The John O’Gaunt is a pub I measure all others against. Modestly squatted between high-street shops and the Sally Army on Market Street, Lancaster, its pot-bellied, stained glass window gives only a glimpse at what lies within.
On most Friday, Saturday and Sundays, you’ll find a band tuning up in the bay window at the front, playing anything from cajon and double bass to Casio keyboard. Although the pub and bar scene in Lancaster could be better, it’s hard to think of a small town that has more commitment to smalltime live music.
Everyone has their own idea of when Lancaster’s nightlife heyday was. Through it all, from the Iron Maiden-playing-Lancaster-uni 70s to the goth-nights-at-the-crypt 90s, right the way up until the how-can-Hustle-still-be-open 2010s, the John O’Gaunt appears in every story, offering pints and dark corners to people from all parts of Lancaster and Morecambe society.
The last time I visited, it was on a windy and cold Sunday afternoon as part of a pre-Sunday roast walk. Popping your head in to scout for seats won’t help you out here – you have to walk right in and brave the smiling locals. (They actually do smile, it’s a really friendly place.)
We had a pair of Titanic Plum Porters, on account of the law which states if you see it, you must drink it.
I was here to visit, more than anything else. I miss the place. The coloured lightbulbs in the frilly brass light fittings and the wide-legged pants on the extremely metal folk guitarist. The panting white bichon frise on the open mic stage. There’s nowhere else like it in the world.