Suitably refreshed, return to the street and walk down to London Road at the far end. Here either a cab or bus may be procured for the short trip into the town centre, or else if one is feeling adventurous, you may strike out into the streets opposite working your way onto Normand Road and eventually through a labyrinth of red brick, to Silver Hill Road and the Falstaff Free House. Once a dying Allied house in the god forsaken backstreets, this traditional pub became one of the first to be saved by a micro-brewing enterprise in 2002, and has justly featured in every Good Beer Guide since then. I had originally planned to sample the place first hand, but decided instead to take in the brisk 15 minutes stride down London Road to that most loathed of post war fads, Derby’s inner Ring Road. Turing down the aptly named Traffic Street – a morass of swirling congestion dreamt up by a madman – follow the road past the bulbous hulk of the Westfield; cathedral of the new religion. Stiffening your resolve, keep true and pass down Moreledge until you reach the decidedly more sedate surroundings of the Council Building and Market Hall. If you have time, and the inclination, have a wander around both – the Market is still a thriving affair with a strong emphasis on good food and local produce displayed in a fine Victorian covered hall, the Council Office a sober and authoritative display of interwar classicism, redolent of an era when hopeful utopian Councillors naively thought they really could craft a perfect new urban world. Cross the river on Derwent Street, and our next tavern sits before you on a fine corner plot.
– The Brewery Tap (aka The Royal Standard)
No. 1 Derwent Street, Derby DE1 2ED.
A pleasingly curious little pub, which was adapted into its present format by famous local micro-brewer Trevor Harris, who having saved one old derelict pub (which we will visit later) decided to have a second attempt with more of a ‘bar’ emphasis. Acquiring the dead and demolition threatened Royal Standard, he founded his second brewery – Derby Brewing Company – and slowly developed the once unloved venue into one of the city’s best known and perhaps most diverse real ale pubs, serving five guests and five of their own concoction.
Traditionalist of the hirsute and be-sandaled variety may be perturbed when first entering, there is a lot of exposed brick, stark whitewashed walls, stripped floor boards and chirrupy young things behind the bar. However, after the eyes and ears have adjusted to this somewhat unusual frequency, the Spartan interior soon loses its harsh overtones and settles comfortably into a modern yet relaxed experience, topped up with lashings of good ale. Indeed it is heartening for this careworn hack, old long before his time, to see the Tap’s many younger clientele shimmering effortlessly about the place, glass of Mild in hand. All too often in so many of the amazing taverns I have cause to seek out, I am the veritable youngster among a generation of hardened old drinkers, who regrettably and rather unsettlingly, cannot cheat medical science indefinitely.
The home brewed ales are complimented nicely by an assorted and interesting food offering which ranges from simple but effective tapas arrangements, up to more hearty burgers, steaks and battered fish. The emphasis lies strongly on sourcing fresh local produce from little agricultural types, just down the road. The Tap menu also offers suggestions for drinks matching to each dish, from both barrel and cellar – a quirk not generally seen outside the M25 or without an accompanying £25 price tag. The quality of the food offerings though does pull in the punters, so the place can get uncomfortably busy around feeding times, but fear not, the pub serves all day from 12 – 9pm. The delightful roof terrace also features, on the half dozen or so days a year when the sun machetes its way through the dense Midland cloud.
It always brings a warm glow to the tweedy heart of this correspondent to see an old pub like this, once teetering on the verge of destruction, brought back to life with loving attention and transformed like Lazarus into a prospering local venture. It goes someway to prove my oft beer soaked insistence that every pub closure is an offence. No matter how wretched, abused, swirly carpeted, sky sport-ified or lager sodden, virtually every pub is just one good and hard working landlord away from being another classic.
Pressing on from the Tap/Standard, the old divining rod takes me 100 yards further down Exeter Place to another venue which serves as yet another micro-brewery tap (Derby really is a good drinking town). Admire en route the huge vacant space behind our previous pub; a testament to a legacy of rot and greed in our national urban planning. Demolition and clearance are often seen as the panacea for areas experiencing urban decay, but all too often bad and unsympathetic designs or else sheer self interest from the developers, using empty ground as land banks for the future, cause these desolate and Buddleia infested spaces in our town centres to fester away for years (Battersea Power Station, anyone?).
I digress however. Our next aptly named tavern lies at the end of this short street.
– The Exeter Arms
Exeter Place, Derby DE1 2EU.
Once an old and somewhat threadbare Marston’s house in an unregarded corner of Derby, the Exeter has found a second lease of life playing host, once again, to another one of Derby mushrooming micro-brewers (a theme here perhaps?) This time, the fine offerings of the Dancing Duck Brewery litter the bar top, along with the ever present Marston’s Pedi pump and several rotating guests. Indeed, so much has the place improved in recent years that the Ex has made a welcome return to this year’s Good Beer Guide after a 21 year absence. I can personally testify for the quality of their Dark Drake Stout, a rich, nourishing, smokey and visceral experience, which leaves the drinker feeling like he has recently eaten a full steak dinner in preparation for fighting a quarrelsome local bear.
The interior of this beguiling local alehouse is a bit of a knocked through affair, but retains its distinct drinking areas none the less. The cosy public bar is busy with regulars, suits and tradesmen making the most of the handpull selection, slopping ale over the fine quarry tiled floor, while the interconnecting rooms towards the back of the pub allow the anti-social and gastro inclined to gravitate away from the bar without impinging on anyone’s fun. Rustic fittings, rickety furniture and the reassuring presence of an old Joanna in the corner, give the pub a handsome historic feel, without straying into the realms of twee and pastiche. The landlord has also recently opened up the ‘Cottage’, an annex from next door which provides space for clubs and clandestine ale fuelled meetings, but also acts as over-spill space when the pub is busy.
The food offering here comes courtesy of the Secret Dining Company who set up in the pub for lunchtimes Sunday to Wednesday and an all day service Thursday to Saturday. They purvey a justly famed range of tempting takes on British classics, such as Homity Pie, Ham Hock, Pigeon and Mutton, alongside a tapas style selection of platters and boards – to be assailed with friends after the ale has done its work. Booking is apparently advised around weekends as the place becomes extremely busy.
A few pints in this charming and unpretentious boozer are well worth the walk out from the centre, and serves as yet another example of a faltering pub being saved by considerate and imaginative leadership.