This week I had the absolute, but unexpected, pleasure of joining the Reading Board Games group in the Hope and Bear for a night out. How can it be unexpected? Well, I invited Reading’s premier gin expert, The Gin Devil (Daryl) to come for a review with me, and when I suggested the Hope and Bear, he let on that he is not just the Gin Devil, but also the Board Games King (my words, not his), and started a board games night years ago that still runs there. I thought I was quite good at board games so happily agreed. It didn’t quite turn out like that.
I was really looking forward to visiting the pub because I realised that I haven’t been to the Hope and Bear since it changed its name from It’s A Scream. I used to go there a lot before going to Sardar’s Palace for a curry, but Sardar’s Palace has been closed a long time, and of course is going to be turned into 1 and 2 bedroom luxury apartments. It was always a popular student pub though, which is generally a good thing, because they ensure the beer never gets too old.
And it was a massive selection of beer too – Amstel, Pravha, Guinness, Peroni, Sirencraft Santo, Blue Point toasted lager, Undercurrent, Sierra Nevada California IPA, Timothy Taylor Landlord, Doom Bar, Notting Hill American pale ale (which is apparently never on, and always has an “on next” sticker on it), Wild Weather Millionaire, Magic Rock High Wire, Black and White IPA, and two variants of Camden Hells. That’s one of the longest lists – up there with a ‘spoons. Prices aren’t very ‘spoons though. £5.05 for a pint of Undercurrent. It’s a reasonable price if it were the town centre, but seemed a little steep for a student pub next to Cemetery Junction. If you want a cheap pint though, Doom Bar is £3.80. But it’s Doom Bar. Plus, I was warned that the keg beer was better than the real ale.
Anyway, the Undercurrent tasted good, so I joined Daryl and the board gamers group for a few games. As I said before, I thought I was pretty good with board games, and fancied my chances at doing OK. I mean, I’ve got 6 variants of Monopoly and two Carcassonne expansion packs – I know what I’m doing, right? Well, the first guy I spoke to told me that he had two thousand board games. I didn’t know there even were two thousand board games. That’s when I started to suspect that I might not be quite as in with a chance as I thought. When I got schooled on the renaissance of paper sheet board games in Germany, I knew I was in over my head. I lost the first game dismally, but fortunately they didn’t mock me, the newbie, too much. In fact, there were about 20 people who turned up to play, and they were all really nice to the fool who didn’t know what he was doing. If you have a free Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday or Sunday then go along. You can find out about that at their Facebook page, or Daryl has a meetup group that lists that and more at https://www.meetup.com/Reading-Board-Gamers/. (Daryl is prolific – I have no idea how he does this and his gin events too).
To save me the embarrassment of being trounced by the whole group, Daryl brought along Taverns of Tiefenthal, a board game based on running a pub. When he told the other gamers, they reeled off a list of about 5 other board games about running a pub, so think on that when you’re playing Cluedo on Christmas day. Needless to say I came second, but it was fun none the less. While playing though I decided to get some food. The menu was OK – burger and a drink for £10.50 for example. I don’t normally mention the food quality, but I had a chicken burger, and when I bit into it at one point I thought I was eating the bamboo stick not the burger. I hear the other food is OK, but my tip is to avoid the crispy chicken burger.
As Daryl is also The Gin Devil, it was only right that we checked out the gin selection too. They actually have a pretty good list – all the usuals like Gordons, Tanqueray, Hendricks, Bombay Sapphire and so on, but also some more interesting ones like a few Whitley Neill flavours, Tanqueray Flor de Sevilla, Roku and a few others I didn’t recognise. If you want an evening on the gin, Daryl’s conclusion was “it’s not bad”. That’s high praise coming from him. He did say that if you want his advice, go for the Roku instead, runner up in his annual awards. And if you really want his advice, go to the Gin Devil website at http://www.thegindevil.co.uk/ , follow him on Facebook, and check out The Gin Cabinet meetup group. I told you he’s prolific!
Other than the gamers, the pub was also full of all sorts of people – some students, but also a few groups on a night out, couples, one with a baby in tow, people with little dogs – a real mix. The atmosphere was buzzy but relaxed, with light soul music playing in the background.
The decor is painfully stereotypical – exposed brick, muted coloured walls, an eclectic range of lights, and pictures of bears everywhere. In fairness they probably did it before the Thirsty Bear covered its walls with bear pictures too, but still – it’s a little twee. It is pleasant though, and a highlight in the surrounding area.
As well as a massive indoor area, there are two outdoor areas – one on London Road, and one on Kings Road. If you are a smoker I’m sure it’s nice, but if not, it’s a bit too close to the main road to be truly comfortable.
|Beer Quality||The beer I had all tasted great|
|Beer Selection||Wide selection|
|Drink vs Food||They do food, but it’s a pub not a restaurant|
|Music||Quiet background music|
|Snacks||Nuts in a jar for £2.50 or Tyrells crisps|
|Price||Seemed pretty high to me at £5.05 for a pint. Some cheaper drinks though|
|Space||Loads of room|
The drinks selection makes this a good choice for groups – something for everyone. It’s a nice atmosphere too. Not sure I would regularly head out there from town, unless I wanted to get beaten at board games again (which I do).