Having been born and raised in York, the UK’s very finest city for beery pubs and general great nights out, my current home town of Southampton has always been a hugely miserable let-down. If you follow my Instagram you’ll be more than familiar with my almost weekly escape armed with a good train beer to somewhere, anywhere that’s not Southampton. If you’ve ever been misfortune enough to witness the drab concrete wasteland of this godforsaken pit you may have been hard-pressed to find a decent drinking establishment. Even if you did, the chances of finding anything more exciting than a ‘well kept pint of Landlord‘ or some other uninspiring real ale are slim. Don’t get me wrong, there are some decent breweries emerging but they are a lot more scarce than in the North and pubs favor the big familiar names over smaller, more interesting brewers. That has been the story until now. But things have started to change…
On Friday I was lucky enough to witness the opening of Southampton’s very first micro pub, The Butcher’s Hook, quite possibly the most hotly anticipated new pub I have ever witnessed. Rumors that a small unit in Bitterne Park had been taken on by a pair of aspiring publicans seem to have started way back in autumn 2013 and progress on the re-fit has been slow and steady but my goodness – the wait has been worth it. Local beer enthusiasts Anthony Nicholls and Daniel Richardson have restored the one-time butchers’ shop to a miniature gem and I would say easily the best pub in town.
Following the warning on Twitter that it may get a little cozy, we arrived for the 6pm opening, made ourselves comfortable near to the stillage and watched the pub steadily fill up with real ale aficionados in their favorite vintage CAMRA shirts, hipsters and anyone else from the general area until there was a queue out the door! In the constant rush the proprietors remained charming and attentive as they darted back and forth from the stillage, serving beer to the punters right where they were sat or stood. Seating is communal (think Wagamama) which means you could even make a new friend and all the folk we ended up chatting to were just lovely.
When we say micro-pub here we mean really micro but somehow there were three cask and two keg beers
available along with a fantastically well-chosen selection of bottles. I was excited to see beer from two of my favorite Northern breweries, Hardknott and Magic Rock on tap for the first time ever in Southampton, It wasn’t all about the imports though and two of the most exciting new local breweries, Vibrant Forest and Dancing Man also had beer available. Spoilt for choice? Anthony and Daniel certainly seemed to know their beers and never seemed to run out of energy helping their customers choose. Oh and did I mention that they also have day-jobs? Initially they will only open all day on weekends then in the evening on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays but if demand continues at this rate I’ve no idea what the plan is. If the opening night was anything to go by, there is a thirst in Southampton for more interesting beer and they’ve certainly got something for everyone. We had such an awesome time on the Friday night that we were eager to return on Sunday until we saw the following tweet on Saturday: ‘We stillaged as much beer as we possibly could and you drank the whole lot.’ I don’t think these guys have anything to worry about except for keeping up with demand. I cannot wait to go back to see what they have on next.
Lucky for me, if we manage to clear the Butcher’s Hook out of beer again, there’s another ray of light on the beery landscape and it’s just round the
corner from me! Among the clubs, takeaways and shops of London Road, a rather special little burger joint has appeared. Chalk Valley is the latest of a string of burger restaurants to open recently around here but what sets this one apart is that all of the meat is traceable and grass-fed and happy cows make happy meat. The pork and lamb are raised at proprietor Will Buckley’s farm near Stockbridge and the suppliers for most of the rest of the menu are proudly displayed on a chalk-board above the door. With so much care and attention put into creating an ethically and, where possible, locally sourced food offering, they clearly did not want to let the side down with the drinks so for their excellent organic beer selection they turned to northern favorites Sam Smiths! Yet another first for Southampton so at last I can go out and enjoy a bottle of Sam Smiths’ delicious cherry beer (an old favorite) with awesome food and (dare I say in case you all go and clean them out) ….unlimited pickles!