Sunday, 5 February 2012

Forum, Winckley Street, Preston

‘Why don’t we go to a nice, smart bar tonight’, said Miss Chardonnay Sidekick, as we donned scarves, hats and gloves to brave the icy night.
‘But we always go to nice, smart bars’, I replied, before heading quickly out the door preventing a chance to protest.
We marched quickly into the city on a crisp, cold Wednesday night.
The stars were out, the moon was bright and with lights shining softly on the Harris Museum, I can’t recall Preston city centre ever looking so nice.
There was, however, a key element missing - people.
Clean, calm and picturesque it may have seemed, it was also completely and utterly dead.
Undeterred, we marched onto my pub of choice. Shut.
‘I’m getting a bit chilly now’, said Miss Shivering Chardonnay Sidekick.
‘Don’t worry, I’ve got a back-up plan’, I replied. Shut.
She refused to enter the third option I presented and I don’t really blame her.
If the temperature had not slipped below freezing, Miss Shivering Chardonnay Sidekick’s cheeks would, by now, have started to redden.
‘Right, it’s a nice bar or I’m going home’, she announced, not unreasonably.
So I caught her up as she stalked towards Forum.
Stepping through the glass-pannelled door, I had to fight my natural instinct to baulk at the lack of open fires, wooden beamed ceilings or cask ales.
Instead it was leather settees, textured wallpaper and soft lighting.
‘But it’s open’ I told myself, ‘And a timely diplomatic move’.
I flicked through the drinks menu, past unspeakably expensive champagne, elaborate cocktails and wines from around the world, until I found the beers.
I had been expecting to force down a pint of lager or at best John Smith’s but to my surprise they stocked a couple of bottled real ales.
I chose a bottle of Thwaites Wainwright and then had another convulsion when the barman asked for £3.95 with another £4.10 required to cover the cost of Miss Chardonnay’s small wine.
With my body starting to defrost in the warmth, it was now me whose cheeks had started reddening, as I reluctantly handed over my prized £10 note.
‘Calm down Ben, you were expecting lager, so this is a nice bonus’, I told myself as I placed the coppers back in my wallet.
Slouched back into a lazy leather chair, I began to relax as the trendy jazz/reggae/funk/electro background music bounced along, loudly enough to create its desired impression, without getting in your face.
With the city centre as quiet as I had ever seen it, the only pubs which seemed to be doing any trade, or indeed be open, were showing the night’s Premier League matches.
And while Forum certainly could not be described as busy, there was a steady trickle of people who came in during the evening, so it must be doing something right.
Yet I can’t help feeling, if it had just one real ale pump, it may just bring in a few more.
Still, I should be counting my blessings, I got a good beer which I was not expecting and it averted a diplomatic disaster, which would have put any crunch European summit to shame.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

The Windmill Tavern, Salwick, Preston

When I was younger my mum once stared me in the eyes and said, ‘Sometimes Ben, people who say the most have got the least to say’.
‘Hang on a minute’, I replied. ‘My maths teacher? He talks a lot.
‘Does he have nothing to say?
‘What about the woman reading the news? She talks a lot.
‘What about commentators at football matches? They talk a lot?’
‘What about….’
At this point I was kicked out of the front door.
‘Go and annoy the neighbours’, she suggested.
I reasoned she must have been losing her marbles and have continued to bask in inane chatter of no particular substance, ever since.
In fact since my late teens when I discovered ramble fuel (real ale) such nonsense has, if anything, spiralled.
Ironic then that it took a trip to the pub for the penny to drop.
When I spotted The Windmill Tavern in the Good Beer Guide, alarm bells rang.
‘It’ll be littered from top to bottom with mill-themed rubbish – fake bags of flour, pretend machinery and a restaurant bit called The Corn Shed’.
But to my great surprise, when Miss J20 Sidekick and I walked in, there was none of the rubbish I had expected.
Instead, understated, clean and simple, the pub has been designed to make a virtue of its 18th century architecture, without going over the top.
The pub has a large restaurant area set over several levels but we chose a settee in what would have been the base of the windmill.
With a pint of Black Sheep, I was already in a good mood but it was further brightened when I spotted two televisions, showing live football.
Certainly not a typical sports pub, the manager kept the sound low so as to let the regulars enjoy the match without intruding on families and groups chomping through their hearty meals.
I could barely wait to get home to give my mum a call.
‘I’ve been to the pub this afternoon and I get it what you were saying about talking too much’.
‘I’d be surprised’, she replied.
‘Anyway. You know there’s a pub near us that used to be a farm building, so they filled it with farm yard clutter?
‘It’s as if it needs to constantly remind us, it has a history, it used to be something else.
‘It’s as if they’re shouting ‘Look at me everybody I used to be a farm where folk piled hay and kept chickens.
‘Well, I went to a place that used to be a windmill today but they’d just made it into a quiet, smart, understated place.
‘It must have bags of history but it is all the better for not shoving it down our throats.
‘So in conclusion…’
She cut me off again.
‘You’re still rambling, so you only half get it.
‘Now why don’t you go and annoy your neighbours?’