What is it exactly that makes a pub 'good'? Pubs live or die by their reputations, but what are the key ingredients for a pub's success? For me it needs to be simply decorated (more spit and sawdust than fancy wallpaper), to have a friendly buzz, a spare table or bar stool, and to feel intimate, welcoming and cosy. Oh, and maybe some live music now and then. Is that such an unusual wish list?
"The Ship in Distress? Mmm, it's in distress," said our Czech dog walker, Magda. Admittedly, she is employed to work in the Nelson down the road on a Monday night, so maybe she was going to be a little bit biased, but a couple of others seemed to agree with her.
So on Friday night, I suggest instead that we start at the Nelson, which is renowned for its Thai food (I'm not sure Horatio had much of a taste for a green curry and chicken satay, but I could be wrong.) Encouragingly there was a bloke with a beard and a guitar setting up in the corner when we arrived and the place was absolutely buzzing, but after just a few minutes of queuing at the bar and then fighting through the crowd to find a table (opposite a row of flashing games machines) we realised that everyone there was already plastered. And not just quietly inebriated, but staggering, hugging, shouting, swearing drunk. Something to do with it being Good Friday and the first day of the local beer festival apparently, but after an hour of watching the guitarist battling with an unappreciative audience, we'd had enough.
From the bluster of the Nelson, heading into The Ship in Distress was like finding a calm port after the storm. It may have lacked a fancy wine list, but it wrapped us up in a cosy, spit and sawdust welcome. Before we'd even ordered our drinks, we were invited to join some locals at the table, and didn't re-emerge again until midnight, after being invited out onto their fishing boat, and for more drinks the next night too. Now that's what I call a good pub!
The Ship in Distress on Stanpit, near Christchurch has a sea food restaurant and features in Alistair Sawday's good pub guide. 01202 984966.