(c) The Doctor’s Orders
The planners have done damage to Nottingham over the years, but the city has managed to hang on to some important items from one area of its architectural heritage – its pubs. I’ve lived in other English cities, such as Norwich and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, where it’s taken me several weeks to locate half-a-dozen old-style pubs that I’ve really, really enjoyed drinking in. In Nottingham, I’d managed to find half-a-dozen such pubs within about three days.
Nottingham is a centre for micro-beer-breweries (such as Alcazar, Castle Rock, Full Mash and Magpie). This means that a higher-than-average number of bars there stock traditional real ales and the Nottingham branch of CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale), the organisation for non-corporate beer-lovers, is correspondingly strong. CAMRA also concerns itself with the preservation of traditional pubs, resisting efforts to sell them off to property developers or, almost as bad, to ‘modernise’ them and convert them into shiny plastic hellholes blasting with loud music, flashing with fruit-machine lights and crowded with hen and stag parties. So no doubt the strength of CAMRA in Nottingham has played a role in keeping some, at least, of those old hostelries intact.
I’ve mentioned some pubs already in previous entries about Nottingham – the three contenders for title of oldest pub in town, if not in England, the Trip, the Salutation and the Bell Inn; and those bars along the city’s admirable Mansfield Road, including the Peacock, the Lincolnshire Poacher and the Golden Fleece. I thought that in this, my final entry about Nottingham, I would mention a couple more.
Tucked away on St James Street in the city centre, the entrance of the Malt Cross (http://www.maltcross.com/) is easy to miss – especially as the area is often infested with stag and hen-party revellers and serious pub and beer-lovers don’t like to dilly-dally there. However, once you pass through its doors, you’re in for a treat, because the Malt Cross is actually a former music hall, one that was built in 1877. There’s a spacious bar area on the ground floor, while stairs ascend to a wide first-floor balcony that looks down on the bar from three sides. Above that, there’s an arched roof of glass and wood – the curved wooden beams don’t contain any nails or bolts and were apparently glued into position in the 19th century – which makes the Malt Cross an atmospheric place to have a drink while the rain is pattering down overhead. It’s just a pity that some modern (i.e. hideous) items of city-centre architecture intrude on the view from the glass roof.
Meanwhile, in the Carrington area of Mansfield Road is the Doctor’s Orders (http://www.doctorsordersmicropub.co.uk/), which has been in existence for less than a year. Founded by three real-ale lovers called Prakash Ross, Rob Arthur and Rich Burns, the pub occupies the premises of a former pharmacy and its drinking area consists of a front room that doesn’t even have a bar-counter – there’s merely a window looking into a cooling room where the pub’s casks of real ale are stored. For service, one of the three proprietors takes your order and brings the requested real ale (or authentic, properly-strong cider) to your table. As well as lacking a counter, the drinking room is devoid of TV screens, games machines and jukeboxes and to amuse themselves the clientele have to rely on more traditional means of entertainment – human conversation. Which, once upon a time, was what all pubs were about.
Finally, in the retailing centre of Nottingham (and opposite a branch of the bland pub-chain The Slug and Lettuce), you’ll find Foreman’s (https://www.facebook.com/ForemansBar), a small punk rock-themed bar complete with a Union Jack, featuring a Sex Pistols-style safety-pinned Queen’s face, stuck across its cave-like ceiling. While I was drinking in Foreman’s, I noticed that Henry Cluney, original guitarist with the legendary Belfast punk band Stiff Little Fingers, was scheduled to perform there in the near-future, although I wasn’t quite sure where he was expected to play – the pub’s interior is cramped indeed.
As a joke (I trust) the staff of Foreman’s had stuck up behind the bar a 2013 Cliff Richard photo-calendar depicting the saintly, clean-cut Cliff striking various faux-sexy poses on various tropical beaches. While I was drinking there, a little old lady approached the bar and asked the barman to take the calendar down and pass it across to her for a minute. She then started stroking the uppermost picture of Cliff while the calendar lay on the countertop. I’m not kidding.