Where to drink in Brighton
Choose your poison and take your pick (from over 400, in fact). But bear in mind that the best pubs in Brighton tend to be off the beaten track – which, for the purposes of avoiding stags, hens and tottering teens falling out of a Brighton bar onto a smoker-clogged pavement, basically means not on West Street.
Of the numerous seafront drinking dens with the beach as their beer garden, the ship-shaped Fortune of War is the ancient mariner of Brighton pubs. Around since 1882, it has porthole windows, creaking timbers and, we wouldn’t be surprised, the odd barnacle in its toilets. New next door is the Tempest Inn, occupying a warren of man-made caves lit by flickering lanterns and decorated with mock-prehistoric wall art. Their programming is pleasingly kooky, too: Basement Jaxx’s Felix Buxton has used it as a resonance chamber.
Standout inland boozers include locals’ favourite The Basketmakers Arms for its unrivalled real ale selection, Ye Olde King & Queen for its surprising combination of mock-Tudor premises and big sports coverage and The Robin Hood for being Britain’s only charity pub (once the overheads are cleared, all profits are donated to local causes).
The Mash Tun on the pedestrianized New Road is also something of an inevitability – all paths seem to lead to this characterful central boozer and people-watching spot.
On the border with Hove, The Bee’s Mouth is a dark, narrow, red-lit and musky place where the bar boasts both unusual bottled beers and a revolving mannequin’s head. The basement hosts free cinema, live music and life-drawing classes. Further into Hove, new arrival The Urchin operates a waiting list usually unheard of for neighbourhood pubs. Why? It specialises in shellfish and craft beer, the former served in beautiful Portuguese copper catapalanas, and is run by the people behind Small Batch Coffee (see ‘The best Brighton restaurants and cafés’).
Near the pier Scandinavian bar Northern Lights is a former fisherman’s cottage twinkling with fairy lights and glowing with flavoured vodkas – which you can accompany with pickled herring and sautéed reindeer. (Try their traditional ‘Terva’, or ‘tar-flavoured’, vodka variety: smells like roadworks, tastes like something to toast a friendly troll with.)
The best Brighton cocktails, meanwhile, are served with a suggestion of secret. First floor bar Valentino’s is visible from the street only as a large balcony overlooking the Pavilion Gardens, while Kemp Town’s The Black Dove is a bog-standard boozer on the outside, an antiquarian’s emporium serviced by waistcoated mixologists within, where you can lounge on chesterfields under candelabras checking out the vintage curios and listening to Delta blues.
Hidden down a bright-yellow alleyway in the Laines, the new Twisted Lemon (no website) is an easy-going affair with 73 cocktails on its menu. Another recent arrival, the Plotting Parlour (no website), is tucked down a side alley at the foot of Kemp Town. The thick curtains, dark furnishings, Renaissance-style paintings and unusual addition of a cake menu make it the perfect place to enjoy a chili and ginger martini as the evenings draw in.
Bars and pubs venue details
Fortune Of War 157 Kings Road, Brighton, BN1 1NB. 01273 205065.
The Basketmakers Arms 12 Gloucester Road, BN1 4AB. 01273 689006.
Ye Olde King & Queen 13-17 Marlborough Place, Brighton, BN1 1UB. 01273 607207.
The Robin Hood 3 Norfolk Place, Brighton, BN1 2PF. 01273 325645.
The Mash Tun 1 Church Street, Brighton, BN1 1UE. 01273 684951.
The Bee’s Mouth 10 Western Road, Hove, BN3 1AE. 01273 770083.
Northern Lights 6 Little East Street, Brighton, BN1 1HT. 01273 747096.
Bar Valentino Above El Mexicano, New Road, Brighton BN1 1UF. 01273 727898.
The Black Dove 74 St James’s Street, Brighton, BN2 1PA. 01273 671119.