The Junction

The Junction Birmingham foodSet in a commanding Victorian building at the top of Harborne High Street, open fireplaces, chequerboard tiles and sink-in-to-me-and-never-leave booth seating places The Junction squarely into must-have weekend territory.

With six regularly changing real ales and a stellar reputation for world beers – and that’s before world beers were a thing – The Junction just gets us. And if the bubbly brown stuff isn’t your thing, the rich yet revitalising Bloody Mary alongside Saturday brunch or The Junction’s epic Sunday lunch is our drink of choice.

Get your hands on a paper, some pals and settle in for the long haul – The Junction has everything you could possibly need. It even does boardgames.

Best Bars tip: Sunny day? The secluded beer garden, which isn’t visible from the front of the pub, is sometimes overlooked.

– Katy Drohan, ICHOOSEBirmingham.com

The Junction Birmingham interior

Bond No 9

Bond No 9 EdinburghBond No 9 in name refers to its location on Leith’s Commercial Street, in a large building once a whisky bond, shared by a Michelin-starred restaurant, offices and a furniture store among the residents. A lot of the original stone has been revealed in the main area with a good sized bright conservatory out to the rear which can be booked out for events. During the summer months it’s also a great place to park up and enjoy the weather in their outside area.

We made our way there for some decent sustenance after a cycle around Edinburgh’s coastal paths and arrived just in time to grab one of the last tables in the conservatory area. Brunch is served every weekend and the offer of their “bigger breakfast” was too good to skip: pork and herb sausages, smoked bacon, and Stornoway black pudding were the main stars of an ample dish backed up with the usual brunch features. Although the cocktail list is ample and well executed it was a strong cuppa and a virgin Bloody Mary with their house blend of spices for us, this time.

Leith is an area which due to a lot of redevelopment in recent years attracts a diverse crowd and Bond No 9 is no exception. Weekdays the main draw is relaxed food and great coffee, weekends a more restaurant feel is there with patrons enjoying top notch grub served by candlelight. Check their social media too as they’ll often have local DJ talent playing later in the evenings at the weekends.

Best Bars tip: The gantry holding all the spirits at Bond is one of the biggest and most diverse in Edinburgh. This means that they can rustle up not just the drinks from the award winning menu but pretty much anything your heart desires – Pisco Sour anyone?

— Martin Duffy, @DuffyDrinks

Bond No 9 Edinburgh brunch

The Fighting Cocks

The Fighting Cocks BirminghamNineteenth century features sit happily beside a hotchpotch of contemporary art, booth seating and the eponymous DJ Julie (weekends only) at The Fighting Cocks.

If four Cask Marque accredited real ales and 14 speciality beers, lagers and ciders aren’t enough for you, we’ve been dreaming about the ginger- and vanilla-infused Red Leg Spiced Rum repeatedly since The Fighting Cocks first introduced us.

Beloved by its Moseley locals and city folk alike, salt of the earth homemade grub is served to a relaxed crowd throughout the week. And if you ask us — which I suppose you really are — The Fighting Cocks is all about satiating that Sunday feeling, any day of the week.

Best Bars tip: Get yourself to Monday’s weekly quiz night to find out about a very special round that has been known to involve a man dressing up in a full bunny suit.

– Katy Drohan, ICHOOSEBirmingham.com

The Fighting Cocks Birmingham bangers and mash

The Newsroom

The Newsroom Edinburgh barThe Newsroom can be found on the busy thoroughfare which links the city to Leith. With a range of hotels, shops, offices and much more close by. A bustling hub lit from the front by oversized jam jars filled with filament lamps lead you into a relatively unfussy and clean-feeling area with a large semi-circular bar at its heart. There are a lot of seating options on the ground floor with a separate well apportioned function space downstairs.

The food at The Newsroom is very much designed for great taste without too much fuss, which suits their guests’ demands perfectly. We tried the Great Scot burger, a haggis fritter with whisky mayo all served with salad and fries. Applewood smoke was hanging in the air after we tried the Smoking Ron Burgundy — Ron Zacapa rum with Cherry Marnier and Mozart chocolate liqueur, stirred down and smoked in a bell jar – worth the wait and our favourite Anchorman would be proud.

Very much a pre-club bar at the weekends with a DJ on every Saturday, The Newsroom attracts a young and upbeat crowd. Food is of course a major feature as is coffee and the vibe really does change throughout the day. If you’re looking for a warm up to your weekend then every Thursday there is Dr. Paul’s quiz, packed full of irrelevant facts and a lot of fun.

