Just occasionally we get an urge to do something different. To break the mould. To push the boundaries. A quick look at the Newark CAMRA website showed me exactly where the boundaries were – and arguably the furthest boundary was on the west; Oxton to be exact.
With my trusted travelling beer-drinking companion beside me we set off to be the first reviewers of “The Green Dragon” – unchartered territory indeed.
Armed with wallets, hope and empty stomachs, we pulled into the large car park. Unfortunately, rations, directions and protective equipment would have been more in order. The front room (bar or lounge?) was deserted and in darkness. The backroom (bar or lounge?) was pleasantly busy; but to find it we had walked past: cars with flat tyres and electrical leads trailing under bonnets; smokers at the back (un-marked) door; the conservatory with Triumph sports-bike, full of junk. Once inside, the one uninteresting Marston’s hand-pump was outnumbered by TVs three-to-one. The bar-flies were utterly transfixed by “The One Show”. The beer, like the welcome, was fine, but I have never seen an interior like it. We sat on ripped PVC seats which revealed craters of hand-picked foam. Threadbare carpets. Peeling paintwork. Non-existent decoration. A subdued and ageing ladies darts team went through the motions of playing their forfeited away match – the only plus-point being that they were half way through their season-long most feared fixture. I admit, this last bit is conjecture – I simply cannot believe The Green Dragon has a home team. God forbid that Robert St. Vincent Sherbrooke, one of the 182 men to receive the Victoria Cross during WWII, had to return to Oxton to this sort of hospitality.
Although I am new to CAMRA, I think they are more concerned with beer quality than environment. Fair enough. But don’t patronise me too much – most beer lovers deserve at least a minimum standard of comfort/hospitality. Oxton is a stunningly attractive village in a beautiful area. This pub is like a thorn on a rose. It’s an ice-lolly in a desert – and I expect it to last as long. Proper English pubs were never like this. We left after a very swift pint. I’m sure my trousers were damp.
Fortunately on our way in we had driven past Oxton’s other pub, “Ye Olde Bridge Inn”. As names go, I hate it. I’ve never done unnecessary Es. But out of necessity (namely hunger) we went in. This time an attractive and well-maintained exterior welcomed us. Inside the pub was warm, light, oak-lined and busy. The central bar served various rooms with a full range of Everards’ beers, plus a Titanic guest. My mistake was I forget its name (possibly their seasonal English Glory), but it was one of the tastiest and most unusual English beers I have ever tasted, in fantastic condition and extremely enjoyable. The inexperienced but knowledgeable bar staff had warned us that the Sunchaser was not in good form, so we stayed clear. But let me assure you, every pint we did sample here was superb. And then there was the food. Having chosen from a simple yet acceptable menu, the food came quickly, was fresh tasting and absolutely hit the spot. Let me clarify – this is a village pub with a separate drinking area, relaxed eating areas, and a full-blown restaurant. Clinically clean. Tastefully decorated. Oh, and just for completeness, immaculate toilets. I’ve never run a pub, but seriously, this place has everything. It really isn’t a black art.
It was John Soule, an Indianan newspaper writer, who in 1851 said “Go west, young man”, as advice for Americans migrating towards the Pacific coast during the nineteenth century. Although I’m not suggesting moving to the western limits of the Newark CAMRA region, if you do, make sure you settle near “The Olde Bridge Inn”.