The pub is a uniquely British thing. They come in a variety of styles, but the sad thing is that they're disappearing at an alarming rate. So I thought I'd celebrate some of my favourite pubs, plus one US bar which I used to go to a lot in Washington DC, but has sadly now also closed. So, in no particular order...
Rose & Crown Ashdon, Essex
This is my local pub in the village I grew up in near Saffron Walden in Essex. Ashdon is a village of around 900 residents and not so long ago there were seven pubs in the village! Even when I was growing up there were three. The Rose & Crown is the only one left. It has a great restaurant and some very genial hosts. It dates back to Tudor times and has a very cosy atmosphere.
The Cricketers Clavering, Essex
The Cricketers is in Clavering, near Saffron Walden and although it’s ten miles from where I grew up it became a bit of a ‘local’ in my later teenage years. Owned by Jamie Oliver’s parents, you’d expect the food to be superb, and it always was. I haven’t been back for many years but I’m told it’s still the most popular pub/restaurant in the area. I do remember it has a very low ceiling!
The Eight Bells Saffron Walden, Essex
Located opposite Saffron Walden Golf Club The Eight Bells remains one of the most popular pubs in the town and retains its character. Another one of my teenage haunts, one of its biggest attractions is that you’re likely to find my CNNTalk colleague Liam Halligan propping up the bar!
Louis Marchesi Norwich, Norfolk
This was one of several regular haunts of mine when I was a student in Norwich. Located in the historic Tombland area of the city, opposite the cathedral, the pub was always popular with club goers, with Ritzy’s and several others located within a few yards. It closed some years ago and was renamed Take Five (yes, really) but last year reverted back to being the Louis Marchesi (who was the founder of the Round Table.
Located just down the road from the Louis Marchesi in Magdalen Street in Norwich, The Lawyer was another of my student haunts. Indeed, I think it was the first pub in Norwich that I ever went to. We’d hold meetings of the UEA Conservatives there too. I can even remember going on a few dates there! A very traditional pub, it had a unique atmosphere, which I hope hasn’t changed over the years.
The Gunton Arms is literally in the middle of nowhere, just off the Cromer to North Walsham Road near Thorpe Market in the middle of a thousand acre deer park. When I was the candidate in North Norfolk it was more of a hotel and called The Elderton Lodge. It was always a bit run down and closed in around 2007. It was bought by an art dealer who refurbished it and reopened it in 2011. It’s never looked back and in 2013 was named Michelin Pub of the Year. It has a fantastic restaurant and a real lodge feel to it, with a massive open fire and slightly smokey atmosphere. If you want to eat there you need to book weeks in advance, but if you’re in North Norfolk, make sure you do.
Center Cafe Union Station, Washington DC
This sounds a funny thing to say but this was genuinely one of my favourite places in the world. You could sit on the upper level, relax with a Sparling Water and lime juice (my favourite tipple!) and just watch the world go by. The place had a unique atmosphere, which I’ve never experienced anywhere else. I say ‘had’ because I’ve been told it isn’t there any longer. It closed in 2016 after 28 years. Apparently traditionalists thought it ruined the central hall of the station. Bunkum.
The Three Hills Bartlow, Cambridgeshire
Another one of my haunts from my younger years, but I still go back there for family meals with my sisters occasionally. My parents loved it. Bartlow is just over the Essex/Cambs border, two miles from Ashdon. Bartlow is a little hamlet of only about 100 people and The Three Hills has had its financial challenges over the years and several changes of owners, but it’s still there. The open fire is a lovely feature and there’s a separate restaurant from the main bar area. It reopened a year ago under new ownership. Must pay a visit soon!
The Bucks Arms Blickling, Norfolk
This pub was a commercial failure until it changed ownership some years ago. It's now owned by a group which also runs the Recruiting Sergeant in Coltishall and the Black Boys at Aylsham. The Bucks Arms is the pick of the three in terms of atmosphere and food. The portions are huge and the menu is extensive. I've celebrated several birthdays here and John and I had our celebration wedding meal at the Bucks Arms with 15 friends in 2015 when we 'upgraded' our civil partnership. We love it.
The Green Man Rackheath, Norfolk
Sadly the Green Man shut for good in June of 2018. It's about to reopen, on 15 December, as a carvery with the rather ghastly name of TFI Rackheath. Might give that a swerve. The Green Man is/was located on the main road from Norwich to Wroxham, but it's rather in the middle of nowhere, which has always put it at a commercial disadvantage. I worked at the Green Man for six months in 1987 as a barman and cook (stop laughing at the back). I had a great time! When they gave me the job they apparently thought I'd be useless but they hadn't got anyone else. When I left they told me how good I was with the lady customers! Lol.