The Llandoger Trow, King Street, Bristol BS1 4ER
“How the hell do you even pronounce that?” asks Brian as we enter the Llandoger Trow. “Is this some kind of stupid Alex Salmond joke?” Sadly to his detriment, I don’t have the energy to correct his fundamental misunderstanding of the basics of UK regional geography, and instead I let out a half-hearted guffaw as we step inside. I’ll admit the name hardly rolls of the tongue. But the Llandoger Trow shouldn’t even have to try and appeal on its name (which incidentally is the name of a Welsh river barge) – it’s one of Bristol’s oldest and most historic buildings and perhaps the most unique looking pub in the city. It’s also part of the Brewers Fayre chain, whose outlets are normally adjacent to a Premier Inn. As we walk in we sit down inside a hideously carpeted room off to the right. It may be a function room, but there’s no function on tonight, as clearly evidenced by the fact that we’re the only ones in there. We quickly relocate to the main bar to survey the offering.
Naturally, you would expect somewhere as outwardly historic as the Llandoger Trow to have a relatively decent craft ale selection, but this is not the case. Tribute is available at £3.20 a pint, and there’s also a Hobgoblin tap, although you can get Hobgoblin everywhere now. Even ASDA. The rest of the draught taps, which incidentally look like they haven’t been upgraded since 2 Unlimited were last charting, offer a less-than-exciting selection. Stella, Becks, Thatchers and Tetley’s all languish at the rather compact bar. They do serve food, which as you would expect comprises the same menu as every other branch in the chain, and consists of relatively uninspiring pub classics, although their 2-for-1 offers are competitively priced for debt-ridden students.
If the Llandoger Trow has missed the metaphorical barge (ahem!) on its drinks selection, it certainly hasn’t made up for this by having a warm, inviting and interesting interior as its exterior may imply. Imagine for a moment that instead of Jane Seymour, Henry VIII married an airport departure lounge. The resulting combination of Tudor heritage and tedious sterility accurately defines the pub’s bizarre interior. An electric storage heater occupies the wall adjacent to a magnificently large fireplace which likely hasn’t been lit in years – the dust gathered on the decorative logs in the hearth seeming to confirm this. The furniture is bizarrely mismatched, and not in a way that could be deemed “eclectic”. Across the room a couch from a doctor’s waiting room is optimistically paired with a solid pine coffee table direct from Paul Bunyan’s log cabin. I’m pretty sure I sat on the exact same chair Brian is sitting on the last time I ate breakfast in a Travelodge. The fruit machines by the bar, which are universally ignored, cast an irritating glow over the nearby tables. To enhance the surroundings further, the whole pub smells like chips, but nobody’s eating them. It’s a very sterile and depressing atmosphere all round.
As this is a pub review, I ask Brian how his Stella is. “Fine.” Comes his enlightened response. When I press him to elaborate I am simply told “It’s Stella, Dave.” I’ll certainly be bringing him again. My pint of Tribute is perhaps a little bit warm if nothing else, but apart from that it’s the complacency of such a standard draught selection in a historic and unique venue that could and should offer more that gets to me. If the grimy Wetherspoons on Park Street can manage it, then I should be in for a treat here. Alas, sadly not.
By David Kearney