Someone once said Rhyl was the town ‘where smack heads go to die’. With such high praise, what then might the worst pub in that town look like? There are many contenders, but for my money, the dead cert would have been The Dudley Arms. Don’t just take my word for it. When Pub Toilets reviewed it, they were politely restrained but on the mark:
“Imagine a pub that looks like it was shut down 20 years ago in a poor state of repair, then left to run to rot, then re-opened in the last year or two…. Welcome to the Dudley Arms! The building itself is currently held up by scaffolding, which makes the effect even better!”
The scaffolding was, according to rumour, put up by the council to repair the exterior after the signage kept falling off and wounding pedestrians. Toward the end, the sign went from declaring ‘The Dudley Arms’, to ‘T e u ley rms’. Inside, the hard furniture was rickety, the soft furnishings shabby, the tiling was cracked, a thick layer of grime covered the windows, an even thicker layer of congealed mucus covered the toilet walls, the landlord lost more teeth day by day and someone had ripped the hand dryer off the wall.
It’s hard to imagine a time when The Dudley Arms looked well presented. If ever such a time existed, it was well before when I started drinking in there at the age of sixteen, some ten years ago. This was where I used to drink in my sixth form days, occasionally at lunch times between studying Orwell in double English, more often at the weekends when grungy rock bands played.
I wasn’t the only underage drinker, either. The Dudley Arms was a Mecca for rockers, bikers, goths, outsiders and alternatives of every stripe and any age. The landlord, Brian, was as old and rundown as the pub itself and never – to my knowledge – asked to see anything remotely resembling ID. Providing you didn’t kick off, were discrete with your drugs and didn’t rip the hand dryer off the wall, you were welcome in the Dudley. This is how catholic school sixth formers were able to drink Guinness and play pool with a one-armed punk named Mad Dog on a Thursday afternoon without anyone batting an eyelid.
For two years of my life, the Dudley was my local. Sure, it looked like a tramp’s pocket, which was a real shame because it had a good Victorian vibe beneath the stains and disrepair, and the beer choice didn’t win many CAMRA awards, but I always felt safe, met the craziest people, and had a great time. Rose tinted nostalgia? Perhaps, but it doesn’t make it any less true.
Then, inevitably, the Dudley closed down a year or so back. Brian, who was toothless and old ten years ago, probably called time and gave up the fight. I don’t know. I only passed through my old hometown for a weekend. What is surprising, however, given the trend for pubs to close and stay closed, is that it was recently refurbished and re-opened under new, though highly experienced, management.
For the first time in a long time, business was booming on the Saturday afternoon in what is now called the Cob & Pen. The old band room is now the games room, the old pool room is an additional seating area, there’s clean wallpaper on the walls, thick carpet on the floors, sturdy tables to rest your beer on, a hand dryer on the wall, and the best pint of EPA I’ve ever had was being served on tap.
It was odd seeing a broadly middle to old aged clientele in what used to be The Dudley Arms. No more Mad Dog, no more grungy musicians or rock chicks or sixth formers. Where ‘the kids’ drink in Rhyl these days, I don’t know. Maybe the park, maybe a skanky nightclub. Hopefully, though, another dive pub has taken on the Dudley’s mantle and welcomed the diaspora. Without wanting to sound like I’m promoting underage drinking, pubs will continue to close if we don’t encourage the upcoming generations to appreciate every facet of them, as gathering places and not just booze joints.
Disclaimer: There have been many beers between me now and me then, so some details may be slightly wrong. Corrections welcomed. And no, I don’t know who ripped the hand dryer off the wall, but I think it was my mate Joel.