Generally I plan in advance to do a review – I’ll persuade someone to come with me and make a special visit. However, on this occasion I ended up doing a review simply by accident of bus timetables. I was meeting someone for dinner, and the bus times meant I had a choice between being 20 minutes early or 10 minutes late. 10 minutes late is rude, and 20 minutes early is a long time to wait in the cold. So I did the only thing I could – I picked 20 minutes early and took refuge from the cold in the Hope Tap while I waited.
I haven’t been to the Hope Tap in a very long time, in part because the last time I went they refused to let Mrs. Quaff in because she was wearing trainers. Seriously. Mrs. Quaff, who regularly features in the top 10 least likely people to cause trouble in Reading. Mrs. Quaff, who was the only woman in a group of 10 people, entering an otherwise fairly empty pub. Mrs. Quaff who was dressed very nicely. But she had trainers on, which the doorman decided meant that she couldn’t come in. All 10 of us turned round and went somewhere else. I can’t remember where, but that just goes to show that problems stick in your mind more than successes (a good lesson for all businesses out there).
Good news though – the entry standards seem to have dropped in the 15 years since I’ve last been, because (shock horror), this time I was able to sneak in wearing trainers. In fact, it looked very much like they would let just about anyone in. And it looked like they had been letting anyone at all in since 8am.
The Hope Tap is a Wetherspoons, and like most Wetherspoons it does many things well and a few things not so well. There was a good beer selection. I had a Shipyard APA, and it cost £2.29. That’s an unbelievable price for a town centre pub – most charge more than double that. They also had John Smiths and Doom Bar of course, Green King IPA, Abbot Ale, Punk IPA (£3.49 a pint, compared to £5.45 at the Brewdog bar), Hop House Lager, as well as the usual other lagers and Guinness. Ironically the lagers like Stella cost almost £4 – almost double the price of the craft beers. I bet they still sell loads of it though.
As well as beer, the Hope Tap has a fantastic gin selection – I counted 12 different gins, with some interesting ones like Zymurgorium Realm of the Unicorn Gin (£3.35). If you’re a gin fan, it’s well worth a visit.
Some of the more traditional drinks from the EU have been cut from the menu, and instead they now stock British alternatives. Fancy a Jägerbomb? You’re out of luck. Instead you can get a Strikabomb, made with Strika Herbal Liqueur – Chorley’s No. 1 Herbal Liqueur. I’m not sure how much competition there is in Chorley for Herbal Liqueur production, but it’s good to know that Wetherspoons have the #1 one.
If you are avoiding alcohol, there’s also Lavazza coffee (from an automatic machine) which costs just £1.25, with unlimited refills all day. As long as you take the caffeine, you can sit all day in the warmth having as much tea and coffee as you want, for a tiny amount of money. There’s wifi too.
The Hope Tap now supports ordering food and drink from the Wetherspoons app on your phone too. That means you can sit at your table and keep ordering drinks without the pain of human interaction at the bar, getting out of your seat only to visit the toilets. And as was later pointed out to me by Millennial Tom, it means you can order your drink on the way to the pub, and it’ll be sitting at your table when you get there. Genius.
Post-Millenials seem to love the Hope Tap too. While I was waiting I was surrounded by tables of students. The lack of music in the pub means that I couldn’t help but overhear their fantastically entertaining conversations while I waited. One table of philosophy students spent a surprising amount of talking about Plato and the morality of murder (their eventual conclusion – it’s bad). Also, I learned “just read for 15 minutes a day and you will have all the liberalism you need, and everything will be OK”. Good to know. Perhaps some modest music would be better though.
If you don’t fancy sitting there being nosy about other people, you can always sit by the window and watch the buses go past, or sit by the fire, or in the beer garden in the summer. It’s a big pub with plenty of room for all of those.
So with cheap but good beer, trainers allowed, plenty of room, and an app that means you never need to get up, and a great gin selection, what could possibly be wrong?
Top of my list was going to be that it’s a bit Brexity. It’s well known that owner, Tim Martin, pushes his anti-EU opinions on customers. But actually, on the day that I visited the Hope Tap had no evidence of that. No posters in the window, no beer mats. It was pointed out to me that the menu had gone a bit brexit. It has slightly – the word “British” appears on there a whopping 13 times. If Tim Martin kept his mouth shut though, I suspect we’d all just feel that that particular point was patriotic. But he can’t keep his mouth shut, and I’m sure the beer mats and posters will be back soon.
Next on the list is that as I sit in there, I always feel that I’m looking over my shoulder for trouble. There wasn’t any (other than some weird guy sitting on his own eavesdropping on the tables around him), but something about the massive size of it it has a vibe about it that isn’t like a cosy boozer.
And lastly, it’s the other people who have been in the pub for 12 hours already when you get there. And they haven’t been drinking the Lavazza coffee all day.
|Beer Quality||It’s fine. Not the stale beer it used to be in Wetherspoons.|
|Beer Selection||A broad selection, craft, draft, lager, interesting bottles|
|Drink vs Food||Cheap food (British) if you want it|
|Snacks||Crisps, olives, nuts|
|Atmosphere||Odd. A broad range of people, but everyone keeping themselves to themselves.|
|Price||An absolute bargain – a pint starts at £1.99|
When my dinner companion (Edible Reading) turned up, he had a swift half while I finished my beer and we buggered off here. There was no question about staying for any longer than that. We had food and better pubs to review…