This was never going to be a fair review because the less walking required to get home from a pub, the higher we rate it. So, the Crafers has a major advantage given it’s just up the road from home. However, we have been known to walk from the Bridgewater, to the Aldgate, to the Stirling, to the Crafers (and then home) so it wasn’t a done deal.
But we’ll start with the Crafers Hotel. The food is consistently great – of the dozens of meals we’ve had there they haven’t missed a beat. The range of local craft beers on tap (and in the fridge) is better than any other pub. It has the highest ratio of wood fires to patrons. It has retained a warm, cosy atmosphere even after being renovated. The service is excellent. For these reasons it is hands down the best pub in the hills – with one condition. On a hot summers day, it lacks good outdoor seating. The seating out the front is the only option, which currently feels like you’re on the side of a busy road rather than a beer garden. Softening the area with a hedge between the seating and the freeway entrance, and making it smoke free would go a long way. However, given that it’s winter most of time in the Hills means that this doesn’t detract from the pub often, and when it does there’s always Jimmies next door which has a great outdoor area.
The Stirling Hotel is the most popular with visitors from outside the region. It has a fine dining restaurant attached to it (as well as accommodation), but I’ll leave a review of that for another day. It has great outdoor seating for summer days. The deck looks out into the village and the street noise doesn’t detract from the atmosphere. Whilst they don’t hold gigs at the pub for original music, they have a high-quality roster of live musicians doing covers. It’s the only pub in town that has a party atmosphere on Friday and Saturday nights, so for people looking for a pub to start the night at before heading into town, it’s the pick of the hills. Perhaps because of this, it lacks the charm of a hills pub - the décor would fit in well in the city. The biggest area the Stirling pub struggles with is consistently good meals. I’ve had some of the best pub meals here and some of the worst. Eating at the Stirling is a game of expensive Russian roulette, and for that reason it makes a great afternoon or pre-dinner pub, but we avoid its meals. (Note this doesn’t apply to the fine dining restaurant which is quite the opposite).
The Aldgate Pump Hotel is a place to grab a beer when you’re in the area. The staff are friendly but there has never been anything that has convinced us to hang around longer than one drink. Unlike the other pubs, it doesn’t have a defining characteristic that I can put my finger on. Word on the street is that it has recently changed hands so it might be time to take another look. Will post an update when we get back in there.
The Bridgewater Inn is a polarising venue. The main bar area is dedicated to guys betting on the horses. But it’s not soulless. The space is small and people talk to each other. Because it’s at the main bar, there’s a sense of movement and life. But I can understand that at a glance the TV screens are not a good look and an area with 100% blokes may feel intimidating to some. Away from the bar is a big room for meals, a couple of pool tables and a small spot strewn with toys to keep kids occupied. I love the Bridgewater for it’s authenticity. It doesn’t pretend to be anything that it’s not – we go there to play pool and darts. Families go there to have a meal and feel at home. Maybe win the raffle. It’s an entirely unpretentious pub. On a Sunday afternoon in summer there’s a brilliant seating area by the creek that locals flock to and has a great atmosphere. They have a free courtesy bus to drive you home – a huge bonus given that getting a cab in the hills is a challenge (and you can forget about Uber). For me, the Bridgewater is a close second to the Crafers pub, despite being something of an acquired taste.
And if you want to try some gin, take a trip to Ambleside Distillers.