Clarendon Park is home to a small but eclectic selection of bars and pubs. There are only four dedicated public drinking holes in this part of town (according to some this is a hangover from the time when much of the area was owned by the Society of Friends, who oppose alcohol consumption), but it’s an interesting little bunch, each with its own distinct atmosphere and regular clientele. In the name of research I set aside a balmy April evening to complete a systematic comparison of each of these establishments for your information and future reference. What I mean is I went on a pub crawl, and now I’m going to tell you about it.
- Classy bar food
On Queen’s Road, opposite the junction with Cecilia Road, is Babelas. This Clarendon Park institution is named after the Africaans word for hangover, and is a continental wine bar with a loyal, bohemian clientele, an extensive offering of world wines, and a cosy, relaxed atmosphere. Local resident Tom Meighan, lead vocalist of the band Kasabian, is a regular at the tremendously popular bar, where the tatty decor somehow only adds to the charm.
The staff here are clearly knowledgeable and passionate about wine, and keen to offer advice on the extensive blackboard of offerings from around the world. I treated myself to a generous glass of ’The Crossings’, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc which is as fresh as a daisy, rounded with honey and perked up with a hefty afterglow of fresh elderflower. As well as wines, Babelas also offers a few hand-picked cask ales and a good selection of continental bottled beers.
Despite its two floors, Babelas is the smallest of Clarendon Park’s bars, and it does get extremely busy on Friday and Saturday evenings, with drinkers standing shoulder-to-shoulder both upstairs and down. Things are prevented from getting too claustrophobic though by the large windows looking out onto the street, the downstairs one of which is capable of being folded fully across in the summer, adding to the continental feel and giving the whole place a bright and breezy atmosphere.
Substantial bar food is hard to come by in Clarendon Park after about 6pm at the weekend, with hot food options along Queens Road limited to restaurants and takeaways. Babelas has a trick up its sleeve here with its legendary cheese board, which is extremely popular with the bar’s discerning drinkers and is perfect to nibble on in between sips of your chosen wine.
Bar Dos Hermanos
- Weeknight tapas
- Jaw-droppingly outlandish decor
Across the road from Babelas is Bar Dos Hermanos. This 1940s Cuban American-themed bar, the Spanish restaurant Barceloneta above it, and Salvador Deli next door, are all owned by the same family (the two brothers who give the bar its name). The three establishments present a colourful and fun-looking façade which looks especially bright and continental on a sunny evening.
Turn left as soon as you go through the front doors and you’ll find yourself in the smaller front bar. This cosy little room looks out onto the street, making it great for indulging in a bit of people-watching while enjoying your drink, especially on a warm evening with the tall windows open. The larger, split-level room towards the back of the building is home to some extremely comfy sofas, and the whole place is kitted out in wonderfully peculiar style with a mish-mash of vintage Cuban, nautical, botanical and sculptural themes which must be seen to be believed.
Bar Dos has a seriously impressive cocktail menu, as well as blackboards displaying the monthly speciality cocktails. All the classics are available, as well as some more unusual Central and South American offerings. I opted for one of the signature cocktails, ‘No 43’, (their other signature cocktail is the classic mojito), while Will went for a ‘Rye and Dry’, an impressively manly affair as cocktails go, not dissimilar to an old fashioned. Our drinks were prepared with flair by the experienced bar staff and were delicious, as well as dangerously moreish.
The clientele in Bar Dos are probably the most diverse of all the venues I visited, with older couples, students, young professionals and larger groups of friends all drawn in by the friendly atmosphere, great drinks and eccentric décor.
- Real ale
- Live sport
- Outdoor seating
My next stop is on the corner of Montague Road and West Avenue. The Clarendon is Clarendon Park’s only bone fide ‘pub’, and it has all the trappings you could hope to find in a good old-fashioned boozer – blanket coverage of all major live sporting events, a great choice of traditional British beers and guest ales, a quiz night every Thursday and the only beer garden in Clarendon Park.
