Saturday, 12 October 2013

The Foundrymans Arms, Northampton

Putting aside for a minute the unique and special attributes we're all looking for in our 'local', it seems that most pub goers prefer to stick with the thoroughly 'safe and predictable' when out and about. Often it's the pubs you and your friends always go to, or maybe the ones recommended in the guide books. High street chain bars rely for much of their success on this safe familiarity, where you know exactly what you're going to get wherever in the country you might find yourself. No surprises, pleasant or otherwise, and perhaps entirely understandable given that people are visiting pubs less often now anyway.

Of course going off the beaten track and exploring the backstreet nooks and alleys of a town will inevitably lead to some disappointments, and for some it can be a scary business crossing the threshold of a strange pub. But how else are we going to find the hidden gems which don't make it into the guide books. The truly different, and the genuine diversity of independently run pubs which often come with a customer base slightly different to what we're used to. One of the great strengths of pubs is their individuality, but with every closure and bland refurbishment this cultural diversity is being lost at a rate of knots. So it's good to explore a little, step out of our comfort zone, and be surprised, sometimes even delighted with what we find.

The Foundrymans Arms is a little off the beaten track, though not so if you're a Northampton Saints Rugby fan as the pub is almost opposite the mighty Franklins Gardens stadium. It's also a very short walk across the railway and river bridge at St James, making it handy for the rail station, but this is not strictly speaking a town centre pub.

When I visited, the interior was in the final stages of a high quality redecoration ahead of the busy rugby season. It's still quite easy to see from the general layout and numerous doorways, some now blocked up, how the pub would have been made up of several separate rooms originally. The now open-plan drinking area wraps around a central island servery, though each side of the bar still retains an element of its original distinct character. It's a terrific locals pub, beautifully maintained with comfortable leather upsholstered bench seating. Needless to say it's a very busy pub on home rugby match days, but well worth the short walk from town for a pint and natter at other times, or maybe to throw a few cheeses on the fine old Northamptonshire Skittles Table upstairs.

The Games Room at the Foundrymans is located on an upstairs Mezzanine off the bar area. The Skittles Table has an orange Pepper's label, and is sensibly positioned in the corner farthest away from the windows. The pub fields teams in the towns most active league, the Northampton Ladies Skittles League, but in common with most of Northampton towns pubs which still have a table, there doesn't appear to be a men's team in action at this time.

The small group of gentlemen drinking at the bar had all played the game competitively at one time, indeed there are numerous trophies dotted around the pub from these glory days. Talk to anyone of a certain age in Northamptonshire, and the chances are they played for a team, but why so few still play now is hard to say given that age is no bar to the throwing of boxwood cheeses.

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