This month James Moore visits one of Reading’s best loved back street locals. A cosy, two bar, heritage pub The Retreat is much treasured by East Reading’s residents for its friendly community, charming landlord and its famous pickled onion competition!
The Retreat, St John’s Street
The Retreat is one of those pubs that is hidden away, nestled in among the pretty terraced houses on St John’s Street, outside of the main town centre drag. There aren’t tons of back street hostelries left in Reading anymore, despite them being a mainstay of yesteryear.
Thankfully though some neighbourhood pubs remain in Reading and are thriving as they offer local communities something different from big rowdy town centre affairs. The Retreat is one such pub. A place to get away from it all, chat to friends and sup a pint in peace, The Retreat is an apt name for the St John’s Street pub. It is very much somewhere you can retire of an evening, tucked in the front bar chatting to regulars.
Housed in a narrow Victorian terrace, The Retreat is a long, thin pub, with two bars separated by a corridor. Decoration is minimal, but the building is unusual enough in its layout that it’s only one of two pubs in Reading listed on CAMRA’s Historic Pub Interiors Heritage list. Drinks and chit chat are largely served from the front bar while the TV or music nights are on in the back room. There isn’t any garden per se, but you will sometimes find people (especially in more clement weather) sitting on the benches outside the front of the pub. It’s right above the beer cellar and it’s nice to hear the pleasant tones of barrels quietly clanking as they are changed or the hiss of the handful pumps as another pint of ale is poured.
The beer selection is excellent, with five or six real ales changed on a regular basis. You can usually find the refreshing light ale Sharp’s Cornish Coaster in good condition and I’ve also enjoyed Harvey’s Best bitter there recently. The bottled drinks selection is equally impressive with plenty of local, regional and national bottled beers, including many from Belgium. There are also locally produced bottled ciders and, as a real blast from the past, you can also buy bottles of ‘70s favourites Babycham and Cherry B.
There isn’t any food available outside crisps and nuts, but The Retreat holds an annual pickled onion contest (won by Kate Winslet’s mum in the past!) and if you’re lucky you might stumble upon an impromptu cheese festival, as I did on a recent visit. Live music is held regularly, with an emphasis on jazz and blues. The pub is dog friendly and there is a darts board if you like pub games.
For those who have lived in Reading for a while, The Retreat’s former landlord and landlady, Bernie and Jane were always going to be tough acts to follow. After a few lacklustre managers, current landlord Brian Moignard took over in 2014. You’ll often find this twinkly, silver-haired gent behind the bar and I’m glad to say he’s found his stride with The Retreat and brought it back to its best again. So good, in fact, it’s back into the Good Beer Guide for 2018 after many years absence and is one of the six finalists for Reading & Mid-Berks CAMRA’s Pub of the Year 2018 contest.
A short stumble away are both The Lyndhurst and The Eldon Arms pubs. The trio collectively make up ‘The Village’, an unofficial name thought up a few years ago when all three pubs put on an Easter Music & Ale Festival. If you’re looking to make a night of it, we recommend taking some time to check out all three locals.
Talk about pubs to anyone who has lived in Reading for years and before long you’ll likely hear that ‘The Retreat was one of the best pubs in Reading’. With Brian behind the bar, it just might be again. If you fancy something a bit different to your high street pub, come and get cosy with a pint and a chat in the front room of The Retreat.
Address: 8 St John’s Street, Reading, RG1 4EH, Read more.
Open: 4.30-11pm Mon-Thur, 12-11.30pm Fri – Sat, 12-10.30pm Sun.
Get there: Reading Buses 4, 14 and 17 stop at Eldon Road, or it’s a 10 minute walk from Reading Station.
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.