One of the surprises in St Helens the other week was the quality of the Unicorn in the Market Tavern, a straight-forward opened up town pub serving a lot of JS Smooth and Fosters.
Owners Amber Taverns have over a hundred pubs now, mainly in large industrial towns in the cheaper parts of the Midlands and North (the places I like, in fact). Despite several town centre locations, I can’t say I remember walking past many of the pubs on their list, but they’re unbranded as far as I know.
Only a handful of their pubs are in the Beer Guide, but I’ve been impressed with the Berkeley in Wigan and Wheatsheaf in Preston. They struck me as well-run pubs for drinkers which were maintaining real ale quality by competitive pricing.
I stopped off in Worksop* to visit their new Beer Guide entry, and was again impressed with the atmosphere and beer quality.
The Unicorn is on the edge of the town centre, and was doing good business at 11am on a busy market day. It’s not quite Sam Smiths standard, but it is an attractive, if open pub.
Not in my photos, but there were a good couple of dozen drinkers, mainly retirees, enjoying their papers or sports TV. Not all male drinkers by any means either.
Many of the folk here (including me, I guess) are the sort you’d often see in a Wetherspoons late morning. But when beer is the same price and a place is more conducive to a quiet pint, I can see why’d you’d swap the Liquorice Gardens for the Unicorn.
From a tight range with familiar and unfamiliar names, the local Pheasantry beer from East Markham was just over £2, and well presented (NBSS 3.5). I presume that, while beer quality is key, having an ale from a local independent brewery doesn’t hurt Beer Guide selection either.
I may have been lucky with the Ambers I’ve been in, and boisterous open plan drinkers’ pubs aren’t for everyone of course. But they are pleasant looking pubs, and they cater ell for the solo drinker who wants a decent pint, whether Fosters or Thwaites.
*I’d like to do a fuller report on Worksop, but I need to arrange a day to visit Mr Straw’s house.