Into Hull’s old town which feels surprisingly like being in York – only fewer tourists and worse drivers. Scale Lane is the famous street where every other building seems to be a pub. Our first stop was one of three pubs on the same street linked by the same owners.
Named after the barbershop that was here in the 19th century, Walters is a fairly modern place - opened in 2007 - and certainly feels it. It's sign is an out-of-time clock and the interior says more cocktail lounge than beer emporium. It's long bar with 12 cask pumps dominates the singular room with boudoir red lighting. Most exciting of all is the LP picture collage that rather surprisingly features Mobb Deep, something that instantly makes this bar a good 30% better. Friendly staff and well kept Brass Castle Tail Gunner make this a definite must visit.
The Old House
Potentially needing food we took the short stumble across the narrow street to The Old House, that sometimes is known as the Old House Craft Beer bar and Bistro. It's lovely downstairs interior and narrow bar are promising enough for those who just want to stop for a drink. 6-8 keg lines and 2 cask make for a decent choice and my Atom Dark Matter was delicious. Upstairs is a small back room, that was full on our visit, and a grand old, dark wooden, front room we found completely deserted. The feel that it has almost been untouched in years (though is almost certainly styled this way) is lovely to sit in. Unable to find menus we did enquire about food, only to be told that the party in the full room at the back was draining their kitchen and they weren't serving food for anybody else. Interesting for a bistro that was near deserted but for this small party. Disappointed, we drank and left. It's worth looking in for a drink, just don't rely on it for food.
Having spotted WM Hawkes through the window of the Old House, I was already excited. It looks like everything I want in an old town pub and indeed the interior does not disappoint. Two low Tudor beamed rooms are decorated with nick-nacks and copper utensils to an inch of their life. The pub is near capacity in the bar room but we find tables in the back. I spend much of the hour here marvelling at the walls and interior. It must be done well, as I learn later that this pub is the newest creation from those that also own Walters bar. It was never a pub; indeed its named after the gunmaker who once had business here. But it has been renovated and restored to appear as though its been this way for years. Learning this news almost makes me feel cheated, but then I think how many modern beer bar refurbishments involve bland light wooden furnishings and stripping out any soul (*cough* Common *cough.*) Perhaps there's nothing wrong with decorating a place to appear iconoclastic and warming. I certainly love it here.
Lion and Key
This pub completes the trio, along with Walters and WM Hawkes, of pubs owned and renovated by Chrissy Fleming and Alan Murphy. Last used as an Irish bar, this is another pub well decorated to feel as if its been this way for a century. A huge bar at the back, a dominating staircase and walls and ceilings covered in pumpclips create a spacious illusion. There's a choice of upto sixteen cask ales here, but very few from names you would recognise. Indeed there's plenty of smaller breweries represented with cartoon pumpclips I haven't seen the like of much in the past six to seven years. I opt for an AllGates to be safe, but my compatriots all choose one of the random beers I have no knowledge of. Unsurprsingly, mine is the only drinkable pint of the four. The pub is packed though with large groups, as if it still were an Irish bar, so we don't struggle to have three pints returned. Instead, we cut our losses and leave. Average.
Ye Olde Black Boy
Purportedly the oldest pub in Hull, you'll find Ye Olde Black Boy less than two minutes from the Lion and Key and down an alleyway that has two doors on the right, with the bar neatly down the middle of these two rooms. Clearly still owned by a large chain (the last report I can find is of Enterprise Inns) the beer selection is limited, but the Hogs Back Farnham White is drinkable at least. The flavoured pork pies also provide much needed nourishment. The pub is full and a little rowdy at times but we are now into a Saturday evening. It's worth a quick look-in but the alleyway you walk to enter the pub is perhaps its most exciting feature.
The Burlington Tavern
About a five minute walk from Ye Olde Black Boy and back towards the city centre is the Burlington Tavern that made many a good pub beer list. However, this modern pub, with plain walls and Sky Sports screens is a far cry from any of the Old Town establishments. It is packed so we all opt for one of two Saltaire beers we can see and squeeze into a corner. Whilst my mind is partly distracted by the football, I'm still disappointed with the pub as a whole, attracting an excitable crowd of middle aged men. Perhaps the worst establishment visited.
Hop & Vine
At this point we hunt Hull's shopping district for fast food of any sort to satisfy our stomachs before one final stop. To the North end of the Ring Road lies the Hop & Vine; a small bar in the lower rooms of a townhouse. Decorated with dried out hop vines and with a gorgeous little bar, the pub serves three cask ales amongst a decent bottle selection. There's a rather stale smell that is a little off-putting and the selection isn't going to have Furley & Co's quaking, but it's a very pleasant a relaxing place for a quiet drink. It certainly caters to a more "traditional" ale drinker and is probably best suited as a starting point, rather than at the end of a journey before the train home, when everybody in the party is a little louder in the local's eyes than they realise.
Hull is atypical of the lesser populated towns or cities that are discovering the boom in beer slowly and in their own way. It was good to note the strong presence of Atom and Brass Castle in a lot of the pubs and bars though, which backs up my theory that all you really need is two or three really strong local breweries to make an area's beer scene thrive. People have asked whether Hull is worth a beer day out and, for a change of scenery in Yorkshire, I think it is worth the visit. Heck, it is the Capital of Culture 2017 after all.