I've been living thirty seconds away from the Neptune for the past six months. Now, with just a few days to go until I move house, I thought I’d better satisfy my curiosity and finally take a look in the first in an occasional series of weird pubs around the city.
Several weird things about the Neptune are noticeable in a glance. The cool ornate sign is one, and the general weather-beaten appearance (it’s just off Hove’s seafront) another. When the front door is shut, which weather dictates it usually must be, you can’t see in very clearly. Pubs like this always look shut even when they’re open, and always have me anticipating an American Werewolf in London-style entrance. The Neptune also bears the branding of a Courage tied pub, intriguing since this brewery no longer exists. I had assumed that there were no more Courage pubs, though an internet search suggests there are – the Courage beers are, after all, still available, now brewed by Wells & Young. But none of them are on sale here.
Not that I was interested in drinking them anyway, especially since the cask selection in the Neptune is pretty solid – ignore the Abbot Ale and you can choose from Harvey’s Best or beers from Kissingate and Franklins, also local. My pint of Franklin’s Smoked Porter isn't brilliant – there’s a little acidity that I'm not convinced should be there, even if the smoke flavour is bang on – but whatever this says about my prejudices, I expected a rancid pint of unlovingly selected, uncarefully kept, twiggy brown beer, so I was happy.
The place is small. Not too dingy, not too much stale beer smell. Harvey’s towels not doing much to soak up the spilt beer on the bar. Reasonably busy – mostly locals, I guess, since most seem to know each other. Lots of saucy Sid James-style laughter around the room. The bloke next to me has something to say to his mate about my beer selection, but I can’t quite catch it. At first I think he’s saying its expensive - £3.50 a pint – and then that it’s a strange choice for a first pint. I'm just having the one, which might put me in the minority in this venue. The atmosphere isn't unfriendly anyway. I take a seat at the bar, far from the only singular male drinker adopting this position, whilst half-reading my book and soaking up the ambience.
I've been sat there a while, minding my own business, when the lights behind me dim. A lady in silver trousers has stepped up to a microphone on a corner stage. There’s live music here twice a week. “Hello”, she says in a thick Irish accent, “is everybody feeling alive?” The following account of what happened next is pasted verbatim from a text conversation I had with a friend immediately afterwards. It’s not my best writing but I feel the breathlessness of the prose communicates the situation well;
“They had some Irish woman about to sing on stage in there and she said “is everybody feeling alive?” and then some bloke said “we will be”. Then the barman said really loudly “we will be when you get that kit off” and I drank my drink really quickly and left.”
This is the thing with these slightly down-at-heel locals pubs – the people romanticising their existence and role in the community and the people defending them from the threat of closure of pubco buyouts aren't, I suspect, often the same people drinking in them. I want places like this to exist, but I’d be lying if I said I was comfortable here. In any case, pubs need custom to survive, and the Neptune has plenty of that this Sunday afternoon, so I doubt they could care any less whether I'm in there with my head in a book, killing the vibe.
10 Victoria Terrace