"Proper" Pompey pub The Bridge Tavern in Old Portsmouth serves up treat for customers - here's what I thought of it

Famous figures of the past including inspirational Royal Navy leader Horatio Nelson, pioneering explorer Sir Francis Drake and perhaps more notorious individuals such as Portsmouth prostitute Pompey Lil, all walked these historic cobbled streets of Old Portsmouth, where the city’s origins began.

The area, now home to Portsmouth's small fishing fleet and fish market at Camber Dock, used to see masses of sailors. A bridge was built across the Camber in 1842 when the dock was deepened and extended. This was extensively repaired and then changed to a swing bridge in 1906 and was finally removed in 1923. In 1969 Portsmouth City Council transferred the major port activities to the north of the dockyard. However, the fishing fleet remained. The value of fish landed in 1986 exceeded £1m - showing the value of the industry to the area. Ship building ceased at the Camber Dock in the early 1980s.

The Bridge Tavern in East Street, Camber Dock, adds to the rich history of the area. There used to be nine pubs along this iconic street - known as Smock Alley - but the tavern is now the sole survivor.

As soon as you enter the Bridge Tavern you can feel it is a “proper Pompey pub”. Recently refurbished in 2021, it still has its old charm and sense of importance, positioned on the water’s edge with a view of the Spinnaker Tower offering a symbol of the modern city and Portsmouth Cathedral a glimpse of the past. A huge outdoor seating area where you can watch fishermen floating past on the water is nicely combined with a warm pub atmosphere inside.

A repainted mural of the famous 1811 satirical Portsmouth Point picture featuring Pompey Lil by Thomas Rowlandson is located on one side of the huge building. With nooks and crannies aplenty inside, you can pitch up with a window view to enjoy a pint overlooking the water. There’s a good selection of beer catering for a variety of tastes at this Fuller’s Pub. Whether you fancy more traditional ales such as Seafarers or London Pride or a more modern tipple such as Neck Oil, there is something for most tastes.

When I turned up, landlord Dave Reed was getting ready for a packed day of Christmas bookings with his preparations suddenly thrown up in the air after his chef went down sick. In his hour of need, I even offered to help out but was politely declined. Probably a good move. It was all hands to the pump when the cavalry arrived in the form of staff. Despite the setback, Dave and his crew were able to rise to the challenge and steady the ship while still delivering excellent food and drink to the raucous merry punters there to enjoy their festive meet-ups.

In his six years at the pub, Dave has seen and dealt with most things and still thrives on the fun busy environment that running such a pub brings, even if things do not always go to plan. Speaking of the pub, Dave said: “We have customers from all over Portsmouth and further afield. We have a lot of locals who enjoy their pints. We have Fuller’s ales with up to five choices. We’ve won ourselves into the Camra awards three years in a row. We’ve had the amazing (Master Chef) presenter Gregg Wallace come and dine with us and hold a function here as well.

“We’re a genuinely nice, proper pub. It has a great atmosphere. The locals join in with everyone and are very friendly. My bar staff are very good. We have a nice function room upstairs and seat 70 people downstairs and 65 upstairs and in the summer time we have a big marquee outside. We have a lot of summer events such as barbecues, hog roasts, and private parties. We can seat 250 people outside which includes a small raised decking area at the back which is a lovely sun trap. We do weddings, wakes, anniversaries, live music, so we’re an all round pub. But we do it in a quality way.”

And if you love a pub with history then look no further. “The pub’s got massive history. In the 1730s it started as a pub which used to serve the working community,” Dave said. “Many sailors used to come here. Sir Robin Knox-Johnston (the first man to sail solo and non-stop around the globe in 1968-69) is one of our locals. He comes here regularly. We have quite a few visiting sailors even now. The Americans always find us when there’s a boat in. We have a fantastic historic mural on the side of the pub which has been restored. It’s very famous and is worth a look.”

Former landlord Malcolm Western, 87, who used to run the boozer from 1980 - 1990, regularly drops in for a pint and still helps Dave out after having 10 “very happy” years there. “In my day you could have 28 fishing boats all moored by the Bridge and if it rained you would have sailors knocking on the door at 9am asking to be let in,” he said. “I had a 24-hour licence for in-shore boats but had to make sure they weren’t too drunk to unload boats.”

He added: “The pub has so much history you can’t believe, and is a place where there’s lots of banter. If you can’t take banter then I wouldn’t come in.”

The pub offers daily scallops, crab - including crab sandwiches - turbot and king prawns amongst a range of traditional dishes including roast dinners. Based on the water and offering fresh fish, I was always going to opt for a traditional meal in the form of haddock, chips and mushy peas with tartar sauce. It was a delicious choice that did not disappoint.

Speciality dinner nights such as Italian or Spanish nights also help to draw in the crowds with bookings very busy. Live music and themed occasions such as St George’s Day, Burns Night and St Patrick’s Day add to the rich variety of entertainment offered by the pub.

If you want a proper Pompey pub in Old Portsmouth, the Bridge Tavern is a must visit.