by rob magnuson-smith
Naughty little Hand. You used to lurk in the back of that dank courtyard like a timid schoolboy with your secret horde of treats. Now you’ve grown up, sort of. An adolescent acting out. Taking on the big boys like Beerwolf. Watch out, Hand. Someone’s going to ask you to upgrade those sofas and invest in a decent loo.
As a relatively recent newcomer to Falmouth— a five-year love affair and counting—I’m embarrassingly conspicuous in the town’s pubs. An American quasi-academic, I convince myself that I’m conducting research of some romantic kind, even ‘writing’. Really, I’m having fun. On any given night I’ll embrace the sweaty, somewhat yeasty Betty Stogs in The ‘Front. Down at The Seven Stars I’ve been known to snog a Bass or two, straight off the rack. In The Boathouse I prefer gazing across the water to Flushing with my pipe, dancing quietly with a handle glass of Porthleven, only to wake sadly contorted and alone. And if I’m feeling particularly amorous I’ll stride over to Oddfellow’s to dive into the arms of an unsuspecting guest ale, if I’m lucky, a pint of genteel Padstow Mayday.
Hurrying home in the dark, dodging howling midnight packs of the semi-naked and the insane, I keep my head down. I avoid the lure of truly unspeakable establishments, and I pray the smeared faces in my periphery aren’t the same that appear in my lectures by morning. But didn’t I have every intention of making it back to bed, before my own indecencies are exposed? The problem is, I have to pass pesky Hand.
If you haven’t yet crossed the neon threshold of Falmouth’s most extensive beer emporium, I recommend getting over there before too long. Life’s short. And the beer is so good that you worry owner Peter Walker might just change his mind and go away. Luckily he seems the real deal; earnest, broad-minded, and not averse to commitment unlike our departed food temptresses Bango and Belly Timber. Offering nine regularly rotated taps of unusually diverse international beers, people at Hand can drink themselves into the pleasant delusion that shoddily-orchestrated cons like Brexit could never happen. Any individual of dubious disposition may stand at the bar and make their way through the offerings without being asked to show identity papers. Couples can brave the tatty sofas or disappear unseen into the abbreviated décor of the back room. Sitting there for more than one beer is like being kidnapped and chucked in the rear of a van. And If you do ever manage to escape, you must endure the heavy-lidded millennials congregating in the courtyard, trying desperately to look cool hunched over their rollies.
But I am unduly prickly; any honest drinker in a place so serious about beer should never complain. Hand’s bar staff are invariably cordial and well-versed in their holdings. Cask ale out the back—often a redoubtable Harbour shipped down from Bodmin—gives you an easy excuse to avoid the wallet, at least for the first round. You don’t even have to be a quasi-academic to browse Hand’s new beer library. It’s there that you’ll stumble on Bavarian classics like the velvety Schneider Weiss Aventinus, the swish Norwegian celebrity Nøgne, and of course the shiny ordered battalions of American hop merchants who’re yet again reinventing the wheel; Stone, Anchor Steam, and Dogfish. If Peter Walker ever sources Pliny the Elder, the glorious Californian Russian River Imperial IPA, all bets are off and I’ll be wedded to his outstretched Hand forever.
Last summer, during one of those long hot days of August, I realised I had entered Peter’s courtyard three times in twenty-four hours. My first visit involved a goblet of beetroot Bloody Mary - tequila, muddled fresh mint and jalapeno. My second visit came just minutes later when I made the mistake of wandering over to where Bango and Belly Timber used to be, and, suddenly with nowhere to place my self-pity, I was back up the hill. And my third, somewhat sullen approach, occurred during a rare moment of intelligence—an epiphany, really. I decided I really was an academic, and I needed to conduct more archival research in Hand’s library. I studiously headed back for a tutorial on bottle-conditioned black IPAs. Luckily learning went hand-in-hand with forgetting—only the wisest know how little to truly know—thereby requiring me to return again, and again, like a lost Socratic soul in Minotaur’s maze.
Naughty, naughty Hand. Did I mention you’re growing up a little too quickly for my liking? You need a slap-down and a few more reasons for me to blank you on my next stumble home. Hipsters don’t have to be bearded these days. A few patches on that godforsaken sofa will run you about twenty quid. And build some sort of escape route, even if illusory, out of that poky back room. Some of us need to get to bed.
Since this article was written Hand Bar has expanded, opening a bottle shop next door.
Rob Magnuson-Smith, Falmouth, UK. A Fiction novelist who can be found lecturing at the University or haunting Falmouth bars.
Kate Hardy, London, UK. Painter, printmaker, and teacher. A graduate of St Martin's School of Art working at Chisendale Studios in East London.