Durham City is full of bars thanks to a recent regeneration of the Millenium Square and to some degree, North Road aka 'the dark side'. It has a mixture of traditional pubs, trendy bars and secret hideaways.
There is the Market Tavern in the Market Place which is small with character and has more of a middle age + client base with many of the youngsters opting for the trendy bars. It has a central location and drinks are well priced.
The Swan is a few minutes walk away and situated just off Old Elvet Bridge. It has good priced drinks, some aren't top brands but taste just as good. It is very large with different rooms, it even has a downstairs which isn't really used and it's nice to sit outside on a sunny day.
The Fighting Cocks is very central but on the border of North Road and plays 80's musics but has always had a reputation as being rough and scrappy, however the decor has been improved but its definitely a place for locals.
There are some small pubs around a 5-10 minutes walk away from the centre that are nice to enjoy a pint such as The City (round the corner from the Swan, The Dun Cow (past the Royal County Hotel) which sells lovely Toasties and is nice for a quiet drink. The Bridge (under the railway viaduct at North Road is nice and did have a reputation for nice meals, I'm not so impressed now.
There are 2 Whetherspoons bars that sell your typically cheap drink and microwaved food. The main one and largest is in Millenium Square. It is a great meeting place for a cheap first drink but does attract you binge drinkers and teenagers. The smaller one is in North Road and is somewhere to go on a rainy day but does fill up with local alcoholics.
Yates is down the road from North Road Whetherspoons and is not somewhere I would go. It has cheap food, cheap drink, sticky floors and again fills with binge drinkers and alcoholics.
Varsity's is on the road heading up to Durham Cathedral. The food is drab but the drinks are well priced. It has different areas to drink but the staff are often far from pleasant. It has a huge tv screen but the seats are immediately in front of it so you break your neck trying to watch, then if you try to move seats you get told off. Nice for a drink but not to watch the football.
Slug and Lettuce
Nice interior, lots of areas but very expensive drinks and food. Good fore one drink but too pricy to stay too long.
Smaller bars and hideaways
Fabio's is a little gem, placed on the third floor which is above Spaghatata's restaurant next to coral bookmakers on the road towards the cathedral. It has a small bar with piano, one private room and another room full of sofa's. It sells nice drinks and wines but can get crowded with your typical durham student who often sound pompous and rude to locals.
Jimmy Allens and The Boat House are close to the market and old elvet bridge but get crowded with young people and have typical cheap but nasty cocktails.
The Wine Bar in Millenium Square is small, over priced and full of snobby wannabe WAGS and their partners.
There are some other bars I haven't mentioned but these are the main ones.
The Black Bull is a pub I have used quite regularly all of my adult life (I am 44), and NEVER had any problems of any kind.................. until last night !! (Dec 10th 2008). My partner and I called in for a meal with the intention of booking a Christmas fayre meal for ourselves and our 2 children. I approached a member of the bar staff with my completed booking form, who then asked another woman what the booking procedure was, only to be virtually knocked aside as she stormed past muttering about how busy she was. So I just took my form back from the bar man , who now had a rather perplexed look on his face and said that I would not bother if that was her attitude. If she had said she was busy but would deal with it in a moment that would have been fine, but to be just shunned in that manner I found totally disrespectful. A couple of minutes later I approached the same woman and asked to see the manager. She replied , "I AM the manager love and I'm really busy". I said if she was too busy to take my booking I would go somewhere else for my Christmas meal. She seemed totally unconcerned by this, so I finished my meal and left. The woman has the manners of a pig and showed not the slightest bit of common courtesy toward a paying customer !! As I said I have used this pub on many occassions but this will be my last !!
This is a quick guide to some, not all, of the pubs in and around Durham city centre. Obviously these are based on my own preferences and if you decide to try a tipple or two here you may find you disagree, but I hope anyone intending to visit Durham will find this useful.
One of the citys busiest drinking areas is North Road where you will find yourself first if you go into Durham via the bus or train station. This is an area I generally avoid for drinking, especially on weekend nights as there is just too much testosterone flying around, but if you like that sort of thing then head here. I find THE WATERHOUSE, a WETHERSPOONS pub to be the best of the bunch. If you know Wetherspoons you know the kind of thing to expect; a nice building, cheap drinks and basic reasonably priced food. Further along North Road are more chain pubs; WALKABOUT and YATES WINE LODGE, I don't like either of these and am not a fan of chains in general although it seems like it won't be long before I have no choice in the matter, but both seem very popular. Walkabout has a giant screen and and apparently there is also tv in the mens toilets so you don't miss that important goal while standing at the urinals. (I wouldn't cheer too enthusiastically though... splash). A lot of the kids I work with love Walkabout but I find it unbearable, altough I have only been inside once. Not much to say about THE SADDLE MARKET, other than that it is downmarket and a very local pub. At the bottom of North Road just before Milburngate Bridge is THE FIGHTING COCKS. This has a late license and something of a rough reputation, bolstered by the often cited but not really that bad, problems, between local people and students. This is more of a local pub and although it's not somewhere I generally frequent early on, I've often found myself there when I've missed the last bus and am trying to arrange a taxi back. It's usually heaving by this time, there's a tiny dancefloor and they tend to play a lot of oldies and Motown classics which makes the visit worth it. Past here on Milburngate Bridge is THE COACH AND EIGHT, another one aimed at youngsters on the pull, hence one I avoid.
