The Bar Sleuth: How do you bend an elbow with no elbow room?
January 4, 2006
BURY ST. EDMUNDS — Stonehenge.
The Changing of the Guard.
Big Ben. Parliament. Westminster Abbey.
Check, check, check.
Britain’s smallest pub.
If you can’t put a check behind the last English must-see, don’t fret. The legendary pub is a short drive from RAF Lakenheath or Mildenhall and is open seven days a week.
The Nutshell — measuring 15 feet long by 7.5 feet wide — is a two-minute walk from the town square in the picturesque historic district of this charming Suffolk town. The address is 17 The Traverse, but you are better off asking just about anybody walking through downtown where it is and they can quickly point you in the right direction.
If you’re lucky, you’ll stop in for a brew — six are on tap, but drinking the locally brewed Greene King is the civilized thing to do — and share a conversation with landlord Martin Baylis, whose affinity for Americans is surpassed only by his quick wit.
“It’s a process beer,” Baylis said of Greene King. “You can drink eight pints of it without falling over. It’s like Budweiser.”
Despite a plethora of listings on the Internet for this Guinness Book of World Record holder, Baylis is the best man to tell the pub’s colorful lore.
“It’s a very complicated history, this place,” he said. “It was opened in 1873 by John H. Stebbing and has had several landlords.”
Baylis can tell you about the day the pub beat its own record for maximum capacity by packing more than 100 revelers into the corner pub.
“March 10, 1984,” Baylis said. “One hundred and two people and a Jack Russell.”
On most days, though, the pub holds no more than a dozen folks.
“We can fit 15 comfortably,” he said. “After 15, it starts to get a little cozy.”
Then there’s the 400-year-old dead cat hanging from the ceiling.
“They brought it up here to scare away witches,” he said. “They still come in, though. My ex-wife’s been in frequently.”
The cat is surrounded by scores of currency notes from around the world, although the majority are dollar bills.
“I’ve had a 20-dollar bill stolen off the ceiling,” he said. “I don’t see any American doing it. Most of the Americans who come in here are military, and I can’t see them being short $20.”
Holding the title of Britain’s smallest pub is more than pouring cold beers and displaying deceased felines. Every now and then, the bar has to defend its title.
A few years ago, the staff of Smith’s Arms, a pint-size pub in Godmanstone, challenged The Nutshell to a soccer match to settle the squabble over which pub was tinier.
“I don’t know what the score was, but we have a cup somewhere in the building,” Baylis said with a proud smile.
Until someone is entrepreneurial enough to find a smaller space within a more charming location and crafty enough to make so much out of so little, The Nutshell’s title is secure.
Location: 17 The Traverse, downtown Bury St. Edmunds, just a few hundred feet from the town square.
Drinks: Six beers on tap, but the locally brewed Greene King is recommended. Prices are reasonable, certainly not overpriced.
Food: None. You wouldn’t want to even think about ordering food here anyway. There’s a dead cat hanging from the ceiling.
Ambiance: It’s not Zagat rated, but that’s the way they like it.
Service: Exceptional. You’ll never have to wait to get the bartender’s attention.