The ivy-clad exterior of The Clarendon is a traditional and comforting sight, and has something of the feel of a London pub, particularly on a warm weekday evening when the clientele spill out onto the pavement to sup their pints in the evening sunshine. Once inside the main doors there are two big rooms to choose from, each served by the same bar and each with myriad widescreen TVs for watching the sporting events which are a regular fixture. Through the back of the left-hand room is the surprisingly large courtyard-style beer garden, which comes complete with patio heaters for chillier days.
The extensive happy hours are a real selling point here – on weekdays before 8pm at The Clarendon £2.90 will get you a pint of Carling or John Smiths. Their real tour de force though is the selection of real ales and guest beers and bitters. The current guest ales include the newly released Brains British Summer – a gorgeously refreshing, hoppy brew which tastes like liquid summer in a glass, and is the perfect accompaniment to a warm June evening.
The Clarendon’s focus on live sports and real ale tends to appeal to a mainly male crowd, and this is particularly in evidence on evenings when a football or boxing match is the central attraction. However, it is also popular with a more general selection of students and couples making the most of the al fresco spaces, happy hours and laid-back, traditional ambience.
Olive’s Café Bar
- Live music
- Special offers
- Friendly bar staff
If Clarendon Park’s drinkeries were a boy band, Bar Dos would be the handsome latino one, The Clarendon would be the boy next door, Babelas the bit of posh, and Olive’s Bar the laddish bad boy. This long-standing Queens Road bar, just down from Babelas, has an established reputation as a great live music venue and ongoing weekly special offer nights which attract a youthful, fun-loving crowd.
A two room layout seems to be the default for the areas bars, with Olive’s no exception. The ground floor feels spacious on a quiet night and the decor is minimal and somewhat rustic, feeling a little sparse and functional after the more elaborately furnished earlier venues. The bar at the back of the ground floor room is staffed by a cheerful, upbeat crew, and is well stocked with a wide range of wines, spirits, beers and a particularly impressive choice of fruit ciders. I went for a Bulmers Bold Black Cherry as my final beverage of the evening – a sweet and juicy cider which was as much a dessert as a drink.
Upstairs is plenty more seating and the permanent, well-appointed stage which is the feather in this venue’s cap. As well as a free open mic night every Thursday, Olive’s hosts regular live music gigs and is a well-known and loved fixture for bands doing the rounds of Leicester’s gamut of live music venues. Seated in the upstairs room, with a band pumping out tunes on the stage and the bass vibrating the floor, Olive’s has a pleasantly gritty city-centre feel.
Olive’s is an extremely popular student haunt, particularly on Tuesdays, their dedicated student night. Tuesday’s discounted drinks, including £1.75 for a pint of Fosters and flavoured shots for £1, bring in Clarendon Park’s student residents as well as those from further afield. On Tuesday, Friday and Saturday nights it’s not unusual to see customers spilling out onto the pavement, testament to the ongoing popularity of this unpretentious, down-to-earth bar.
There is one other drinking establishment in Clarendon Park – the shadowy members-only club housed in the ‘Conservative Hall’ on the corner of Queens Road and Clarendon Park Road. The Knighton and Clarendon Park Club is rumoured to have pool tables and very reasonably priced beer on offer inside. The club has no online presence and a somewhat unwelcoming frontage, and I have been unable to find anyone who can tell me about the cost or criteria of membership – a mysterious little place indeed.
Which is your favourite Clarendon Park bar? What useful info have I omitted which might be of interest to fellow drinkers? Perhaps you work at one of the venues I visited and can add some extra details about special nights, student discounts or forthcoming offers? Or maybe you can clear up some of the mystery surrounding the Knighton and Clarendon Park Club? Please do use the comment form below, and if you have any unanswered questions about Clarendon Park’s small but perfectly formed smattering of boozers let me know and I’ll do my best to find out the answer!