The Back of Beyond

There’s only so many times you can visit a Wetherspoons’ pub and have something novel to write. A few years ago that number of times used to be capped at an absolute maximum of four if you were limiting yourself to Reading. Now that the Baron and the Monk’s Retreat have both passed in to the hands of other pub chains though, there are only two ‘Spoons left in Reading, which surely makes this review reading.

In fact the Back of Beyond is actually well worth knowing about. It might not be in a fancy building like the Opera House in Tunbridge Wells (a former opera house), or the Counting House in Glasgow (a former counting house). None of the past or present ‘Spoons in Reading are in fancy buildings – they are all below flats and offices in pretty dull buildings. But the Back of Beyond has one thing that no other pub in Reading does – it actually has a beer garden that is next to the water. Yes, the Fisherman’s Cottage is only a footpath away, and the Griffin is only a car park away, but at the Back Of Beyond, you could actually jump out of a boat straight in to the pub if you were so inclined…and a good jumper. And were willing to get barred for such disgraceful antics. But even if you aren’t planning on doing that, it’s the only pub in Reading that really takes advantage of either of our waterways.

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I have to confess that the photo above was not taken during this visit, which took place both at night, and on the other side of the water – i.e. actually in the pub. I went back a few days later for a nice photo from the other side of the river, because from the road side, the Back Of Beyond looks much like any other pub. It’s on the main road, between another pub (The Thirsty Bear), and some offices. Nothing about it from the front says “waterfront pub”, and I imagine a lot of people don’t even think of the canal being just behind the buildings on King’s Road.

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This particular visit was in fact an unintended visit. I had planned to go to the Lyndhurst with Mr. Affable, Mr. Waitrose, Big Gary and Lager Gav. Unfortunately it was shut at 10:30 at night, so I took advantage and sneakily suggested that we visit a pub I hadn’t reviewed yet. They all fell for it, and so we found ourselves despite our best intentions in a Wetherspoons. And at 10:45 at night, it was still serving food – when the Lyndhurst had stopped serving beer. I can’t help but feel it’s things like that which contributed to the Lyndhurst shutting down. Running a pub profitably is all or nothing – you can’t do it part time.

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Enough of the Lyndhurst’s woes – this review is about the Back Of Beyond. It wasn’t without its own problems. Half the taps were off because of gas problems. Fortunately the wide selection meant that wasn’t a big issue. Mr. Affable found a nice cider in a box instead of the Thatchers Gold. I had a Punk IPA instead of a Shipyard. Crisis averted by virtue of them having a wide selection of drinks that I am sure I don’t need to list for anyone. Worth a mention is the particularly impressive gin display that rivals any specialist gin pub. And again, this is another nail in the coffin for pubs like the Lyndie. Why go to a pub that charges £5.20 for a pint and has a beer garden next to the IDR when you can pay £2.65 for a pint from a much larger selection of drinks and sit next to the water.

Of course part of the answer why you might want to do that is the atmosphere. The Back of Beyond is a little dull. It’s the usual mix of students and old men that you find in most ‘Spoons. There was a large group of older men taking over the middle of the pub when we got there, but there were booths along the edge with room to spare, and no jostling at the bar to get served. The Brexit paraphernalia seems to have gone, and all in all it’s just fine. Other than the beer garden that I may not have mentioned before.

Beer Quality Excellent. Well looked after beer
Beer Selection Really wide selection.
Drink vs Food It’s almost rude not to have a curry club special if you are in on a Thursday, but it’s a pub not a restaurant.
Music Silence
Snacks Kettle chips and KP nuts. No random brand X here
Atmosphere Dull
Price Dirt cheap – from £2.65 a pint.
Space Plenty of space inside. That beer garden by the water that I might have mentioned before fills up rapidly.

The Back of Beyond looks uninspiring from the outside, and I imagine there are a lot of people who don’t make it much past the bar area inside the pub, and don’t realise there is a beer garden by the canal at the back. I don’t know why they don’t make more of it, but go along and try to nab a nice table by the water while the sun is shining. Just don’t expect a big party night.

Score 6.75

https://www.jdwetherspoon.com/pubs/all-pubs/england/berkshire/the-back-of-beyond-reading

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