If you take a right at The Fighting Cocks and head up Crossgate you'll find THE ANGEL INN which is where you'll find most of the goths in Durham congregate. I used to go here a lot in my younger days but now the music just seems too loud and angry to be pleasurable, (middle age comes to us all). It's a bit dingy but has character and a great beer garden. There's also a pool table and an 'alternative' jukebox. Across the road is YE OLDE ELM TREE where you might find a few of the older punks and bikers who used to go to The Angel. The beer's good and there's a more relaxed atmosphere here, a jukebox and a dart board, with the music being a bit more middle of the road; a few sixties and seventies compilations. Also in this area THE FISH TANK on Neville street is a tiny room over a chip shop with a small charge on the door. Good for hosting local acts; bands, even poetry nights have been known.
THE MARKET TAVERN in The Market Place strangely enough, is hard to miss if you're on a crawl, as it's very central. It's decent enough, with reasonable food and beer, but it can get very packed and seem a bit intimidating at times.
Under Elvet Bridge you'll find JIMMY ALLENS which is well laid out and strong on atmosphere, making the most of the reputation of the ghost of a gypsy once imprisoned here, but it's one of the pricier pubs in Durham. CHASE, opposite, is also one of the more expensive pubs, although it does have balcony seats over the river which makes it an attractive proposition in Summer.
On the bridge itself is THE SWAN AND THREE CYGNETS, where the prices are more palatable and there's a nice outside terrace, good in Summer. Around the corner from here is THE HALF MOON which trends to attract older clientele and has a decent sized beer garden leading down to the river. Next door is THE CITY, where there are a few tv screens for the footie and a reasonable choice of beers, but not too cheap.
Nowadays THE SHAKESPEARE on Saddler street has a notice outside claiming that it is Durhams most haunted pub. It's certainly the smallest and one of the oldest, built in 1190 AD. There's a small bar from which a corridor leads to a little back room and an even smaller room that fits one table in. Everything's on a slant in here and it's a nice little pub and although I have seen many spirits in here, I've yet to see a ghost. (sorry).
Alos up Saddler St are more chain pubs; VARSITY and HOGSHEAD. Varsity is a good size, with a giant screen and a nice outdoor area. It gets very busy, is open late and although the drinks aren't cheap you can get a discount card at the bar. Hogshead is a bit bland, but popular with students as there are a lot of student bars further up the road, unfortunately you can't get in these cheap watering holes without a student card.
THE COLPITTS on Hawthorn Terrace is a Sam Smiths pub, which means the beer is as cheap as you'll find. They used to play music in here and there was a popular folk night, but unfortunately Sam Smiths pubs no longer allow music in their pubs so you'll find it quite quiet. It's an old fashioned pub and one of my favourites. The clientele tend to be a mixture of older locals and a few students who live nearby and appreciate the prices. There's a snug, a pool room, as well as a real fire in the bar which leads onto the largest room. There's also a miniscule beer garden.
THE VICTORIA on Hallgarth Street is another old fashioned pub, popular with real ale drinkers and students. It has small rooms and a real fireplace makes for a very cosy visit in Winter. Also noted for its range of whiskies.
THE COURT, did have a great reputation for food, but there's been a price increase in recent years which has knocked it off my list of places to visit. The clientele include a lot of off duty prison and police officers as it's inbetween the prison and police station, so at least your pint feels safe!
ZEN is a new Japanese style bar around the corner from The Court. The decor is great although it was very quiet when I was there, (on a Saturday afternoon). They have an Eastern food menu, but I don't know anyone who's tried it yet.
THE DUN COW along Old Elvet has a selection of real ales and is quite popular with students as there a few colleges around this area. They do nice sandwiches at lunchtimes. It's quite small and old fashioned and fits in well with the Durham experience.
O' NEILLS and THE BIG JUG are both up Claypath, both are quite big, have screens for the footie and are near to curry houses and other eateries, but I prefer THE WOODMAN further up the road on Gilesgate, which hosts a beer festival in October and where you can always order a toastie! There's a pool table, dartboard, jukebox, a friendly atmosphere and a good selection of real ales at decent prices. It's a bit of an uphill hike from the city centre, but worth it.
I visit The Black Bull in Old Shotton quite regularly. My fiance's parents are regulars there and introduced me to it! This is an absolutley fabulous pub! Firstly, and probably most importantly, the owner and staff there are fantastic! They are friendly and can chat and have a laugh with people who call in! This is something I find is missing from a lot of public houses! The drinks are not too expensive, never get dirty glasses, or short changed or anything like that. Also when there are football matches there are crowds who are not there to fight, but to have fun! The atmosphere is great!!! And last of all I have to say the meals they serve up at the back end of the pub are most definatley the best pub meals I have ever tasted! The portions are friendly, gravy is not coloured water, which tends to be true in most places! Also they are great value for money. The meals themselves are cheap, but they also have offers such as buy one get one free. Oh and weight watchers, don't worry. The menu there is weight watchers approved and you will find that some meals have the points ready counted for you on the menu itself! I've made myself hungry now!