The Yellow Book is billed as the UK’s first steampunk pub, and as such it is only right that it should have been established in our fair city. In case you didn’t know, Brighton – with its Victorian pier, Georgian architecture and relaxed attitude towards people who wander about in pith helmets and 19th century jodphurs on a daily basis – is actually a world epicentre of the small but eye-catching and increasingly vibrant steampunk scene. Our city is even home to two of the artists most closely associated with the genre – ‘Chap-hop’ artist Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer and self-proclaimed ‘Steampuk rap superstar’ Professor Elemental. It has even been the setting for some spectacularly messy, if not entirely serious feuding between the two over the last few years.
For a lot of people this would make The Yellow Book a ‘marmite’ pub. Some will see the steampunk atmosphere as cool and fun, for others it will look like geekery of the first order. Both views are right. The pub hosts games nights at which ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ type RPGs are played (for those in the know ‘Call of Cuthulhu’ and ‘Vampire The Masquerade’ appear to feature), and quizzes at The Yellow Book are more likely to include dialogue from obscure horror films than pop music and football questions. It reeks of geek – but this is Brighton and where else can you get this? If you are worried about feeling out of place surrounded by people in top hats, ’30s three piece suits and bowlers the bar staff, who are all appropriately attired, will issue steampunk headgear. On Bjournal’s research visit we were given an apparently solid metal topper and a tricorn hat to help us blend seamlessly into the assembled throng. Ok we probably still stood out but it made for a fun evening.
So what makes a pub steampunk? Well the designers of The Yellow Book have gone overboard to create ambience. The walls are adorned with art in keeping with the genre, much of it by local artists, and much for sale. There are also giant clocks, functionless dials, diver’s helmets, arcane artefacts, steampunk weapons and doors of apparent solid steel which open with suspicious ease. There is a mean-looking spider in a cage (with bent bars naturally). The music gives a ’30s-ish, gramophone record ambience. There is a well that looks like it goes down several hundred feet, disappearing far, far down into the stygian blackness below. As is only proper it is stacked with shelf after shelf of champagne. OK it is probably some kind of illusion… but my it looks convincing! As well as all the games there is a BC Rich Warlock guitar covered in gear levers (the addition of which is one way of indicating that a thing TOTALLY steampunk). If you can crank out a few riffs on it you get a free drink. Yes – it is that kind of place.
So geekery and atmosphere aside, why go to The Yellow Book? As a pub it also sells a fantastic range of drinks, well selected to cater for the clientele. It is the only place I have visited in Brighton where mead is freely available, although rumour has it that it can also be found in the Laines. There is a good range of bottled real ales as well as the obligatory local brew from Brighton Bier and more ubiquitous lagers and soft drinks. Where The Yellow Book really scores, though, is with its fabulous range of inexpensive cocktails. The pub has a full range of spirits including a variety of gins and vodkas, and will mix up geekily named exotica such as a ‘Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster’ (a glass of green joy, with cinnamon flavours and gold-flecked vodka) or a ‘Typhoid Mary’ (a Bloody Mary with added savagery) for around a fiver. As with the pub’s back story, all of the cocktails are in theme and some taste very good indeed without costing all that much.
As well as the drinks, the atmosphere is generally very good. It is easy to talk to people, as the clientele are friendly, creative and interesting and appears to be gay-friendly. The staff are also far too civilised to hurry up tardy drinkers after hours, make time to talk to customers, and will even order in take-out if requested. However we do have two main gripes with the place. For one thing The Yellow Books is quite small, and it is not always easy to get a seat on a busy night (although the bar staff do their best to accommodate all comers). We also feel that a cool bar which serves inexpensive cocktails should be available too us at all hours, and certainly later than 11pm, which is The Yellow Book’s current closing time. Undoubtedly there are good reasons for both issues, but the retro feel maybe shouldn’t extend to First World War opening hours!
The Yellow Book steampunk pub can be found at 3A York Place and is open until 4-11pm all week except Fridays and Saturdays when it opens from 12-11pm. It hosts a games night on Mondays, quiz night on Wednesdays and an open mike on Thursdays. In terms of future events, Tom Slatter, a Victorian street theatre and acoustic artiste plays on 12th March and the bar hosts self-proclaimed ‘Steampunk rap superstar’ Professor Elemental on 25th March.
All photos courtesy of The Yellow Book website or Facebook.