With eyes watering at every painful transaction in these austere times it’s tempting to eschew town centre hospitality in favour of a few bottles in a boho Brighton basement, keeping friendship circles tight with pockets intact. But on this drizzly island it’s difficult to overstate the role that has traditionally been played by the Public House, the one safe haven in which our favourite social complications are set aside with relief and the Great British Public have always felt secure (and sozzled) enough to socialise. No Wetherspoons this, no high ceilings and bright lights in exchange for supermarket prices. These are the womb-like, red velvety interiors, the dens of polished brass and mysteriously sticky tables regarded with horror by white-tiled Europe. They may exist in deliciously authentic format a few miles out into the countryside, but here in Brighton we’re lucky enough to have some proper pubs that really merit that extra pound on your pint.
THE BASKETMAKERS ARMS, Gloucester Rd
This is the obvious one, first stop for new students with visitors to impress with their local knowledge. Known for a stunning line in rustic pub grub the first stop is the sprawling specials board scrawled in chalk above the bar, normally home to a few fresh-caught fish and a lot of local ingredients. Then, pint of Discovery ale in hand, you can take a seat (if you can find one) beneath a wall tiled with handsome old tins, and start to explore. Rumours abound as to how the tradition started (my personal favourite is the story of lovers arranging illicit meetings with secret messages) but today you’ll find each tin packed with little messages to the general public, ranging from the smutty joke to the amateur philosophical insight.
THE CONSTANT SERVICE, Islingword Rd
Its location is arguably what keeps this pub brilliant, at the top of the nasty gradient that is Hanover. As a result it’s generally possible to find a seat either on the big leather sofas or out in the very comfortable decked garden. Just as well, as it’s easy to settle in and enjoy the Constant Service’s legendary collection of vinyl, ranging from soul classics to the newest and hippest pitchfork champions. Or if you’re very lucky, you might find the piano dragged out for an old-fashioned sing-song, all voices raised in renditions of the Kinks with murderous intent. The view on the way back down is kind in its gently sobering effect.
THE GREAT EASTERN, Trafalgar St
An uncomfortably shaped pub, the Eastern’s popularity is testament to the priority that good drinks and good atmosphere have over notions of personal space. Once you’ve fought your way to the book-laden back though you can settle in for one of the Bourbon Trails, a voyage of adventure along their beautifully stocked shelf of lesser-known spirits. Even on busy Friday nights, this can often be accompanied by obscure Beatles tracks or other unexpected gems, a welcome break from the mainstream.
THE LORD NELSON, Trafalgar St
Taking a brief hike further up Trafalgar Street, we come to an example of a true old man pub, less student-heavy but still papered with multicoloured posters for gigs and comedy nights. The Nelson is perennially friendly, staff and regulars seeming part of a genuine community that is more than happy to welcome in a new face. It’s also an excellent place to meet dogs. Really. If you’re looking for a quieter pint, and it isn’t a football night, then this is the place to be.
THE FIDDLERS ELBOW, Boyces St
Slip down an alleyway from the flashing terror of West Street and you might find yourself in a very different world – one with a greener tinge to it. The Fiddler’s is Brighton’s Irish embassy, complete with cabinets of rugby memorabilia and old fiddles adorning the walls. The centre bar obstacle makes it the ideal place to lose track of your friends on a Friday, but come along to Sunday’s “Sham-Rock” open mic night, and you might be pleasantly surprised. The moustachioed phrenology head makes an excellent barman, too.