Not so long ago the Bobbin was a real pub. It had a loyal following of regulars who drank a lot of beer and made a lot of noise. If, like me, you enjoy head banging music with your ale, then it was the place to be. It was often packed out. And they had beer festivals every Easter and Halloween.
Then something catastrophic happened. “Do-badders” in various guises started dabbling — first Mitchell’s who (it is alleged) didn’t care much for the existing clientele and wanted to change it into a foodie place. Luckily they gave up trying and the pub became a tenancy in 2010. Others tried to squeeze the boozer’s big and buxom form into a size ten little black number and set it down at table with soup and croutons while a jazz trio tinkled in the background.
Unsurprisingly, none of this worked. The original punters didn’t come back and new ones failed to materialise. In theory, there was indeed a problem. The Bobbin’s neighbours (Green Ayre, Three Mariners, Yorkshire House) are pubs with distinct identities and individual formulas for success.
In fact there was no problem at all. The solution to this “crisis of identity” was simple. Become a real pub, with a loyal following of regulars who drink a lot of beer and make a lot of noise. Oh, and have beer festivals.
I visited this late 19th century street corner pub during the recent festival and was delighted to find the atmosphere much as of old — lively, boisterous, laughter-filled. It is once again, thank God, an unpretentious, unassuming place with clear and honest values. Pool, loud conversation, music, bloody good beer and cheerful, helpful staff.
All this has been conjured (re-conjured?) by manager Dom Leighton, who was assistant manager five years ago and clearly yearns for past magic. “The aim is to restore some of the old spirit,” he told me, and glancing round, added: “This mix of clientele is just what we want.”
Live music — and not the cocktail hour variety — is back with a bang, with 7 varied bands performing all day on May 1st. But Dom’s greatest contribution to the phoenix-like rise of the new old Bobbin is his beer sense, if this spring festival is anything to go by. You’d have to go a long way to find an ale menu to equal the one at the Bobbin: 11 ales and not one usual suspect among them.
The secret of a successful beer festival is to avoid run-of-the-mill brews that you find everywhere, and to make sure you have a variety of styles and strengths, together with accurate tasting notes. It was good to find five beers in the 3.7 – 4.0% range, 5 more up to 4.5% and just 2 at 5%, with a cider at 6.5%. The beers, all on good form, were from Blindmans, Buffy’s, Exe Valley, Green Jack (2), Holden’s, Marston Moor (2), Springhead, Westerham and Williams Bros, with the cider from Gwynt y Ddraig.
Going down particularly well were Buzz Light Beer from Blindmans, Exe Valley’s Darkest Devon, British Bulldog from Westerham (really good to come across a Kentish beer up here) and William Bros’ Harvest Sun. Beers of the evening, though, for me and at least one other drinker, were the stunning 3.8% Cromwell’s Pale from Marston Moor and the fantastic Green Jack Excelsior, a 3.7% masterpiece.
Message to Dom and the team: Going on doing what you’re doing. And hold the croutons.