When it comes to drinking spots in Falmouth, we’re spoiled for choice. There are vintage wine bars, arty music venues and, of course, your traditional pub boozers. Amongst them all, I have a particular soft spot for The Front – a small alehouse on Custom House Quay that seems to slide under the radar for reasons I can’t put my finger on.
As with many university towns, Falmouth can sometimes fall victim to a locals versus students divide when it comes to venues. While I’m not a student, I clearly fit the mould and once, being mistaken for one, was kicked out of a local boozer before even reaching the bar.
On entering, the barman shouted something along the lines of “use the public toilets”, assuming I’d only popped in to use the loo. With some more intimidating stares, making no secret of my unwanted intrusion, I swiftly shuffled back out the door.
While it was a bit brutal, I don’t blame them – pubs are precious places. With a history that dates as far back as Anglo-Saxon Viking kings, they have nurtured communities, fostered friendships and become the social backbone of the UK. It’s natural that people grow territorial.
However, down at The Front, their friendliness was much appreciated. The pub uniquely straddles both the local and student markets with its easy, pull-up-a-stool atmosphere. The long, thin room with dark wood furnishing and a round bare-bricked ceiling feels like you’re below deck on a pirates’ ship with cosy corners that you can imagine were once lit by candlelight.
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While The Front has been around since the ’70s, it reopened under new ownership following the Covid lockdowns and the manager, Max Bosley, told me that it was important for him that the pub was inclusive. He said: “We’re an accepting pub, anyone can walk in and no matter what race, colour, age, religion or gender, you’re welcome here.”
Showing me photos of the bar decorated in rainbow flags, Max explained that The Front had for the first time hosted a celebration for Falmouth’s Pride parade on May 7. “One of the brewers I speak to had a couple of barrels of an ale called Pride so we got that in and branded it the Colourful Cornish ale with donations going towards a couple of different charities that support the LGBTQ+ community,” he said. “I want this pub to be for everyone, to serve good beer, cider, wine, spirits, whatever, but providing a good atmosphere in a traditional pub sense.”
While trendy, Instagramable bars are popping up left, right and centre, there’s something special about the traditional relaxed approach at The Front. It’s not trying to be anything too swanky, it doesn’t serve gastro food or grapefruit gin cocktails. Instead, it really focuses on serving a large range of quality drinks from local breweries.
With a “famous four” selection permanently on tap, including Lushingtons, Porthleven, Central and Special, it also has a spectacular range of experimental flavours that rotate every few weeks or so. Their names are pretty brilliant, I must admit, including: Beast of Bodmin, Rumour Mills, Sea Salt Stout, Disco Balls and a 7% Panana Hoppa, to name a few.
Max said: “So we have our main eventers but then we like to try different things. We mix up the other pumps every couple of days and weeks. Normally, if it’s a really good guest ale, it’ll just kind of fly off and by the end of the week, it’s like, ‘sweet that’s gone, we’ll put the next one on’.
“We speak to our brewers directly, they drop round samples which sometimes we love straight away or other times we say, ‘oh not sure about that- what else have you got?’ At the end of the day, our range of beers it is what distinguishes us from every other pub. We like to change it up a bit otherwise what’s to stop customers going elsewhere if they have all the same ales and beers? It’s what makes us different.”
Not only is the pub pet-friendly, but people are also encouraged to bring in their own food from home or neighbouring restaurants to enjoy, which is pretty unheard of. While chatting to Max, the smell of freshly unwrapped fish and chips – no doubt from famous Harbour Lights – drifted over from the adjacent table as a merry group tucked into their dinner. I spied another duo finishing off burritos – presumably from Habanero’s – over a golden pint with a furry friend resting sleepily at their feet.
The pub also runs events including a weekly quiz night, open-mike night and a monthly gig, featuring local artists. Having attended the pirate-themed quiz last Sunday (our team, ‘Quizzer Me Timbers’, came a proud third), I can vouch for its originality.
Each week has a different theme – such as ‘the ’80s’ or ‘water’ – which the questions are loosely and imaginatively based on. Among others, this includes a picture, charades and music round where you have to identify the artist and song played by the wonderful host, Petra, on a kazoo. Without a doubt, it tops all pub quizzes I’ve been to.
Despite its buzzing atmosphere, both Max and I confessed that we hadn’t known the pub was here until long after we should have, given its obvious popularity. While it’s in a central location, with alfresco seating overlooking the harbour, it’s sort of tucked away and easy to miss in the shadow of the larger pubs that share the harbour.
“I have to say I’ve heard many people coming in for the first time and saying, ‘I never knew this was here’, despite having lived or been visiting Falmouth for years. But it’s kind of nice this way – it feels like Falmouth’s best kept secret. As well as an alehouse, it’s like an institution or hub. We have long opening hours from 11am to 11pm throughout the week and then 12 to 10.30 on Sundays, so people can come in at any hour throughout the afternoon and evening.
“People come to share ideas with each other and mingle between tables. Even for myself, a lot of my friends and my partner, I met them all through this pub.”
The Front is the sort of hidden gem that you only discover through word of mouth, with its reputation having rippled outwards over time. But once you know about it, you’ve unlocked a whole world and community that pulls you back with gravitational force.
There’s no better example of this fierce loyalty than in December 2020 when a group of regulars couldn’t face the prospect of its nine-month dormancy becoming a permanent arrangement and so, putting their heads and bank accounts together, formed a consortium of shared ownership, Max tells me.
The Front posted on Facebook at the time: “We are delighted to announce that The Front is officially under new ownership and management. It was so important to us that The Front went to people who cared about its story so when a team of loyal locals approached us who wanted to continue its legacy, there was no question who we’d pass the baton on to.”
Max said: “It was pretty sad when we were closed during the lockdowns. Me and my friends were sitting having a beer in the sun somewhere and we’d be like ‘you know where we could be right now, The Front.’ It was a big celebration when it reopened and everyone came down for the opening night.
“It’s just an amazing pub. The people, the atmosphere and the beers, obviously. It’s really well-loved by its community.”