Blue Collar Corner, Hosier Street, Reading, RG1 2LN.
THURSDAY, FRIDAY & SATURDAY: 11AM – 10:30PM, SUNDAY: 11AM – 8PM
WHOA THERE! Something has happened. Someone has made a thing and it’s here – in Reading. It’s open and people are going to it. And those people are excited. By Christ, they’re excited.
Since the ‘BAR & STREET FOOD ARENA’ Blue Collar Corner opened up behind the Broad Street Mall on Saturday the 12th of March, our town has shit its collective knickers. And not because of the ludicrously hot sauce that the chicken wing kitchen inside sells, either.
Blue Collar Street Food’s first permanent site is – quite literally – the talk of the town. It’s all anyone’s been going on about in local circles for a little while now. That and the council not sending out printed bin collection schedules for 2022. Although, to be fair, it’s mostly just been me talking about that (it’s a disgrace, by the way).
Reading is one of the most economically driven and successful places to live in the country outside of London. Yet we never really seem to back that up with enough stuff to do or places to go. The opening of this craft food/bar set-up is a case in point. It should be a pretty cool new addition that you heard was opening and plan to head to soon and check out. A modestly-sized street food market and bar shouldn’t really be our version of The Great Exhibition or world’s bloody fair ferchrissakes.
That’s not Blue Collar’s fault though, of course.
Stroll into the place opposite Pav’s (it’s still Pav’s, c’mon), full of all the build-up and excitement and you could be forgiven for being just a tiny bit disappointed. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, far from it. ‘The Corner’, as it won’t be known, is a great addition to Reading town centre and it’s all been planned and executed extremely well. Just don’t go in expecting Borough Market and you’ll be fine.
That’s the only minor issue that someone cynical and unpleasant like me can really point to. In the context of where and what it is, it’s a bit of an oasis. Just don’t expect your fancy city pals to be entirely bowled over if they come to visit. These sorts of things are ten-a-penny in your Londons, your Manchesters and your Bristols. Most are bigger, a fair few are more impressive. But sod your London friends. Their rent’s two grand a month, let them have pop-up outdoor market things on every street.
That ever-so-slight negativity aside, let’s talk about Blue Collar in the way we should talk about it – positively. Although not really with any real specificity, because not only do I have a woeful memory, I also don’t really pay much attention to things. So don’t expect much insight. Not that you do, I’m sure.
Basically, it’s like a tiny port. And I’m not talking about a 25cl bottle of Cockburns. What I mean is, it’s made out of chopped-up shipping containers. Instead of being full of plastic crap from a Chinese factory, these big yellow and blue metal boxes are full of craft food vendors, bench and pallet seating and a bar.
It’s split level, with five food vendors (four kitchens and – at the time of opening – a cheesecake hut thing) on the ground floor. The bar’s right in front of you, with loads of wooden seating (with cushions) throughout. After getting a drink in your hand, you can sit downstairs or head up the the winding metal stairs to your left or right. Pick the staircase on your right for a kind of inverted helter-skelter walking experience.
Currently your grub options are west country poultry and tater tot slingers Gurt Wings (recommended – just avoid the mad hot sauce unless you’re a masochistic oddball), Neapolitan pizza types Sarv’s Slice (tasty if slightly smallish pizzas not served by the slice for some reason), bao buns bringers YouBao (its all looks nice, but I wasn’t confident enough to say ‘bao’ out loud) and – reprezentin’ meat swervers – vegan taco lot The Taco Tree (surprisingly generous meat-free portions). For dessert, head to Urban Cheesecake.
It’ll be interesting to see how often the vendors change, only the novelty factor could wear off once you’ve eaten there a few times. There are only so many capricciosas (capricciosi?), chicken strips, steamed buns and piles of fake pork on nachos you can eat before you’ll want to try something new. Obviously, it’s not practical to swap out vendors too frequently, but some sort of rotation will be needed at some point.
We’re sure the fella who runs it has it all in hand. Entrepreneurial local lad Glen Dinning knows his fried onions, after all. You’ll see him here bazzing about cleaning up, talking to customers and generally running things. One of the times we visited, he was wearing a blue shirt, so actually had a blue collar! Neither that nor the fact that his name is pretty much ‘Dining’ were worth pointing out, so we just let him get on with it. He’s a busy man.
For a small bar, there are plenty of options. Double-Barrelled take care of the beers, with a special lager named after the place on the menu, next to their popular – but fairly similar – Ding lager. Plus there’s a sour and a few other options. Wine by the glass or bottle and cocktails are a go-go too. If I had any professionalism at all I’d have taken a photo of the menu, but I don’t, so I didn’t.
I did a take a picture of the view, though. Well, my missus did…
The large beer garden bit downstairs is covered, so rain won’t necessarily make The Corner a no-fly zone. It’ll be chilly, but with the right food and drinks, Christmas could well suit the place too. Shivering and spilling Glühwein all over the complimentary blankets.
That said, it’s summer that’ll really see Blue Collar come into its own. The first hot Saturday of the year will see it quickly turn into a one-in-one-out affair, you’d think. With seating no doubt at a serious premium.
There’s a DJ booth there as well, with noticeably excellent tunes being played throughout both our visits. Also – and crucially – the volume was pitched just right. Something these kinds of joints often get wrong. I don’t know about you, but Roni Size at 110 decibels tends to give me heartburn.
All in all… It’s a success. If you’ve not yet had a mooch, head on in. We need these sorts of things here. USE ‘EM OR LOSE ‘EM.
So, then. Does the opening of Blue Collar signal that things are looking up for Reading…? Well, we have this place now. And our own little fancy indie cinema (cindiema?). Plus there are loads of new restaurants and food places opening up all the time and a good few sizeable redevelopments projects on the go. AND it’s the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this year. Which means another chance at city status (LOL).
But for every new momo joint and Dutch chippy that opens in town, a pub closes down. For every new train station, there’s another dreary block of overpriced shitflats built out of plasterboard, gaffer tape and sadness.
What’s my overarching point? I don’t know. I probably don’t have one. Maybe it’s just that Blue Collar Corner is a thing. A very good thing in itself, but quite possibly a great thing for our underperforming town* centre.
**alright, fine – TOWN