When I was about 18 (may have even been 17… Naughty me) back in college one of my favourite pubs was The Hot House in Chelmsford. It was way before its time I think, Belgian beers, German lagers, Czech beers and lots of weird and wonderful flavoured shots dominated the drinks menu. It was a bit funky and provided an alternative venue to go out to. Had it opened today I think it would have been very successful. When we used to go we was always told the basement bar that was once upon a time a holding cell for Chelmsford prison, if this is true or they were having us on I am no sure but as it is just down the road from the Chelmsford nick. Sadly it closed after some new miss-management. It changed hands a few times I think after, the most recent being some restaurant club type place which was owned by some people involved with West Ham, including a certain ex Leyton Orient manager Kevin Nolan. There was all kinds of scandalous rumours attached with the place but who knows what the truth is and it’s reason for shutting. Thankfully it looks like it’s now in safe hands as The Bottle Bureau is open.
Tucked behind Chelmsford cathedral down New Road and Waterloo Lane, which is close enough to town to be convenient but hidden away enough to be away from the usual Essex nightlife crowd. The Bottle Bureau is the creation of Justin Cracknell and Jon McKee, who also run The Ship Inn, Burnham-On-Crouch and The New London, Chelmsford. As you walk through the front door you are greeted with a sample of the downstairs interior, industrial wire mesh fencing with a classic typewriter behind it. Take a walk down the stairs and you walk into the dimly lit bar, the bar is across to the left of you with seating areas to the left and right. The bar is a large wooden front with large drain pipe style bar taps, the 8 draught beer menu is hanging high above the bar tender, fridges of 40 odd bottled and canned beers are down below the bar. The industrial style mesh fencing can be seen all over (feeling like you’ve entered a WWE cage match!) drinks menus hang from them and there is lots of modern lighting hanging low or with light bulbs built into the ceiling decorations. Dark grey walls and wooden floors require candle light at the tables to brighten up the surroundings.
A mixture of tables with chairs, high breakfast bar style tables with stools, converted cask stools, large wooden barrels converted into tables and larger tables in a back room provide a stylish feeling hang out.
The gin selection is huge, I know nothing about gin, or even like it to be able to comment on the selection, but the beer list has some highlights. The core selection on the draught beer is German lagers, some Pin Up Brewery beers and 3 guest beers. We opted with a APA From Roosters and a milk stout called Tontine. My only real negative comment is the guest beers are not listed on the bar menu hanging behind the bar, the bar staff was very helpful when I asked him what the guest beers were and he clearly knew what he was talking about, I just think it would be good if they were also listed them. The bottle and can list has a few gems in there including Kriek Boon, Kernel, Ska Brewing, Rodenbach and Chelmsford’s home town brewery, Round Tower. It’s great to see Round Tower beers included, with two bottled beers just for the bar itself. The beer selection is better than most in town, for someone new to beer there is enough new beers to explore, but maybe not for a hardcore beer geek to seek out, however, I don’t think this is the crowd they are trying to attract. It will be interesting to see where they go with the guest beers, I would love to see Round Tower to get a spot on one of the core keg beers, it would be great for them and the Essex beer scene.
The bar staff were really good, personally I am happy to go to the bar to get my drinks but I watched them provide table service, they were back and forth taking impressive looking cocktails to different tables. The menu also has a nice cheese board selection, I was tempted into it but we had eaten dinner before leaving so didn’t let greed over take us, as tempting as it was.
It would have been rude not to sample a bottle of each the Round Tower beers, simply named Bottle Bureau Light and Bottle Bureau Dark. The light is a refreshing, easy drinking pale ale with a nice balanced citrus hop flavour. The dark has a stronger malt flavour, slightly earthy and really come to life as it warmed up a bit.
The Bottle Bureau is a good addition to Chelmsford’s growing pub and bar scene as it offers something different to anywhere else. Hopefully the addition of The Bottle Bureau will result in a few more decent beer venues to open. I’m glad to see the building of a previous favourite of mine come back to life again.
The Bottle Bureau website – www.bottlebureau.co.uk
The Bottle Bureau Twitter – @Bottle_Bureau
The Bottle Bureau Facebook – Bottle Bureau
The Bottle Bureau Instagram – @bottlebureau
The Bottle Bureau Address – Basement of Waterloo, 59 New Street
Disclaimer – I paid for all my drinks and The Bottle Bureau had no idea I was visiting. I am friends with the people who work at Round Tower but I don’t let this change my opinion of their beers. It was only a short visit and sorry for not my finest photography!