Of England's Last Remaining Cider Houses
by Paul Gunningham
Olde Cider Bar in Newton Abbot, Devon, England
is a very special place for scrumpy users;
special because it is a surviving example of a rarity
whose numbers have dwindled over the centuries:
the cider house. As the name implies, this
is a bar that sells cider to the public, but a cider
house is not a pub - maybe most (if
not all) pubs these days sell some form of cider
(even though most only sell the inferior keg variety),
but a cider house definitely does not sell any beer!
Once upon a time there was a large number of alehouses
in England, selling only ale (beer) to the public,
and similarly there were many cider houses
dispensing cider to their thirsty patrons.
Over the years, alehouses became public houses
selling a wider range of drinks than just beer -
wines and spirits included. Meanwhile, many former
cider houses became pubs, with the result that today
we expect our pubs to sell just about any form of
alcoholic drink, as well as soft drinks.
the last count, there were only four surviving
cider houses in England - in the whole of
Britain, for that matter. One of these extremely
rare and special places is this cider house in Devon
- Ye Olde Cider Bar in the market town of
Newton Abbot on the scenic River Teign, between
historic Exeter and the tourist resort of Torquay.
needs beer, anyway?!
Although I said the Cider Bar only sells
cider, this is not the whole story, as it does also
sell perry, as well as a range of draught
country wines and soft drinks - but absolutely no
beer or spirits. Who needs them when you have a
choice of several real draught ciders and perries,
anyway?! Entering the bar is like stepping back
thirty or forty years - the decor is what would
now be called minimalist, with no carpets and wooden
stools and settles.
The furniture is an interesting feature of the bar
in its own right, being fashioned from cask staves
with hardwood tops (a word of warning - the stools
in particular are rather top heavy, and this, combined
with the inward-curving legs, makes them easy to
topple over, especially after a few pints of cider
- as Zider Delia will testify after a recent visit!).
Even the bar itself is clad with staves, giving
the whole place an attractive rustic look. This
is no mere fashion fad; it's just the way everyone
likes it, so there's no reason to change it for
change's sake - something which, sadly, all too
many pubs have done in recent years.
But the Cider Bar is no museum - it is a thriving
meeting place, just like the best pubs, where locals
and visitors alike come to chat over a few pints,
in a friendly atmosphere. The bar's only concessions
to modernity are the one-armed bandit and the TV
suspended from the ceiling, mainly used only for
sporting occasions. The main focal point is not
the TV but the bar itself - an array of massive
oak cider casks is surrounded and surmounted by
the familiar polycasks, some containing more varieties
of cider and perry, and others an incredible range
of country wines - from birch to blackberry, parsnip
to peach, sloe, cowslip, elderflower, and many more.
And if you need something to wash down with your
pint, why not try one of the freshly made cheese
and onion or ham rolls, or one of the bar's justly
Stretching back from the main bar area by
the front door is the famous Long Bar, home
of the Cork Club which has held regular outings
for its members since the early 1900s. Photographs
of members past and present cover the walls (the
photo here dates from 1911 and is the earliest known
photograph taken of a Cork Club outing). There's
also a games room at the back and a cider garden
behind the main bar.
Newton Abbot Cider Bar is a gem which shouldn't
be missed by any true scrumpophile visiting this
lovely part of South Devon - as well as being close
to the resorts it's only a few miles from Dartmoor,
with its many opportunities to work up a decent
thirst! I for one will be back there again as soon
as I can. As Zider Ed would say - Churz!
Olde Cider Bar, 99 East St, Newton Abbot, Devon
TQ12 2LD (01626 354221) web: MySpace