I’ve been to a fair few pubs that claim to be famous – whether as a result of their long and unusual history, their celebrity regulars, or the building itself. But few have the balls to put “famous” right in the name.
The Famous Royal Navy Volunteer is a bonkers name for a pub. It’s far too long. And which is famous, the pub, the Royal Navy, or just the volunteer? Perplexed, I wander inside.
Inside I find a lovely real wood floor, a log fire, and around a dozen unmarked beer taps. Instead of pump clips, punters select their drinks from a print out menu on the wall and the bar staff have to count along the bar to find the corresponding pump. Not an easy task, especially for someone new to the pub trade. The woman serving me told of her arrival from Spain, not knowing the difference between a stout and an IPA. Working here wasn’t so much a learning curve as a cliff.
Beer notes: Fat Stout, Mad Hatter. 5.7%
Seriously punchy stout. Dry, hints of lactose, but mostly the traditional coffee and chocolate. It’s strong enough that I probably should have had a half, but worth it. 4/5
As I sit to enjoy my first drink of the afternoon, I take a second to appreciate the music: chilled instrumentals, loud enough that it’s not awkward drinking alone but not so loud as to ruin conversation. If only more London pubs would take note. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve shouted myself hoarse because The Finery thinks they need a DJ at 9pm on a Thursday.
Beer notes: Dark Arts, Magic Rock. 6%
Dark Arts claims to be surreal, with a description that boasts of its blend of four malts and hops. Don’t get me wrong, but isn’t that normal for a real ale? Brewdog’s Punk IPA has two types of malt and five varieties of hops. Fuller’s London Pride has two malts and four hops. You’re not special, Magic Rock. Get back in your box.
As for Dark Arts itself? Ordinary, to be honest. Lacking in flavour and complexity compared to the Fat Stout from earlier. I’m glad I only got the half pint, because this isn’t really worth a full one. 2/5
The broad beer selection and paper menu is the real talking point at the Volunteer. It’s not cheap, but you pay for quality. Whether that statement can be expanded to the food remains an enigma. £5 seems very reasonable for a burger, but seems odd next to £4 for a scotch egg.
Definitely worth a visit if you’re staying in Bristol, but if you’re just passing through there’s better pubs around to pop inside. 3/5