Sunday, 31 August 2014

Robin Hood and Little John - Arnold, Nottingham

In the current climate of serial pub closures, and the chronic mis-management of many that do survive, it's always a relief when a passionate micro-brewer takes on a previously struggling pub and helps turn it around for the local community. Where the giant pubcos and larger regional brewers see pubs as just another retail outlet to be squeezed, or property investment to redevelop or sell to the highest bidder, the newer entrants such as micro-brewers are that much closer to pubs and the pub-going tradition. They still see the value of pubs to their local communities, because invariably they visit these same pubs frequently, and are of course discerning customers themselves.

Lincoln Green Brewing Co of Hucknall joined the vibrant Nottinghamshire beer and brewing scene in May 2012. The development of a small local pub estate seems to have been part of the business plan from the outset, which is of course entirely sensible for smaller breweries given the long-standing difficulties of selling into the tied pub market. The first of these pubs, a business partnership with Everards Brewery under their innovative and award-winning 'Project William' concept, has now opened in the Nottingham suburb of Arnold.

The people at Lincoln Green were quite clear from outset what they wanted from their pub, but also took the seemingly obvious, yet highly novel step of asking potential customers for their opinions too. Much of the feedback from this exercise, along with their own well-formed ideas on pubs, have been included in the refurbishment of the Robin Hood and Little John.

The separate bar (above) and lounge areas have thankfully been maintained (have we finally moved on from the knock-it-all-through 90's? I do hope so!), with a smaller 'Snug' off the bar (left). There's even an Off-Sales at the front of the pub, a much more civilised alternative to the supermarket take-home. The interior is fabulously traditional, decked out with memorabilia from the long-closed local Home Brewery, yet bright, welcoming, and thoroughly inclusive to the community it serves in a way that some speciality ale houses fail to achieve.

Traditional pub games are part of the appeal of the Robin Hood and Little John, and it's in the snug that you'll find a Dominoes table topper and Shove Ha'penny board. The Dominoes available in the bar could be a bit better quality to be honest, but the Shove Ha'penny is a good one, though be warned, the beds are quite tight, it's not an easy board to play! A set of nicely polished Ha'pennies are available from the behind the bar.

To the rear of the pub is a small patio garden area, a sun-trap enclosed on all sides, one side of which constitutes the pub's original Skittle Alley. Arnold is one of the last bastions of Long Alley Skittles play in Nottinghamshire, though now exclusively played in local clubs. The town also gives its name to the local Domino & Table Skittles league, again, now mostly played in the clubs of the area.

The alley at the Robin Hood and Little John was until recently carpeted and unused for the game, but this has helped maintain the building and iron skittles 'frame' in very good condition. There are plans to bring the alley back into use in the near future, with a couple of teams expressing interest in playing from the pub.

Pub skittle alleys like the one at the Robin Hood and Little John are becoming increasingly rare in the Nottingham area, and it would be to the credit of all concerned if this one could be preserved and rejuvenated through through regular play. One of the final phases in returning this excellent traditional local back to it's community.

Oh, and by the way, the pub serves a fabulous range of traditional ales and ciders too. But then you'd probably guessed that already!

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