A traditional 18th century brewery gives us a modern tap-room in Central Brighton
When thinking of a Harveys pub, you might conjure the image of a traditional watering-hole on a quaint, South Downs high-street, called something like The Olde (insert rural reference) Inn. Your mind probably doesn’t go to a stylish and modern, eye-catchingly colourful tap-bar on Brighton’s busiest shopping street.
If you are wondering about the name, Maris Otter is a classic British malt which rose to popularity in the 70s and is apparently used in most of Harvey’s brewing. However I’m reliably told by Harvey’s that Maris’ can mean “of the sea”, which they thought was apt given the close proximity to the beach.
On the Otter side, the pub donates 10p of every pint of it’s own IPA to the Sussex Kelp Project, the aim is to contribute to the return of sea otters to the Sussex Coast in the future.
Marris and Otter Brighton exists in the space previously known as the Duke of Norfolk and Harvey’s have transformed the inside, making it a brighter and more modern affair. It’s certainly not breaking new ground – you can spot a tiled bar splash-backs, witty neon signs and exposed brick wall in most pubs in Brighton – but you can tell money has been spent well here to combine classic and modern in a reassuring way, which should tempt in a cross-section of daytime shoppers and evening pub crawlers alike for a drink.
There are two rooms, the left one containing the bar, and between them they provide seating options varying between high tables and stools, low tables and chairs, a banquette along part of the wall and a couple of stools at the bar itself. There’s a decent amount of space and tables haven’t been crammed in so there’s room to breath though to get to the toilets you need to get past the bar which could be tricky on busy nights.
On this Saturday afternoon the bar room was the more chatty space, mainly down to the chaps at the bar conversing with the barman about football, whereas next door seemed very tranquil indeed, with individuals or couples either on their laptops or having quiet conversations at the high tables.
My wife made the point that the low chairs we sat on opposite the bar were incredibly comfortable, and she was right. We’d been on a bit of a mission in town and were looking for some relaxation, so to find our rears settling onto soft leather rather than just a slab of wood was much appreciated.
The craft-beer tap-room vibe comes from the racing-green tiled wall with 8 taps emerging from it and a row of many spirits above. Unfortunately, for a self-styled tap-room, nothing very exciting was pouring from them other than Harvey’s own Pilsner (which is Polish hopped and actually very good) and their Black Stout. The rest of the names are your standard mass produced beers like Camden Hells, Birra Morretti and even Corona of all things..?? To be fair, there also was Unbarred’s Joosy pale, and while it’s not a favourite local session pale of mine, you have to applaud their resisting the urge to just put Beavertown on.
I was glad to see 3 cask pumps, well actually only 2 were operating, with Bonfire Boy and Old Ale available, weirdly Harvey’s Best Bitter was conspicuous by it’s absence, so I would wager it’s a mainstay of pump number 3. I knocked back a couple of pints of Harvey’s deliciously dangerous Bonfire Boy. Man is this beer gluggable, sweet, smokey and massively malty at an abv that is brilliantly warming.
Through a hatch to the right of the bar you can watch the chef’s at work in the little kitchen and the food menu focusses on burgers, with hot dogs, fries and Sunday lunches also featuring. We sampled some loaded fries to share which were really quite impressive for the price, and made a decent portion for 2.
Marris and Otter Brighton put on Open mic on Thursdays, a quiz on Wednesday quiz, live music on Sunday afternoons and if you are in town for a weekend, there’s even 4 bookable rooms upstairs, each named after a type of kelp.
Finally, and I don’t ever talk about the loos, but on a trip downstairs to the row of unisex loos I noticed a swankily decorated waiting area. It was unexpected and probably an unnecessarily arty touch to add, but I love that they did. I half wanted to sit there in silence and enjoy it for a moment before ascending back up to the bar, you’ll see what I mean if you visit.
Marris and Otter Brighton breaks the mould of what you thought a Harvey’s pub should or could be, but maybe deep-down it’s just a modern looking pub with some taps, as I feel anyone calling themselves a tap-room really should be owning that label and showcasing more craft beer. The main pull for me here is knowing I can reliably get hold of Harvey’s range of cask and keg here, especially their excellent seasonal specials.