Focus: The Full House, Champion Pub of the Year 2022

In this week’s focus blog, we’re taking a look at the branch’s ‘Pub of the Year’ champion for 2022 – The Full House, Hemel Hempstead.

Exterior of The Full House, located on Marlowes in Hemel Hempstead town centre.

CAMRA’s ‘Pub of the Year’ awards have been highlighting the best establishments across the the UK since 1988, showcasing quality pubs to both local and travelling members and non-members. Within the national consumer organisation, all local branches are encouraged to pick their champion ‘Pub of the Year‘ alongside a runner-up and cider Pub of the Year‘, with further commendations for ‘best newcomer‘ and other such categories.

Traditionally, branch committees use anonymised data from CAMRA’s digital scoring system to guide their decisions, a scoring system that is useable for any of the organisation’s 156,000 members to rate pubs, bars and social clubs out of a possible five stars. This data is then averaged out over the number of unique scores an establishment may have received before it is considered by the committee, alongside other discretionary factors, to find their annual award-winners, winners including the branch’s champion ‘Pub of the Year’.

Named after the building’s past use as a bingo hall, The Full House ticked all the boxes in this year’s awards, with beer choice, cellar management and support for local breweries each noted as exceptional.

Historic shot of the building’s past use as a bingo hall and cinema with adjoining eatery.

As a JD Wetherspoon pub, The Full House opened its’ doors on July 21st 1998, serving cask ale, bar snacks and hot meals with clinical service for nearly three decades to come. The Full House’s interior is an eclectic mix of traditional pub and art-deco, with a decorated carpet and wooden furnishings blending in seamlessly with studded metal pillars, wall murals and a giant canvas painting that depicts the last three films projected during the building’s past life as an Odean cinema.

Hemel Hempstead’s Odean Cinema was opened by the mayor of Dacorum in 1961, showing its’ very first screening ‘Doctor in Love’ with an initial seated capacity of 1,148.
When construction work began in January 1959, award-winning American actress Lauren Bacall laid down the building’s foundation stone as part of a high publicity ceremony. Bacall has her very own Hollywood ‘Walk of Fame’ star, having won both a Golden Globe and a Tony award during her lifetime. As a Grammy/BAFTA/Emmy/Oscar nominee, Bacall appeared alongside the likes of Marilyn Monroe on the big screen, as well as her future husband Humphrey Bogart.

After thirty-five years as a picturehouse, the operation was converted to a split of films, food (from an eatery which was attached adjacent to the pub, structure no longer present) and bingo in the early nineties, before it’s final movie premier in 1994. The grand establishment was then reopened as a dedicated bingo hall for a further two years, before it was taken on by the JD Wetherspoon pub company and repurposed as the on-licence food and drinks premise that stands today.

Canvas painting depicting scenes from the last three films to be projected on the former Odean’s screen – Clash of Titans, Dracula and War of the Worlds. Original auditorium lighting fixtures and aesthetic grille work can be seen to the top and left of the photo respectively.

The Full House has been pouring pints throughout wholesale changes to the UK beer scene, with the emergence of local beer festivals and progressive craft beer breweries each leaving their mark on a 24 year timeline of service that has adapted and evolved to keep pace. The pub now offers five craft keg (often from local independents) alongside its’ large cask ale and real cider range, with regular events such as tap-takeovers, meet-the-brewers and cider festivals often staged for visitors of The Full House.

Today, eight cask lines are ever-changing with real ale, commonly occupied by local brewers such as Mad Squirrel, Tring Brewery, Rebellion, Vale and Leighton Buzzard – though it is not unusual for the cellar to be racked with national favourites such as Titanic, Oakham and Thornbridge Brewery too. Events and products are not alone as recent upgrades to this spacious town-centre establishment. Renovations to both beer gardens (yes, two!) have accompanied a complete cellar and bar front refit within the last two years. The team here do not rest on their laurels.

A not untypical line-up of beers available at The Full House, including local brewers such as Mad Squirrel, Leighton Buzzard Brewing Company, Rebellion. Tring Brewery and Vale.

Praise for The Full House is undoubtedly thanks to its’ brilliant team, though Alex the cellar manager has been singled out for his eagle-eyed management over weekly ale boards (always keeping a balanced mix of brewers and styles), and the fulfilment of insightful events that have entertained prospective consumers and ale aficionados alike.

The year 2021 saw the pub’s first ‘Family Fun Day‘, brainchild of pub manager Steph, with free kid’s entertainment, fancy-dressed staff, competitions, bake sales and more held to raise funds for charity. The pub proudly raises money for ‘Young Lives vs Cancer‘, a decades-long relationship that supports the UK’s leading cancer charity for young people and their families. Funds from these family-style events are bolstered by the many brim-full collection pots that adorn the bar front, along with regular raffles run by The Full House team. These raffles offer drinkers the chance to win hampers of beer and more from local businesses (including breweries) for the price of a small charitable donation.

The term ‘great pub‘ can mean many things to many people, each with their own criteria for a perfect experience. Some pub-goers may place beer quality and events below factors such as food service, atmosphere, community values and accessibility – we’re pleased to say that The Full House shone bright in these areas and more during 2021, leaving the branch unified in our decision.

Alex, who has worked at the pub since 2015, said: “I am delighted that the pub has won the award, which highlights our commitment and passion for real ale.”

Mid-Chilterns CAMRA Chairman Jared (right), presenting cellar manager Alex and pub manager Steph with the branch’s ‘Pub of the Year’ award for 2022.

“It is a labour of love for me to look after the real ale at The Full House – and it is great that the efforts of all the team here have been recognised.”

The Mid-Chilterns ‘Pub of the Year’ award is the branch’s highest accolade, lauded even more-so as high standards are acknowledged across the board in the local area. The committee would like to commend the efforts of all pubs in the branch throughout 2021, you certainly made it a fierce competition. To our overall winner, cheers to being our 2022 champions.

Here’s to The Full House in Hemel Hempstead – your Mid-Chilterns Pub of the Year!

CHEERS

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