The Market House Tavern, Portsmouth

Posted on July 27, 2011

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So where do I start with this one?  After arriving in Portsmouth from Brighton after a brilliant but strange night all we wanted was to get to our bed and breakfast, drop our bags off and have a relaxing pint in the bar of the Market House Tavern. The reviews of this place were mixed but most seemed positive and for £25 each for a twin room I snapped it up as I did not know Portsmouth all that well.

So a £6 taxi journey later and we arrive at the Market House Tavern. My heart sinks a little as we arrive and the taxi driver asks if we knew what we had booked and had been here before. I reply no, I have not been to Portsmouth in years. The building is right next to a duel carriageway and opposite it there is an industrial estate. God, I think to myself, what have I let us in for? It’s past 12pm and everything is closed up. There is a broken window to the side of the building where the taxi drops us off which is the car park of the pub. The sign is worn and rusty too. The other side has an old chair that is torn and ripped outside and to the back of the pub another road passes by although this one is an estate road but seems very busy as well. We look in the windows and see no-one about so sit on a rickety old bench outside next to an overfilled bin.

Picture courtesy of www.portsmouth.co.uk

Picture courtesy of http://www.portsmouth.co.uk


I’m thinking to myself to call a taxi and get the hell out of there, but a few minutes to 1pm and an old kindly gentleman opens the pub door asking how long we have been waiting for and tells us there is a back entrance which we could have rang through to. We just mumble something along the lines of we were not sure and did not think it was open. So in we go to the pub part and straight away we are hit by an awful smell and yet more damaged furniture of which one that has a broken arm on the floor. We have entered a bar from the wild west era!

The man who I guess is the landlord tells us that one of his staff has not turned up due to domestic problems that he goes into and me and my friend are not surprised at judging by the pub and the area we are in. He also says that our room is almost ready and after a few other bits he goes off to check and we take this moment to look around.
The bar is dirty, the taps don’t look clean and for me as a Guinness drinker, well that was served in cans and not on tap! I have worked in the pub trade before for many years so I was appalled by what I was seeing. I just wanted to get the hell out of there fast but remember that the booking states if we cancel we have to pay for the first night so my friend tells me it may not be that bad and it is only a bed and that we won’t be using the pub. I go to use the pub toilets and come straight back out feeling sick. They are dark and filthy. There are a few flies around and the door to the main toilet looks like someone has smashed their fist into it or kicked it in so you can imagine there is no lock on there too. I come back out telling my friend that we should just leg it and find something else.

Now I am not posh or stuck-up at all. I have stayed in a variety of places in my lifetime from hostels to hotels, and have also slept in tents and in desperate cases, the back of a car or train station, but nothing could prepare me for this. The elderly landlord came back and told us our room was ready and just needed payment. I watch his face and his eyes especially. He did not even ask us if we would like to see the room first. I am thinking payment should wait until we leave but we pay anyway.

We are shown four keys and how to use them and guided to our room that is on the first floor thank god. Me and my friend had both felt guilty about leaving as the landlord seemed such a lovely man and was having a bad morning so we did not want to add to his woes. So it was a pleasant surprise when he showed us our room. Yes it was small but it looked like it had just been refurbished and was clean and tidy. Our hearts were raised a little. The bathroom was also clean. Maybe it was not so bad after all and it was only a bed for the night anyway and town was only a ten minute walk away. So as is the British way, we made the best out of a bad thing. The price also was too good that I suppose kept us there as well.

So we unpacked and double checked everything in the room. The sash window was open to let ‘air’ in from the duel carriageway which we closed. I tested it to see if it was closed properly but my mate pointed out that the lock was broken on it. Oh God, What if our stuff is nicked as our window faced out to the car park and the side road? We hid our stuff as best as we could and went into town with the worry of our belongings getting pinched from a chancer.

Oh and the television didn’t work.

We got back that night and slept soundly, the noise from the duel carriageway not a problem for us in the slightest. Breakfast was the usual fare and was well cooked. The landlord had said that we could have toast when getting back from our night out which we did not do but I thought that was a lovely little gesture. The kitchen was very clean and again we got the impression that this had been done up recently. Maybe if it is all being done in stages and all the windows have double glazing and the pub is cleaned up, both in and outside to the same standards as the rest of the building then I believe people would put up with the roads and the 10-15 minute walk into town and he would have a little goldmine on his hands. Only if it is completely renovated though and he lost some of the customers that I guessed use the pub.

I have worked in this trade and been both a Supervisor and a Manager and know it just needs a little tender loving care to bring it up to a reasonable standard and possibly a very strict doorman to deter unsavoury types without neglecting the local community. The industrial state across the duel carriageway would be a magnet for him if cleaned up and done well.

The only other problem was the shower which ran like a tap and did not work. Oh and our rooms were not checked or cleaned whilst we were out so we had the same towels and the floor in the bathroom area was dangerous. A safety mat would not have gone amiss.

So overall is this a bad or good review? Well if you want a cheap bed to stay in and a hearty breakfast then this is for you. If you want something immaculate then I would look elsewhere. It suited us  and the only real problem from me was the shower and the broken sash window. The staff though were extremely friendly, welcoming and treated us well and if the place is cleaned up then I would stay there again in a heartbeat. There was another family that stayed there for a couple of nights with kids so it obviously was not that bad. It just needs a makeover and a strong manager to deter the wrong types of customers. Hell, I would even run it for him and turn it around.

If you want to stay there then please visit http://www.themarkethousetavern.com/

*At the time of writing this there were plans to knock the Grade II listed building down to make way for a 96 room hotel. A hundred people plus signed the petition to keep it. I am unsure if it still stands as Portsmouth council have a history of knocking down listed buildings of which the modern Gunwharf Quays was built on. The website is still up for it so I guess it is possibly still in business? Portsmouth is losing its past fast it seems and people go there for its history, not for fancy new buildings. It is also a gateway to the south west and the Isle of Wight.
The town where I am from gleefully knocks down Grade II listed buildings for progress and now they are knocking down those buildings that replaced historic ones because they have outlived their usefulness.

Progress is not necessarily a good thing and I fear for the future of Portsmouth.

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