England’s eccentricity is never more evident than when bar-side at one of the country’s fabled inns – local chatter in the air, dogs curled up by the fire. But we’re calling last orders on less-than-appealing interiors and humdrum meals, and ushering in a new era of pubs that blend boutique bedrooms with buzzing bars. Cue live music, neon signs and negronis…
THE ROSE, KENT
This 200-year-old pub exchanged luke-warm pints for blood-orange negronis earlier this year. Owner Chris Hicks is a local boy whose great grandfather owned the town’s Thompson Brewery – and this pub with it – in years past. After cycling through several changes of hands, Chris bought it back with a vision of turning it into an eight-room inn. But this isn’t just any old inn: his wife, Alex Bagner, is an ex-Wallpaper* staffer, who lured East London interior designer Michelle Kelly to work her magic, alongside Harding & Read of Beaverbrook fame. The result is vintage-styled rooms, with Designers Guild fabrics, bespoke Farrow & Ball wallpapers and organic toiletries, where even the avocado bathrooms look cool. Downstairs, House of Hackney sofas mix with G-Plan tables, where you can feast on bacon sandwiches with rhubarb ketchup, before heading out to explore the Kentish coastal town of Deal – pebble beach, antiques shops and all.
THE COW, DERBYSHIRE
It’s long been inscribed into British law that all country walks must be end in the pub. And so to the Cow in Derbyshire, a 12-room inn on the doorstep of the Peak District National Park. We’ll spare you the bovine puns and cut straight to herding you through the door of this age-old tavern, that’s stood in the village of Dalbury Lees since the 19th century. Downstairs, stools made from milk churns line the bar, while at the other end, wooden floors and bare brick walls huddle round a fire, whose embers glow in winter. An old butcher’s block (sorry, cows) doubles as a table, where you can dine on a menu of the small-plate, grazing variety, with 90 per cent of food sourced within 30 miles. Upstairs, rooms are everything you’d want after tackling such fearsome-sounding trails as the Roaches and Eccles Pike. Think deep baths and big beds, cushioned with cosy fabrics.
THE SWAN SOUTHWOLD, SUFFOLK
For 650 years, the booze has been free flowing at Adnams – the longest-running brewery in England – and since the 19th century, it’s also owned the Swan next door. Now, as part of a £6 million transformation, the twin landmarks in the Suffolk seaside town of Southwold have been reborn. Shoreditch design studio Project Orange was brought in to reimagine the space and their East London fingerprint can be felt in the dangling pendant lights, neon flashes and vintage telephones that adorn the 35 rooms. It’s equal measure contemporary and coastal: a merit that you can tot up while topping up with the free bottle of Adnams’ gin that’s included. Downstairs, the centrepiece Still Room and more-relaxed Tap Room serve up the full range of award-winning Adnams’ brews, alongside dishes such as native lobster with lovage. Spend days making your own gin or scaling the sandy shore, lined with Crayola-coloured beach huts.
LYGON ARMS, THE COTSWOLDS
It doesn’t take much to imagine the Lygon Arms of old. Since the 1300s it’s been a vital resting post en route to Wales. Its bones are Tudor, but key moments of the English Civil War were plotted here, when King Charles stayed in 1649 and Oliver Cromwell stopped by in 1651. Building now transformed, both monarch and man have suites named in their honour. Even if you can’t justify the punchier price tags, standard rooms swell with period details, from original oil paintings to antique furniture by iconic Broadway designer Gordon Russell, whose father once owned the hotel. There’s centuries-worth of swag, too, in the pub’s fire-warmed lounges and wood-panelled Lygon Bar & Grill, with its domed ceiling, stag chandeliers and stone hearth. Borrow wellies for walks, then return for elderflower mojitos from the botanical-embracing bar.
ARTIST RESIDENCE, OXFORDSHIRE
With every new opening, the Artist Residence grows up. First came addresses in Brighton and Penzance, two bohemian, laid-back hotels, reflective of their coastal setting. Next, Pimlico, a besuited pad that doffed its hat to London’s metropolitan guests. Finally, the group’s first country retreat: a honey-hued pub in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds, with a thatched roof, flagstones floors and crackling fires, all present and correct. Aside from that deference to tradition, this is really a playful pub at heart. The bar’s lined with neon art works by Andy Doig and framed Harland Miller Penguin prints. The menu’s all squid-ink arancini and onglet with bone-marrow sauce. Acoustic music sessions often take place fireside come evening and the barman’s a pro at judging whether it’s time for an espresso martini (night before) or bloody Mary (morning after). Get snowed in, and you’ll want for nothing…