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Secret Drinker reviews Nelson Butt in Spilsby

You’ve heard about the eye and the arm, but what about the Nelson Butt?

I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what to expect at the start of this evening, but the last thing I thought I’d be leaving with was the knowledge I’d been drinking in a place named after a makeshift coffin - and a clear idea of exactly what I want to happen to me after I die.

Don’t worry, I didn’t have an epiphany or anything like that. The only evangelising I’ll be doing in this column is about a bustling night scene.

The Nelson Butt
The Nelson Butt

But more of that later.

It had been years since I’d been to Spilsby and feared that, like too many other places up and down the country, the majority of the pubs would now stand empty.

But despite a ‘To Let’ sign stuck to the side of the George Hotel, there were people out front enjoying a drink and a fag, and plenty of revellers eyeing me suspiciously from the window of the nearby Red Lion as I parked up out front.

The Nelson Butt in Spilsby was a pleasant find
The Nelson Butt in Spilsby was a pleasant find

Sandwiched in between is the Nelson Butt, the place I was heading to. Frankly because it had been recommended to me and, in rare moments of madness, I sometimes listen to other people.

I must admit to feeling a little confused when entering the Butt. One A-board stated it was open for food while another let me know the place was ‘fully booked’ for the night.

Questioning whether I’d actually taken advice from a diner and not a drinker - those flipping moments of madness, eh? - I headed in hoping I could find a spot to enjoy a drink.

A quick snap of the brightly lit bar after the racquet crew had headed home.... or began their action?
A quick snap of the brightly lit bar after the racquet crew had headed home.... or began their action?

But thankfully, like any sensible venue - the Black Bull at Donington springs to mind - the food people are tucked away out of sight and the fun people are rewarded with the bar out front to dish out the first impressions.

And what a first impression it was.

Catching the eye immediately was the bright yellow seating, the bright blue of the barmaid’s hair and the bright red of the flames licking up from the fireplace - above which hung a portrait of our eponymous hero, vice-admiral Horatio Nelson himself.

I grabbed the last available table... but I was soon happily sharing
I grabbed the last available table... but I was soon happily sharing

But what really stood out was that the place was close to full.

This was a midweek evening, the weather wasn’t particularly nice, and yet three pubs all within walking distance of one another were doing a decent trade.

The Butt itself was bustling, with groups larking about with one another, and openly chatting away to others around them.

Our guy Horatio takes pride of place
Our guy Horatio takes pride of place

I grabbed the last spare table beneath some pictures of local wartime RAF crews. But, even as a suspicious outsider sat on my own, it didn’t take long for the two couples sat on the next table to involve me in their evening.

A proper community pub with a proper community feel. Bliss.

As I supped the place quickly filled up even more, a couple and their dog asking if I minded if they joined me at my table.

A pint of Old Speckled Hen set me back £4.35
A pint of Old Speckled Hen set me back £4.35

As someone who enjoys having their knuckles licked I beckoned them to the stools. But sadly they didn’t get my hints. Neither did the dog.

A few more younger drinkers stopped by while, at the other end of the scale, a group of younger-at-heart drinkers congregated at the bar in their tracksuits and trainers, presumably having just finished some type of racquet sport.

Mind you, I could be wrong and maybe they were grabbing some Dutch courage on the way to badminton. What a spectator sport that’d be.

Local RAF airmen are celebrated on the wall
Local RAF airmen are celebrated on the wall

But whichever way it was, this was a place where people felt comfortable and felt wanted enough for an evening out or just a quick one. And I liked that a lot.

A little of the Butt’s history has become somewhat hazy, I learned as I pulled out my phone to check up on the place’s website.

What is know is that this inn is more than 300 years old and appears to have changed its name in honour of the naval great following his demise at the hand of some nasty little French sniper during the Battle of Trafalgar, as many hostelries found fashionable at the time.

A peek inside the gents
A peek inside the gents

But even the Butt part remains a little sketchy.

As 1st Viscount Nelson and 1st Duke of Bronte, Nelson was far too important for a sea burial and his body was preserved in a barrel of brandy for the journey home - arguably the perfect circle of life analogy: in life the brandy’s in you, then in death…

“We do know that whilst there are numerous Lord or Admiral Nelson pubs around the country, to our knowledge we are the only Nelson Butt around unless you can tell us otherwise,” the website challenged any amateur historian.

“We also know a butt is a barrel size that could hold 108 imperial gallons and maybe...just maybe.. a 5 foot 4 inch Admiral of the Navy?”

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The pub’s history - although a little vague - even had a warm charm to match the character of the place. Indeed, when at sea give me Nelson’s Butt over Davey Jones’ Locker any day.

I headed home with a big smile knowing another of these brilliant community pubs still exists, albeit driving sensibly as always as I’m not quite ready for the barrel just yet.


DECOR: It’s a pleasant, cosy place, even if the yellow seating is a little out there. 3/5

DRINK: I went for a pint of Old Speckled Hen (ABV 4.8%). 3/5

PRICE: A pint set me back £4.35. Par for the course, really. 3/5

ATMOSPHERE: I really liked the place, with its friendly, relaxed and chatty feel. The place filled as the evening progressed with punters coming and going throughout.

STAFF: The barmaid was pleasantly chatty while the chef would pop in to help clear glasses, have a chat and usher diners to their tables, always a quip or smile at hand when passing. 4/5

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Do you agree with the Secret Drinker or have any suggestions where he should go next? Where is your favourite beer garden? Email secretdrinker@lincsonline.co.uk or comment below.

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