Well, the committee that makes up my blog titles went into overdrive on this one.
Nothing rhymes with Watford, a place I can’t love, but whose brightly-shirted team of unpronounceable players kindly let my beloved City trample all over them at regular intervals these days. And then leaves their calling cards in pub toilets.
Watford, you may remember, is the town that gave me my worst pub experience last year. It is to the credit of the Beer Guide, and local CAMRA branch, that the new GBG omits that pub. In fact, I distinctly recall the branch not taking up their Guide allocation some years back, which was a noble act akin to Joe Root giving himself out.
Remembering my principle that “All of England has merits, some well hidden“, I set off from Watford High Street station (scary) to Watford Junction station (scary, but with a Beer Guide pub).
I think about following the Colne Valley walk with it’s cute but inexplicable modern art,
but it looks a bit deserted beyond that underpass, and suddenly Harare feels a safer prospect (different blog post that one).
Like Hendon, Watford feels a bit underpubbed. No GBG entry in the centre for years, though the venerable Moon Under Water (practically the Spoons Tap ?) has one of the more impressive beer ranges I’ve seen, including some verifiable craft keg alongside the Shipyard.
The one truly historic pub, the One Bell, is sadly still boarded up awaiting a future non-pubby fate. A shame, its Courage Best was a Watford highlight (honest).
I’d always thought of Watford as Luton with better football but less character, a vast shopping town with little independent enterprise. Nothing has changed, though the underpass art on the way to the Flag is rather brilliant.
And in a town that somehow feels like 1984 without the edge, the cultural offer seems always to be fixated on a certain period in time. There really is no escaping Elton John on my travels.
A zigzag route to the Junction means bumping into slow office workers trudging back to their offices from the High Street carrying Pret a Manger carry-outs.
The death of the lunchtime office trade has been disastrous for beer sales in traditional all-day openers like the Estcourt Arms, at one stage a Beer Guide regular with its cutting-edge 6X and Tetley in a proper workingman’s local.
So what could the massive Flag be doing right to get it in the Guide ?
Serving beer and ping food from 8am within sight of Wetherspoons HQ, seems to be the answer.
It looked vaguely familiar, and eventually my repressed memories rose to the surface, and I recalled a pint in a Firkin here while waiting for the train to Macclesfield in the summer of 1998. As Pubmeister and BRAPA will immediately realise, this was arguably an unnecessary repeat visit.
I can’t remember if I had Dogbolter or Tetley (this would have been on the cusp of the Firkin sale), but I do remember watching Bulgaria 0 v Paraguay 0, possibly the worst game in World Cup history, despite the appeal of Trifon Ivanov.
I contemplated whether the young people below were conceived during that match,
but they turned out to be Russians, so it’s unlikely.
A few Firkin touches remain that really ought to guarantee National Inventory status for the Flag.
Frankly, nothing much had changed since 1998, which can sometimes be a bonus, but here it just felt like an unloved Hungry Horse with foreign students instead of OAPs.
But it’s all about the beer, right ? Well, the Doom Bar was the only beer I could see had been pulled, so I had a pint of that. It was a solid NBSS 2.5, sadly not bad enough to take back and exchange for the Red Fox I then discovered the Pubmeister had had the previous week (possibly the same barrel).