I thought I’d write a piece on a recent trip to Portsmouth (aka Pompey) where I checked out how things had changed since I trod its streets as a struggling student back in the 70s. I booked myself into a sea-front hotel, bought a ticket for the football, and planned my own mini crawl around the area I knew so well in my first year at Poly. in 1976.
To support this article I was keen to get a good feel for today’s beer drinking culture in Portsmouth. But with only one day free I focussed on the north of Southsea and the tight-knit residential streets between Albert Road and Fratton Park.
I travelled down on Saturday morning hoping to explore a little before the match (v Exeter). Traffic delays made time a bit tight but I did managed to find the first pub on my target list for a quick pint…and what an experience it was. The Nell Gwynne was a very good street corner local and was packed with a really interesting pre-match crowd. Let’s say the clientele and the atmosphere took me back to pubs close to football grounds in the 70s or 80s. Many of the blokes looked as if they dated back to those times (as I do) and although I didn’t advertise my northern accent I really liked the buzz and warmth of the place.
Saturday evening provided the serious research and I kicked off by visiting a favourite haunt of student days, the 5th Hants Volunteer Arms. To a great extent the pub hadn’t changed much at all except for the unfortunate presence of a TV and the even more unfortunate loss of the Gale’s Ales I remember with a passion. Gale’s were sold to, and closed by, Fuller’s of London. Fuller’s provide the beers for the 5th Hants and offer a version of the old Gale’s Horndean Special Bitter, but it’s an unexciting reproduction so my visit was a little sad. The pub was good but not with the feel of the old days!
Albert Road was unrecognisable from the 70s. Then it was quiet and work-a-day, now it’s lively and buzzing. My second stop was the Duke of Devonshire which had a selection of beers and a really good atmosphere. The local brewery I’d been looking out for was on the bar so the Duke was a perfect stop-off on the tour. Portsmouth’s Irving & Co. Brewers have an attractive range of regular beers (each with a Naval theme) and the one I sampled was Invincible (named after an aircraft carrier). Invincible was very good although, despite it claiming to be a full-bodied premium bitter, I would have liked a little more body myself. Still I am being picky and I’d certainly look out for Irving’s beers again.
Pub number three needed a trip into the backstreets north of Albert Road. The Red, White, and Blue is a welcoming street corner local. Another good mix of customers (young and old) and another very friendly feel. Again Fuller’s replaced the the original Gale’s, and their London Pride was excellent. A couple of streets away was the Golden Eagle. Again nestled on a street corner and again Fuller’s. Inside was lively with what turned out to be a rather good Status Quo tribute band (Stated Quo) playing in the bar. The London Pride went down nicely and the bouncing crowd made for a great short stay.
Finally a return to Albert road and yet another beautiful street corner pub. The Leopold may be an old pub but it’s been up-dated inside and done so in such a way as not to crush warmth and cosiness. At the bar there was a modern selection of beers too. Older breweries and modern breweries sat side by side. Plenty of variety on the pumps and the mixed crowd were very happy, as was I.
The Leopold was a comfortable place to sit and assess my tour and the state of Portsmouth today. Albert Road is a brilliant night out area. Something for everyone and everything close at hand. What is particularly good about the area, especially if I compare it to home in Sheffield, is the survival of many (but not all) of the small street corner locals. The ones that I came across seemed to be thriving with people popping out for a quick one, two, or maybe more. The friendly atmosphere of these local pubs was really warm and showed that a pub can still be what it should be… a great community resource.