Originally known as the North Pole – the reason for its sub-zero name is lost in the mists of time – The Tap first opened its doors in the 19th century before being converted into a shop in the 1950s.
Southsea Brewery, around the corner on Pitcroft Lane, decided to convert it back to a pub, naming it the Brewery Tap and supplying the beers. The brewery was short-lived and joined the ranks of many former Portsmouth brewing operations such as Brickwoods.
Farlington’s highly successful Irving and Company came to its rescue in 2007. Now The Tap is owned by national firm Punch Taverns and serves many real ales in its one-room bar.
The pub was given a makeover in 2010, but remains essentially a simple, uncomplicated drinking bar, with a small food menu. Customers on the evening I went stood at the long bar drinking some of the 14 beers and ales on tap. There was a men-only feel to the place.
For those wishing to park themselves, there are high tables to choose from, a collection of faux leather chairs and sofas and a row of brightly-upholstered banquettes and chairs clustered around several tables of four. Or you can sit at the bar.
A fireplace is fronted by a small table, the pub also offering a dart board and some gaming machines. A back door leads to a garden and Annie Lennox weaves her magic, her fabulous robust voice rising above the London Road traffic noise heard via the open door. The pub is a mecca for music nights including open mic ones, the space lending itself nicely to these events.
The menu is as simple as the pub. Salads? Green vegetables? No sign of them. Instead, this is carb-heaven thanks to potato skins with cheese and garlic bread, onion rings, garlic mushrooms and spicy chicken wings in the combo. Other choices are the all-day breakfast; liver and onions; chilli con carne; chicken curry with rice, poppadum and mango chutney; beef stew; sausage casserole; lasagne and a few other solid pasta dishes. Or choose from several burgers from the Burger Bar, the Tap Tower Burger continuing the hefty theme with a burger, hash browns, onion rings, cheese and BBQ sauce.
Prices are a throwback to another era, most mains £4.50, a Sunday lunch of half a roast chicken or roast beef £4.90, a lamb shank £5.90. There’s a small, hard-to-decipher specials board leaning against the back bar, but little on it raised the pulse, spare ribs the only readable dish. The choice of curries on Curry Night from 5pm–9pm on Wednesdays are in the same cost era at £3.99.
Service is extremely friendly and helpful, lovely and attentive. I ordered a half-pint of ale, its correct temperature allowing the beer to taste as it should.
A beef stew was next up. When the large, hot plateful had cooled down a tad, the beef was extremely tender and made up for the wildly overcooked carrots and onions. But the rough mashed potatoes were excellent, the carrots and onions picked through for elusive beef nuggets.
Desserts are equally autumnal/wintry. Try syrup sponge; chocolate sponge; chocolate fudge cake and apple pie with custard or ice cream, all at £3.50, an ice cream sundae the only summery option.
The Tap is well-named thanks to its choice of beers and ales, the main reason for a visit. But come here too for the welcome and friendliness. It’s a charming place to while away some time. My bill came to just under £7.
The Tap, 17 London Road, Portsmouth
(023) 9265 5739.
Open: Noon–12.30am Mon-Wed, Sun and 11am–1am Thurs-Sat. Meals from Noon–7pm.
Food: Three (out of Five)
Disabled access: Fine
How to get there: The pub is on the right hand side of London Road before the junction of Kingston Crescent. Parking on side streets.