Walk along the Riverside walkway downriver past Henry's Cafe Bar and you arrive at the Rat & Parrot. As one enters the refurbished Spade & Becket, the first impression is that it's like all other modern corporate-decor pubs such as the Fresher & Firkin - and it is, though at the up-market cafe bar end of the range. There are cafe-style tables and no bar stools. The beers are the usual from the Scottish Courage portfolio - Courage Directors, Speckled Hen and so on - also the very sweet Gillespie's Stout. The real beers are around £2.00 and are served via swan necks and sparklers to diminish the flavour and create a foamy head. Food is served all day from 8am at restaurant prices (Chicken Kiev £5.95) and wine is upwards of £2.25 for a 175ml glass. Uniformed staff roam around occasionally asking if you want to order food. The menu lists various exotic coffees, with pronounciations given for all except Americano, which is "a serving of traditional espresso topped with hot water to make a delicious cup of regular coffee". All in all it's close to Henry's literally & figuratively.
Moving on to The Baron of Beef (Greene King), it hasn't changed physically since the great Bob Wass days but now proclaims on its karaoke posters that it's a place to get falling down drunk in. The bar billiards has gone and loud piped music has arrived. The posters are probably right: that's all it's good for.
Across the alley to The Mitre (Allied) it's a different world: the corporate decorators installed the trendy wooden look with low lighting. The range of real ales is better than most big company ale houses: smaller breweries such as Gales get a look in. Eldridge Pope's Hardy Ales are regulars. The place always seems busy.
A stroll down Portugal Place takes you to The Maypole (Pubmaster) where Mario Castiglione and his family are still running an excellent, friendly traditional pub. He keeps just three real ales on at any one time and they're always in good condition. They're usually from the big company portfolios admittedly. For instance Tetley's Bitter, Wadworth's 6X and Whitbread Castle Eden are on at the time of writing. The cocktails are legendary and should not be missed (£2.75 after 5pm). There's a good range of pub grub (with many interesting pasta dishes), served at lunchtime and from 5pm till mid-evening. The place is a little pricey compared with pubs outside the City Centre but compares well with other Centre pubs and bars. The smaller bar still has Bar Billiards and it has a TV screen for sporting events.