In a second I’m going to write the holiest, loveliest, most cherished word in the English language. Are you ready?
Pub. Yes, you heard me: ‘pub’.
Not peace, love or rainbows and all that shite. Not anything that just sounds cool (although biverwhack and verisimilitude came close). Nope, ‘pub’ is my favourite word because of the memories it inspires from times past, as well as the overwhelming sense of fun, frolics and friendship that it offers in future. It is a monosyllabic promise of kinship and guaranteed joy, served ice cold in a pint glass, preferably from a pretty lady who I can later masturbate to with a twinge of shame.
I’m a 22 year old puppy in the pubby mecca of England where our boozers are, let’s face it, better than anywhere else. However, despite my tender years, I think I know what it takes to be classed as a decent drinking den. It’s not rocket science; an atmospheric setting, good grub, friendly and efficient staff. An impressive selection of lagers, ales and a couple of good bottles of plonk. If you can achieve this, you have it made and, in my book, any landlord ticking all these boxes is up there with Jesus H. Christ and Mother Theresa in the pecking order of offerings to mankind.
For every pleasant pub in my unfortunately perma-tanned, Towie clone-zone home of Essex, there are a dozen absolute fucking shitholes. For every passionate barman musing about the new home-brew they made with hops and fermented unicorn tears, there’s loads of bitter, defeated bar staff who look like they’d rather stab you than serve the lukewarm piss they have on draught.
This is going to turn into a rather morose assessment of Essex’s (lack of) pub culture so, before that happens, allow me to name-check some absolutely brilliant boozers. Because they’re really not all bad, there are some proper hidden gems, especially as you go further out in the countryside. The Jobber’s Rest in Upminster has a lovely garden, the underrated Kozel lager on draught and tasty food. The Bell Inn in Horndon on the Hill, family run for 75 or so years, has arguably the best food I’ve ever eaten in any pub bar none. Also worth a mention is The Alma Arms in Navestock and there are a wealth of others. Now I’ve got all that butt-kissing out of the way, allow me to be your guide on which Essex dives to avoid on your boozy odyssey as we count down, in no particular order, Essex’s grimmest, shittiest, most in need of being demolished pubs.
The Joker, Seven Kings
I start our journey with The Joker because it could possibly be up there as the grottiest boozer on the list. I’ve only had the misfortune of visiting this arse pimple once; shockingly, on New Year’s Eve. Whilst most people were tarting themselves up, sipping champers and getting ready to hold hands and belt out Auld Lang Syne, I was sat in the corner on my own supping a warm beer, hoping beyond hope that my friends, who were already an hour late, would turn up pretty sharpish. The patrons were almost as rough as the dodgy garage ‘tunes’ they had playing over the speakers. I got up shortly after and walked out, which was one of the wisest decisions of my adult life so far. Luckily the place is being knocked down to make way for some flats but, in the meantime, try O’ Grady’s down the road which is infinitely better.
William The Conqueror, Harold Hill
From fancyapint.com, and I quote: ‘A two-room pub amid the gloom of Harold Hill. One room had youths in West Ham shirts playing pool, the other was full of older men drinking in a Pontins-esque mint and yellow coloured bar.’ And the video probably just about sums it up too.
Possibly the snootiest review ever (the implication that you must be a right rotten turd for merely wearing a West Ham top is a bit much), but I can totally empathise with them. Another pub which, unsurprisingly, I’ve only gotten round to visiting the once. This is the closest pub to my girlfriend’s house but, as I don’t want her to contract Chlamydia (unless it’s from me), we’ll probably steer clear of this place.
Ah, Yates’ Wine Lodge (how they can get away with calling it that I do not know). I remember the days of being freshly 18 and this joint offering £1 pints. Naturally I loved it. But once the ‘you can get completely cunted on a tenner’ charm wears off, you start to notice several worrying things. Such as the fact that the bottles of Magners were a year out of date. And the sausage and mash you ordered over an hour ago has turned up cold, resembling a squashed digestive system. Oh, and there are pissed up menopausal women sliding up and down the poles on the dancefloor. Just no.
The Chequers, Hornchurch
A pub which, according to reports, used to be quite the institution back in the day. Since the previous landlord stepped away several years back, this place has descended into the type of dirty boozer which as soon as you walk in, you want to leave. There's nothing wrong with a bit of a rough pub in the right circumstances; it can even be pretty charming. But not this place. A pub should provide a welcoming environment for non-regulars as well as the type of punters who prop up the bar on a nightly basis. Yet when I walked in, fuck… They stared at me the way a baying mob would look at a salivating Jimmy Savile hiding in a bush outside a nursery. Cross this off your list folks.
Sir Winston Churchill, Debden
Courtesy of beerintheevening.com: ‘Decided to pop in on Saturday lunchtime and didn’t get through the door as the terrace and doorway were full of drunks, fat women, chavs and horrible kids. They all seemed to have a vocabulary of words rhyming with ‘duck’ and ‘hunt’.’
Fortunately I’ve not had the displeasure of visiting this place but a colleague has. Being polite, reports aren’t particularly encouraging. Being frank, it sounds like it’d be safer to stand on a street in Basra dressed up as George Bush holding a ‘fuck off Allah’ placard. This place is seriously rough. Swerve at all costs.
Christmas Eve is a time for goodwill to all men. Plumping up the presents under the tree and laying out a carrot and some milk for Rudolph to chow down on so the kids don't get suspicious about whether or not this Santa bloke actually exists. Well, that's the theory. You'll probably have to wake up at 3 a.m., feed the carrot to the dog and chuck the milk down the sink. However, I found myself in this place on Christmas Eve some years ago. Imagine your own personal hell, then multiply it by ten. No, you're still not close.
Okay, think five year olds writhing up and down poles like Miley Cyrus on heat, whilst their Donnay-clad parents are having a barney in the corner over who drank the last can of Skol lager. Yes I sound like an uppity tit but all this actually happened, and more. Take it from me, Bentley's is about as appealing as an aggressive case of genital warts.
The Golden Crane, Cranham
A local one for me, this, but not one close to my heart. Don’t let the pleasant photos of the beer garden on the internet fool you as last time I visited, there were nails galore in the grass. Oh, and inexplicably some random metallic objects by a broken trampoline. It reminded me of the scaffolding climbing frame in Peter Kay’s Phoenix Nights. This is a pub with so much potential but the current landlord puts such little effort into the place it’s embarrassing; recently, the only drinks available on draught were Eagle IPA, Carling and Fosters. A real wasted talent; think Amy Winehouse, just without the beehive. Though my mate is convinced he found several pubes in his pint once. In summary, avoid.
So to pub enthusiasts everywhere, if you’re visiting Essex and thirsty for a quick tipple, or alternatively an almighty liver-annihilating session, you’ve been warned. Avoid these cesspits. Be it for their pissy lager, their Jeremy Kyle Show patrons or for their nail-ridden play areas. I’ve mentioned a few alternatives above but, because I don’t want you suffering the same fate as me, below are five more than adequate boozers for you to check out in my local area. Where you will not get stabbed, or poisoned, or feel like you’re socialising with a gang of mutants from The Hills Have Eyes. Good luck and happy drinking.
The Windmill, Upminster Bridge.
The Ardleigh & Dragon, Ardleigh Green.
The Nags Head, Brentwood.
The Optimist Tavern, Upminster.
The King Harold, Harold Hill.