There’s literally one man and his dog in the Alex when we arrive on a Sunday afternoon, and by the time we have our drinks even they’ve gone. Just as we’re wishing there was a bit more atmosphere, a group of blokes on a pub crawl burst in and bustle around the bar with loud banter. Be careful what you wish for.
The Alex is a pub that’s had a bit of an identity crisis over the past decade or so, going from untouched ‘old man’s pub’ (as some people describe the kind of pubs I seem to prefer) the Alexandra Arms, to ‘The Alex’ gastropub complete with pale wood, soft furnishings, pastel colours and spotlights. About five years ago it was lovingly restored as a traditional pub, returning the dark wood while improving the overall layout and decor, making features out of small snug areas, putting old photos and maps of the area on the walls, the whole place feeling like it had finally found its personality. Bizarrely, this didn’t last long before new owners decided they preferred its gastropub look, replacing the wonderful dark wood bar with one apparently constructed of wooden pallets and crates, removing the snug, replacing some of the old maps and photos with filing cabinet wallpaper (yes you read that right – wallpaper with a filing cabinet design), bearing a new tagline of “Beers, Brews, Banter”. Unsurprisingly that venture didn’t last long either.
It’s now in the care of landlords that know a thing or two about running traditional pubs, being licensees of the Hopbine and Portland Arms. They haven’t reversed all of the gastropub refurbishments but the pub has improved, and hosts the excellent ‘Alexfest’, the one annual live music event some neighbours can’t even bring themselves to tolerate, in the smart outdoor patio with covered seating/stage area. Further improvements are planned – there’s currently an application to change the layout of the premises, adding a garden room and an external bar to the beer garden area, and increasing the size of the kitchen.
I won’t repeat the history of the Alexandra Arms I previously wrote (the pub dates from c.1870; the slightly earlier Prince of Wales pub nearby on the corner of Norfolk Street closed by 1963; as Alexandra the princess outlived her older husband Edward, so the Alexandra Arms pub outlived the Prince of Wales, etc) but as then, it’s still worth a visit – the Oakham Inferno was good – as the blokes on the pub crawl would no doubt have loudly agreed.