“ Address: Sopwell Lane / St Albans AL1 1RL / Hertfordshire / „
The Hare and Hounds is a small but popular pub in the centre of historic St Albans. Dating from the seventeenth century, it is a very attractive long, white low building with a tiny windows and a very traditional feel. In the olden days, the area would have been the main route into St Albans for coaches and many of the pubs in the area are old coaching inns with stables still attached. The Hare and Hounds is one of three old inns on the road - and the areas itself lends itself naturally to the old fashioned pub crawl, with five small historic pubs all sitting within a 3 minute walk of each other.
Having said this, the pub's clientele are generally families and local people - the young people find it too quiet for a noisy night out. This pub has been one of my locals for many years, and I have seen it change from a family pub, to a male dominated pub for noisy football viewers, to its present incarnation - a cosy local which provides good and locally sourced food.
Since the disappearance of the big TV screens and the Sky Sports licence, the pub has had a makeover. There are still two flat screen TVs and a large projector with a pull-down screen for certain sporting events - mainly rugby - but these are usually hidden out of the way. The TV screen by the bar always has the sound muted and shows 24 hour news with subtitles. Nice to glance at if bored, but not intrusive.
The décor really suits the age of the pub, with two fireplaces which both have real log fires going during the winter. These fires have comfortable sofas and armchairs around them and are really welcoming in the colder months.
There is one long central bar in the narrowest part of the pub, and larger rooms at either end of the bar which have ample sitting space. The tables, benches and chairs are old and wooden and a lot of them look as if they have been recycled from old churches. Each table has a candle in a bottle, giving the pub an old fashioned bistro feel which is rather nice. The pub is decorated with books - on shelves and piled up next to the fireplace, old black and white photos on the wall, and various antique objects scattered around such as lamps, and (rather strangely) old singer sewing machines. The whole effect is to create a room that is cosy, comfortable and relaxed.
The design of the building means that the large room to the right of the bar is naturally cut off from the rest of the pub, and here you often find families sitting on the sofas with younger children. This room also has the football table and darts board.
Like many of the local St Albans pubs, the Hare and Hounds serves a selection of real ales alongside the lagers and ciders. It used to always have Timothy Taylors but on my last visit this had disappeared and there were 3 other real ales on offer, with more guest ales arriving soon according to the sign behind the bar. My friend tried the Wherry, which he said was average but not as good as the Timothy Taylors.
In the winter the pub offers hot mulled cider, which I love.
In addition they offer wines by the glass or bottle. A glass of Sauvignon Blanc cost £3.25 for 235 ml and a glass of Pinot Grigio costs £3.95 for 175ml. I have always found the wine nicely chilled and very nice.
The Hare and Hounds changed a few years ago, offering locally sourced, quality food. As far as pub food goes, this is very good and is a reasonable price. I eat in there quite often, mainly going for the cod and chips for £8.95 - a better price than many of the local pubs. The fish and chips is allegedly served with mushy peas, but invariably comes with garden peas - but the portions are large and the food delicious with nice fresh cod and chunky chips.
Other food on the menu includes Sausage, mash and onion gravy for £7.95, half pound Aberdeen Angus burgers and chips for £8.95, and a selection of steaks for around £13.00. This basic food is reportedly excellent, but as I don't eat meat I must take other peoples' word for it. I can say that it is always well presented and the portions are large.
I find other non-meat dishes on the menu a touch on the expensive side and a bit too gastropub for my liking. They include Haddock Florentine for £9.55 which I did try once and found very good. Starters include mini haddock kievs, vegetable pakoras and baked camembert - all for under a fiver.
Lunchtime lighter fare includes cheese, chicken or tuna baguettes with salad for around £4.00. Again I have never had the opportunity to try these.
One of the pub's nicest points is the large garden that wraps itself around the building. This garden is one of the few in the area that gets the evening sun and it is always crowded in the summer months. This front area of the garden is surrounded by a low fence that makes it safe for children. This would keep toddlers from running into the road. The road itself is fairly quiet and very narrow, and I always found that I was relaxed about my children running around the garden when they were small. The pub itself has three doors; two that lead directly out onto the street, and one that leads out the back way to the garden, making access even safer for children. The front area of the garden is well tended with mature trees, flower beds and flower tubs, the back area is less well kept but more private and ideal for children to play freely.
The garden continues behind the pub, with a grassed area at a lower level which again has tables with matching parasols. On the higher level there is a patio with yet more tables and a barbeque.
I have never been to a private function at the Hare and Hounds, but have sometimes found it closed to the general public for a private party. The whole venue can be rented out free of charge, and is a very good size for a party - especially a daytime party which includes children. The extensive rooms, the two doors and the large garden means that everybody can be kept happy - children run in and out safely while the adults enjoy themselves inside.. They can cater as well, providing menus that range from £7.50 to £10.50 per head, and I have always been very jealous at the good times inside.
~~Toilets and other info ~~
The ladies toilet is clean and pretty, with flowers and two cubicles. I am reliably informed that the men's toilet has one cubicle and is equally clean and fresh-smelling.
Children are welcome in the pub until 7pm, which I find an ideal compromise. Several couples with small children that I know really enjoy popping in for a drink - and I like to know that I will find a toddler free zone if I go for a drink after 7pm. Dogs are also welcome and are frequently found lounging in the bar area.
The pub has a Quiz Night Mondays which is generally good fun. It also has free Wi-Fi which I have found useful on occasion.
The staff are always friendly but I have noticed that recently they change rapidly. On several occasions over the past year I have found a new member of bar staff looking confused and not sure what they are doing, and on one occasion I found that the chef had walked out and food was not available. I have to conclude that there is a bit of a problem in the management of the pub - a thought confirmed this week, when I asked for a glass of white wine. The barmaid looked a bit panicky and then proceeded to pour me a Sauvignon Blanc, without asking me which size glass I wanted or telling me that there were several types of white wine available by the glass. I was happy with the Sauvignon Blanc, but quickly saw that the wine glass was filthy and had lipstick all around the edge. When I complained, the barmaid simply tipped the wine into a fresh glass with barely an apology, and without offering to pour me a fresh glass. The second glass wasn't exactly sparkling either, but I decided to sit down and not make a fuss.
I am sure that the staff attitude will improve sooner or later. This pub has been going for years and has had its ups and downs, but I like the ambience and the location - and it will remain one of my favourite haunts.
The Hare and Hounds is about 5 minutes walk from the St Albans Abbey station which has trains to and from Watford. It is about 15 minutes walk from the main St Albans station which goes to London.
The pub is only 5 minutes walk away from St Albans Cathedral and the huge Verulamium Park, making it an ideal place to stop for lunch or a warming mulled wine on a winter's day walk.
Hare and Hounds
104 Sopwell Lane