Fittingly this pub is on Horatio Street forming a nice little tribute to everybody’s favourite one armed one eyed Napoleonic era Vice-Admiral. I find this particularly apt as the Nelsons Head is sort of a gay pub and one of Nelsons last requests was to get kissed by another bloke. It’s probably the most subtly gay pub I’ve ever encountered; they don’t advertise the fact and unless someone had pointed it out to me I’d probably still be non the wiser.
It’s snugly situated right between The Royal Oak and The Marksman at the back of Columbia Road. It doesn’t really scream about its presence as it has no outside seating at all and only a modest swing board sign partly obscured by well maintained hanging baskets advertises its existence. Inside is dark; a bit like a warm cave. This is one of those pubs with a dangerous aversion to daylight where one more pint always an option because frankly you have no idea what time it is and have gone well beyond caring by the time it dawns on you that it’s last orders (see The Griffin for another vampire friendly pub).
The decor in here is a most distinctive feature. A collection of terrible paintings adorns the walls. One corner is devoted to a collection of mirrors which are all apparently for sale. Against one wall is a creepy electric candle contraption which looks like a church organ. This array of merry misfit items combined with the classic pub carpet, furniture and lighting makes for a truly odd environment. I’m not too sure if the effect that’s been achieved was deliberate or is horribly accidental.
Beer is lacking. There’s not really any ale to speak of here and the lager options are nothing special. Just the standard carbonated burp inducing yellowish brown water you’d get in a Yates wine lodge. If you ask to look at a menu you’ll most likely be pointed unceremoniously towards a jar of wasabi peas or gestured to an array of fried potato snacks in unlikely flavours as there is no food.
Many of these issues are things I’d overlook in other places. The George and Dragon is decorated by a mad man, has no real ale and doesn’t even do crisps yet I love it. But Nelsons Head lacks the great redeemer that is a warm and welcome atmosphere. At it’s tiny bar it’s all too transparent that this is a very local affair. If you know the staff they’ll look after you. If you don’t know the staff you’ll be at the bar long enough to forget that the puddle of warm beer that you leant on when you first found a gap between other punters is still there and put your elbow back in it.
Unfortunately there’s just not enough that’s charming about this pub to elevate it out of the grim category. Given you pretty much see the two much better pubs (Royal Oak, Marksman) from the front door I’d go there instead.