The Bar Sleuth: Join the trail to The Waggon & Horses
January 18, 2006
NEWMARKET — The bars on High Street in Newmarket cover much of the nightlife spectrum, running along the main drag from one end to the other.
Starting with DeNiro’s, the giant strobe lights-and-liquor nightclub at one edge, the bars gradually get smaller and quieter until, at the far end, they fade into the smoke and firelight of The Waggon & Horses.
It’s here that low ceilings, close-knit locals and a wood-and-leather décor culminate in a pub experience that seems to have proved a bit too native for many Americans.
It’s the kind of place where a lot of people know one another, where middle-aged men order dark beer and talk about local politics, and they all turn to look at you when you walk through the door.
But save for a moment of scrutiny for new patrons, once the regulars turn back to their suds, The Waggon & Horses proves to be one of the most comfortable and inviting pubs in town.
A lot of the appeal comes from a combination of furnishings and design. The Waggon & Horses is laid out like a barbell, thin in the middle with wider seating areas at each end. Entering in the center, visitors are greeted immediately by the pub’s lengthy bar, where banks of Guinness taps and a thorough variety of ales are set up.
Long and roomy, it has plenty of standing room, but channels people to either side. To the right, a slow-burning fireplace, adorned with the tack and gear of work horses, sits in front of a group of small tables just begging for a heavy stout or lowball glass of whiskey to be laid on them. A deep leather couch beckons from under the window and yellow lights set the mood.
On the other side of the barbell, more leather and tables call to patrons. The area is abutted by the indoor eating section.
It all has a bit of an Irish lilt to it, with dark, exposed wood and gilded script on the beams announcing the ales on tap. Faux road signs point to Dublin, Ennis, Galway and the ladies room.
But the dominant theme in the pub is horses and the livelihood of Newmarket, horseracing. Paintings and photos of the track and famous horses dot the walls, including loving portraits of favorites such as Ouija Board, Red Rum and Soviet Song.
Two plasma TV screens at either end of The Waggon & Horses show racing and other sports, but this is by no means a sports bar.
The sound on the TVs is turned down and even ambient music is absent in favor of the murmuring resonance of the patrons.
The pub can get more lively around lunch, however, as food is served here only from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. The menu is as hale and heavy as any pub lunch, topped by a sirloin steak for 11.95 pounds and working its way through chicken curry, Newmarket sausage, pasta dishes and salads all costing between 6.95 pounds and 7.95 pounds.
The Waggon & Horses special is a chicken and bacon sandwich with tomato, onion and mayo for 3.95 pounds.
For many airmen headed to Newmarket for dance floors and cocktails, it’s a pub that can easily be missed at the far end of High Street, but for anyone in town with a hole in their gut and a hankering for local atmosphere, The Waggon & Horses can provide.
The Waggon & Horses
Location: 36 High St., Newmarket
Food: A small but intense menu starting with sirloin and rib-eye, Newmarket sausage, gammon steak, several pasta and salad options and rounding out with burgers.
Drink: A welcome range of ales including the standard Greene King IPA, Morland Original Bitter and Old Speckled Hen, plus Guinness and lagers.
Ambience: It’s shadowy and calm in the evenings, and the clientele gives the distinct impression that this is a local’s haunt.
Service: Cordial and prompt and blessedly laid back.