“Sorry, we’re closed,” said the Barmaid as I strutted into The Wykeham Arms, Winchester.
“That’s okay. This is going to sound like a strange request, but would you mind if I just took a photo of your toilet?”
A long, cold silence.
She looked to the Landlord. He looked back at me. I looked to where Mat should be standing, only to see he’d completely scarpered. Is this a set-up? Did he lie to me, when he told me this pub was home to ‘the oldest toilet in England’? The suspense was killing me.
Suddenly it broke, everyone cracked up laughing and the Landlord gave his nod of consent.
This was the first of our four novelty pubs and bars in Winchester – the likes of which I’ve never encountered before.
“England’s Oldest Toilet”…apparently
I pass a guy coming out of the Gents as I’m going in. He gives me a strange look. Probably wondering what I’m going to be doing in there with a camera.
I walk in and I’m confronted by this…
…A perfectly normal pub bathroom. The bastard did trick me!
But a last-minute search revealed this little beauty…
…Thomas “Crapper’s Valveless Waste Preventer”! Not the oldest toilet in England but certainly one of the country’s oldest functioning flushable numbers.
Unfortunately for Crapper, the term “crap” to describe human excrement was already in common use by his time. So faced with his situation, Plumber and Toilet-maker probably seemed like the most fitting career route to go down. It gets better: Crapper also invented something called the “ballcock”. Though anyone who knows anything about plumbing will tell you this is nowhere near as hilarious as it sounds.
I’ve never really thought much of Winchester or its nightlife, but this time Mat is doing a pretty good job of proving that there’s life in the old girl yet.
“England’s Oldest Bar”…possibly
I don’t know what it is about Winchester and claiming to have the oldest things in England, but we passed another on our ramblings. This time it was The Royal Oak, and its sign outside, which claims it’s the “Oldest bar in England!”
There are actually quite a few pubs in England competing for this title, including Ye Olde Fighting Cocks in St Albans, Hertfordshire (which has the Guinness Book of World Records title), The Bingley Arms in Leeds, three competing pubs in Nottingham (of which the most likely contender is Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem), and many more.
Nevertheless, we went in and had a pint.
Whether it was established in 1002AD or not, the atmosphere is that of any modern gastro-pub. A little on the soulless side. The food looked good but pricey. We sat outside, beside the river though, which helped add some olde charm.
A Wine Bar with a Twist
Now I might not look like (or be) the kind of guy who frequents wine bars, but this place is one of a kind. At least, I‘d never been to a place quite like it before (and I ought to be the expert on such things), but if you have, I’d be interested to hear where, so let me know in the comments. In fact, I’m always open to any recommendations, so if you know of any other rare or unique bars, I want to know about them!
The place is called The Black Bottle and, basically, you get a card, top it up with credit and then use it to purchase wine from vending machines on the walls. There’s a red room, a white room, and so on.
Wine can be purchased by the glass (large or small) or in tasters (which struck us bright young Mathematicians as the most economically pleasing option, as we were able to get good drunk and try a good many of the wines on offer). They range from about 60 pence to…well, it’s a wine bar, what do you think?
Computer Games? …In a Bar?
Last but not least on the night’s itinerary is my guide’s personal favourite Winchester haunt: The Railway.
It’s a great pub, but what makes it even more special is that – on certain nights, at least – you will walk upstairs and find, as we did, a selection of computer game consoles. Now, if you’d have asked me before this, I’d have told you that video gaming and drinking large quantities of beer don’t mix.
I can now say with some surety that they do.
So if you want to relive childhood memories, take on your mates at Golden Eye on the Nintendo 64, or play Super Smash Bro’s on a big projector screen – controller in one hand and pint in the other – then the Railway on a Friday night is the place for you!
After a few pints, we decided to hit the “club” in the back room.
“Are you sure you want to go back there?” Asked the guy on the door.
“Why wouldn’t we want to go in?”
“I guess you’ll see for yourself. Just let me know if you want a refund.”
We opened the door and went inside, confronted by a room so full of smoke that we couldn’t see our hands.
It took us a good couple of minutes of feeling around in the dark to realise that we were the only two people in there. We eventually found the DJ in a corner, but sadly no-one tending the bar.
This was one of the more surreal experiences of my life and I contented myself by taking photos of Mat looking disappointed and standing alone in a big, empty room full of smoke.
It was a good laugh, anyway.
After about 10 minutes the novelty wore off and I went to get my refund, only to find a girl there instead.
“No. Why would you want a refund?!” She said.
Er…Why do you think, lady?
Obviously she hadn’t got the memo, and so, in the merry, happy-go-lucky manner that had thus far characterised the night, we didn’t push the issue.
More Winchester Bars!
In the interests of providing an objective guide to Winch’s nightlife, I consulted my good friend and former Nagoya-drinking-buddy, Max, who has kindly recommended:
- The William Walker – formerly The New Market – for its “cracking selection of Rums!”
- Bar 3one (AKA: Bar31, Bar Bone & Blondes) as a “perfect place to start an afternoon bev or 2!”
Thank you, Max. I will be sure to “review” these on my next visit.
I would also recommend The Bishop on the Bridge, another nice pub on the river, where Mat has whiled away many a summer’s afternoon.