Sunday, 22 March 2015

Kings Head, Norwich, Norfolk

Several English cities either lay claim to, or have been conferred with the status of 'Capital of Beer'. It's a subject that beer enthusiasts love to debate, often with strong views and partisan feeling directing the discussion. Derby, Sheffield, and York are certainly strong contenders, but it's perhaps Norwich that has the widest popular support, a claim enhanced by the pioneering and popular 'City of Ale' event which is now an annual fixture of the UK beer scene.

What perhaps gives Norwich the edge over other notable beery destinations is the sheer variety and number of excellent pubs within the city limits, albeit considerably down in numbers from the time when Norwich boasted 'A church for every week of the year and a pub for every day'. It's still possible to get an idea of just how many pubs Norwich would once have had by glancing down at the pavement as you preamble between those that remain. The site of many lost pubs has been recorded in bespoke paving slabs like the one shown here, a small but admirable record of Norwich's past.

The City of Ale website acts as a pretty good starting point for exploring the pubs and bars of Norwich, but don't attempt to visit them all in a day! Even a weekend would be a struggle, and besides, with pubs as good as the Kings Head which I've featured here, it would be wrong to rush the experience.

The Kings Head was probably my favourite of several pubs visited over the course of a long weekend recently. It's the kind of pub best appreciated over the course of a few hours, accompanied by a few pints of the excellent beers and cider available. That way you'll get the chance to settle in and allow yourself to be drawn into the ebb and flow of the place, the local chat, the essential pubbiness which is sadly lacking in so many pubs now.

The front bar (above) is wonderfully traditional, a quiet retreat from the bustle and commerce of Magdalen Street with its numerous antiques emporiums. A great place to read the papers, shuffle Dominoes, or simply perch on a bar stool and engage with the locals. The sun streams in through leaded and etched glass windows, illuminating a beer list fit for a long afternoon session. Of course afternoon drinking lends itself well to traditional pub games, and the Kings Head comes well equipped for play.

Norwich has become one of the minor hotbeds of Bar Billiards play in recent years, with a small but thriving league based around a half dozen pub venues in the city. The Norwich Bar Billiards League grew out of an informal inter-pub competition between two Norwich pubs less than ten years ago, one of which was the Kings Head. It's now expanded to ten teams playing over two leagues, with the Kings Head 'A' team the current Division 1 champions.

The Bar Billiards table is located in the larger back bar of the pub, and is a beautifully maintained and 'floodlit' four-pin table manufactured by Alfred Sams & Sons of Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire. Note the holes for storing cues under the slate bed, a distinctive feature of these highly regarded tables.

A clue to the presence of a Shove Ha'penny at the pub is this small table, positioned hard up against a wall in the back bar, and with a line worn on the paintwork from the wear and tear of regular use. Hanging on the wall behind the bar counter is the board itself, a set of coins and chalk attached ready for play. It's not that unusual to see a Shove Ha'penny in a pub these days, but perhaps more surprising is that this board is still in fairly regular use by the locals.

Norwich's credentials as one of the finest cities for beer and pubs is well founded. The modern beer revival and craft beer scene is well established, but so too is the very best of traditional beer and pub culture, embodied in truly great pubs like the Kings Head.


Anonymous said...

Used to run a pub in Norwich, the king's was our local for those precious days off. Always return when we visit this fine city for beer. Glad someone else appreciates its excellence "general pubbing" is a phrase I may well be stealing.

Mark said...

A pub without 'Pubbiness' is barely a pub at all. The Kings Head has it in spades.

Anonymous said...

Damn autocorrect! Agreed, 'pubbiness' often lacking these days. Seems to be crappy identikit hipster bars and dodgy unloved GK pubs or student bars in our neck of the woods.