(As prompted by the Guardian's recent effort, here's the first of these for too long... If you're wondering what it's all about, click here.)
#11 - The Nag's Head on the Thames
When the Nag's Head closed its doors in 2011, it seemed an ominous sign. If a pub with such a distinct and obvious selling point - namely a superb beer garden on an island in the middle of the Thames - couldn't survive, then what hope was there for anywhere else? Us Abingdonians had already witnessed one local pub undergo that most modern of makeovers, the Tescoification process. The windows were boarded up and all the wooden beer garden furniture ceremonially burned.
Now, though, the phoenix has risen from the flames, reopening in October last year. Under the management of the team which made the Broad Face, a mere 30m away, one of the town's best places to eat, the old place has been totally refurbished and modernised. The beer garden, named the Bridge, has now reopened too, complete with its own small outside bar/kitchen meaning you don't have to schlepp all the way inside for a drink. I can vouch for the fact that, with a splash of sunshine and the tinkling of some live jazz, it makes for a great setting for sipping a pint and watching the world go by (on boats).
We haven't eaten there yet, but have had good reports and the food certainly looks delicious - not least the steaks, great chunks of meat served on chopping boards. It's with the selection of drinks that the pub really excels, though - there's an impressive array of at least six local real ales, at least one of which hails from Loose Cannon. Their beers are available elsewhere in town (the Brewery Tap and the King's Head & Bell, for instance), but it's nevertheless encouraging to see one local business actively and enthusiastically supporting another.
If there's one thing they could work on, it's the volume of the music inside on weekend evenings. As this blog testifies, I'm rarely one to complain about noise levels, but when a quiet drink and conversation with friends is blasted to smithereens by the deafening strains of a decidedly amateurish covers band trying to remember the chords to Dire Straits songs, my patience can be tested.