Best Bars tip: The beauty of The Newsroom’s downstairs private room is that is comes complete with its own bar and DJ booth, great news when you’re looking to have a party and want to impress your guests.

— Martin Duffy, @DuffyDrinks

The Newsroom Edinburgh

Paradise Palms

Paradise Palms EdinburghParadise Palms is a little bit of the Vegas Sunset Strip dropped into the centre of Edinburgh’s Potterrow area. The décor is a mixture which goes beyond the eclectic into the downright fun: neon, green foliage, disco balls, cabaret club velvet and a huge stuffed boar’s head above the bar to complete the theme of having almost no theme. Somehow it all gels into an environment which is unique yet comfortable.

The Palms have teamed up with local street food mercenaries Ninja Buns who have committed a full kitchen takeover. We tried one of their signature efforts, a Taiwanese steamed bun packed full of Aberdeenshire pulled pork marinated in soy, ginger, garlic and star anise – those sneaky Ninjas know their buns! The bar team have put a big focus on tequila and mezcal – so the Paloma, a thirst quenching mix of tequila, fresh grapefruit and Caribbean soda Ting, was their recommendation. But there’s a great selection of beers too if that’s your thing.

The Potterrow area is the heart of the local university district and students and locals alike flock here for a great mix of music, killer cocktails and gourmet street food. The entertainment on offer is a mix of fresh local bands, DJs and cabaret nights.

Best Bars tip: Check in and chill out. The Best Bars team could have spent all night here and will the next time. Enjoy the atmosphere and ask the guys what’s going on later at night as that’s when the stage comes to life.

— Martin Duffy, @DuffyDrinks

Paradise Palms Edinburgh food

The Grafton

The Grafton Kentish TownIt’s not hard to see why The Grafton was crowned Great British Pub of the Year 2014. This traditional cornerstone boozer in the heart of Kentish Town, offers a great drinks selection, a wide range of real ales, tasty meals and an impressive array of eclectic in-house events – all set in a stunning Victorian restoration complete with quirky modern features and a weather-proof roof terrace.

The downstairs bar offers no set drinks menu but check the chalkboards to scope out a rotating list of award-winning hand pumped ales, local craft beers, ciders, premium spirits and world wines. Tucked away upstairs, you’ll find a more modern bar with an adjacent rooftop terrace. With a bespoke selection of wines and the pub’s very own light prosecco, all on tap to satisfy demands for a constant flow of vino and moreish spritzers. Bar bites are available with food pop-ups such as Texas Joe’s BBQ, which is taking over Grafton’s kitchen until January 2015 with delectable meaty sharing platters.

The upstairs area also hosts Friday DJ nights, monthly Swapaholics clothes exchanges, acoustic music nights and many other fun shindigs. In fact, one look at the events listings and you’ll find there’s an occasion for everyone – from the Tuesday pub quiz (only £1 to enter) to Bring Your Own Vinyl nights, Sing-A-Long Sundays and even the all-welcoming Reggae Choir.

Best Bars tip: Having a bit of a get together? Get cosy in the Grafton’s “Boardroom”. Now available to hire, this upstairs space seats 10-14 or 20 standing and is perfect for private dining, meetings, film screenings, parties and you can even connect your own keg in the corner for all-night top ups.

— Mieke-Kyra Smith, @mieke_chu

The Grafton Kentish Town roof terrace

Sidewinder

Sidewinder Brighton beef brisket tacoWe love Kemptown hot spot Sidewinder. Distinctive from its big one-eyed crab mural on its exterior, this large pub has not one but two of the best beer gardens in town – think wooden booths complete with their own heaters for when the night draws in.

While we’ve always been fans, we’ve been making more frequent visits since it transformed its menu from pub grub to meaty Mexicana. Named Smokin’ Gringo, the kitchen now serves up the likes of burritos, tacos and nachos. Alongside this, the drinks menu has expanded from your usual bar fare of beers, ciders and wines to some punchy Margaritas, Palomas and Mojitos.

Yet fear not traditionalists. On Sundays the joint still serves roast dinners, complete with a build-your-own Bloody Mary station. That’ll kill those inevitable hangovers.

Best Bars tip: Another of our favourite haunts, Brighton Flea Market, is just down the road. We say combine a jaunt over to the east side of town to pick up a bit of bargain taxidermy plus a pint or two of the good stuff.

— Heather Steele, @steeleheather

Sidewinder Brighton