Explore Reading’s resident pub critic James Moore returns for his first review of 2019 with a look at Reading’s much-loved, historic town centre boozer The Allied Arms.
In the summer, it’s a draw for its spacious beer garden, which is bigger than the pub itself. But inside, The Allied Arms is also a cosy, wood-beam covered snug that’s great to curl up in during the winter – as long as you can get a table.
The Allied Arms, St Mary’s Butts
Nestled next to Pizza Express on St. Mary’s Butts, The Allied Arms is a ‘blink and you miss it’ heritage pub. Given its town centre location, I had always assumed that everyone knew about the Allied Arms, but I’m still surprised by the number of people I speak to who have walked past without noticing it.
Describing itself as ‘a traditional country pub in the town centre’, The Allied Arms was established in 1828 and is said to have acquired its present name during the Crimean War when the bar window was painted with the flags of England, France and Turkey, who were the allies in that conflict. It’s a Grade II listed building and from the outside looks like a quaint country cottage.
One of the few two bar pubs left in Reading, you walk in via the side alley (it looks like a carport) and enter through the side door. To the left of the door is the Yeoman Lounge, which I simply call ‘the snug’, it’s a great place in the winter when it’s cold outside – if you can get one of the few tables in there, that is! It’s a tight little room with tables, or old pew-style benches, for only around 10 or so people.
When you’re sat down you’ll notice this room is full of oddities: the original front door to the pub is still in place on the back wall (usually locked and bolted), historic pictures of Reading and medals line the walls. There’s also a Bomb Jack arcade table complete with wall-mounted customer high-score chart, which you can just sit at with a pint whether you want to play it or not. There’s even a bell to get service if the staff are through in the main bar.
Turning right from the main entrance you’ll go through to the main bar, which isn’t really a great deal larger than the snug but you’ll find it busier and easier to get served. There’s only three tables for groups of four in here and standing room at the bar. Both rooms have old style jukeboxes with rotating cards of the list of songs available and there are some quite eclectic choices in there!
Recently The Allied Arms increased its range of cask ales from four or five (with a couple of mainstays) to 10 ever-changing taps, thankfully with no decrease in quality. Five are on at the main bar, while another five are on in the Yeoman Lounge bar, so some pumps have two tap labels on – the top one being the one available in the other bar you can’t see.
On my visit I enjoyed a lovely pint of Dark Star Hophead and a Loddon Peeler. Other breweries on during my visit were Vale, Box Steam, Hammerpot, Stonehenge and Binghams. Although you might find a slightly decreased cask selection early in the week due to lower trade, in order to maintain condition. It’s slightly more expensive than the Nag’s Head here, with pints up around £4.50, but it’s still cheaper than other places in town and decent for the quality.
There’s also a big range of boxed ciders here, there’s six real ciders and perries, as well as all your usual lagers, Guinness, fizzy ciders, wines and spirits. There’s also hot drinks and mulled wine during the festive period.
The fridge bottle selection is small but well formed and worth a look if nothing on draught takes your fancy.
There’s no food available apart from the usual bar snacks, but the pub has a refreshing policy on bringing your own food in – takeaway pizzas from next door are often being eaten in the garden. The pub even have a pizza wheel you can borrow if you ask nicely!
Next to the main bar you’ll find the door through to the beer garden, one of the largest and best in Reading. Expanding far back, the long, narrow, walled terrace is sheltered and bigger than the pub itself, and it’s a big draw here, in almost all weathers. There are plenty of tables, most with covered seating and outdoor heaters so it’s usually packed all year around. Read more about the beer garden at The Allied Arms.
Despite the compact size of the pub, they also run a regular quiz night every other Wednesday in aid of the Thames Valley & Chiltern Air Ambulance Trust – look out for the quiz list, next to the bar for event dates.
The Allied Arms is a compact pub for all seasons, with a large range of good quality ales right in the middle of the town centre. If you haven’t been there before, seek it out. If you have been there before, you should go back!
The Allied Arms
Address: 57 St Mary’s Butts, Reading RG1 2LG. View website.
Open: 5-11pm Monday, 12-11pm Tuesday-Saturday, closed on Sundays
Get there: The Allied Arms is a 10 minute walk from Reading Train station. It’s only a thirty second walk from almost all Reading bus stops at St Mary’s Butts or Cheapside.
James Moore is Explore Reading's resident pub reviewer. He samples the best pubs in Reading to bring you a new review every month. A beer expert and active within Reading & Mid-Berkshire CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale), James also runs '1001 Beers to Try Before You Die' - one of YouTube's most fun beer review channels.