As a thirsty tourist in Salisbury you will be faced with a large number of pubs eager to have your trade. Most of these are quite sound so it’s hard to make a really bad choice, but there are a few that are particularly reliable.
Having been here for two years and having visited most of the local establishments (purely for research purposes!) I can make a few recommendations. The following ratings are entirely subjective, but include things I consider important in a pub: mainly ambience, beer selection and food.
As the Americans would say, Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF): My top choices for Salisbury pubs are The Cloisters, The Avon Brewery, The Rai d’Or, and The Old Mill (which is actually in Harnham rather than Salisbury)
First, a word about food. The challenges faced by the pub industry (see sidebar below) have created a situation where many pubs have become restaurants in order to survive. This is not a bad thing – many of the pubs I visited on my first trip to Britain in the early 80s were proud to offer a full menu of crisps, ghastly packaged Scotch Eggs and peanuts. So the fact that in most pubs you can now buy something decent to eat is not a bad thing.
However my particular prejudice is that pubs should serve pub food. The “gastro pub” (soi-disant) can be an interesting place to eat but the better and more precious and “cheffy” the food is the less likely that you would want to drop in for a pint (even if they allow you to do so). If I want restaurant food I also want restaurant amenities – which as a minimum include table service by people who know about what’s on the menu and how to serve it, tablecloths and silverware, and most importantly a trained chef in the kitchen who makes the food rather than heating up prepared meals.
So… with one exception these pubs are rated on their ability to deliver the canon: good ales, a decent wine for my bride, and a menu that includes fish and chips, beef burgers, gammon steak with egg and chips, and Sunday roast.