If Charles Dickens ever visited Chester, I like to think he would have taken time out to observe the locals at the Bear and Billet.
The 17th century Lower Bridge Street building is one of Chester's quirkier pubs at the best of times, with low beams, leaded windows and stories of a resident ghost.
But in December, with a bauble-decked tree next to a roaring fire and a sprig of mistletoe above the door, it really is the picture of a Dickensian Christmas.
On a dark, cold Thursday night, I headed over there with a group of friends in an attempt to block out the damp December weather with good food and a CAMRA-recommended ale or three.
Jon arrived a little ahead of the rest of the group and before long was sitting at the bar, debating the merits of the local Weetwood brewery's Cheshire Cat ale with the barman - a fellow beer fan.
He is organising a beer festival at the pub in January and invited us all to nominate our favourite beers to feature in the event. Apparently there will be a total of 16 beers and ciders on sale from a special bar from January 25-28.
Festivals aside, the Bear and Billet always boasts an impressive array of cask ales and draught beers and must be the only pub in Chester with a separate menu just for beer.
It's one of my favourite pubs in Chester purely because it's one of only two places that regularly serve the Belgian cherry beer Kriek on tap (the other place is City Bar on City Road).
Sadly though on this occasion the Kriek barrel was empty so I looked around for drinking inspiration from the others... just as Richard F spotted his favourite tipple - Wapping Ales' Stout - on draught and gave a whoop of joy.
We both had a glass of the thick, dark, chocolatey ale while Jon tucked into a pint of Phoenix, Arizona blonde ale (crisp with a grapefruit taste, apparently).
Richard D and Liza were both driving and sipped enviously on diet cokes, until Richard D snapped and arranged to stay in Chester that night so he could try a bitter from Okells brewery, who own the Bear and Billet. He reckoned it was worth it.
The serious business of beer selection over, we settled down at a large, carved oak table near the open fire to read the menus.
The Bear and Billet is strictly speaking a wet pub, and the food lingers comfortably between the gastropub and pub grub territories.
Here you'll find no rocket or pan fried trout - instead you get hearty home-made British classics like ham, eggs and chips; daily home-made pies and curries and baguettes and jacket potatoes with generous fillings.
On some week nights there are also set menus - the Thursday night offer included two courses and a half bottle of wine for £12.50 per head.
The only criticism any of us had about this set menu was that the selection of starters (mushroom soup, Greek salad, potato wedges and pâté) didn't seem to match the main courses (chilli with tortilla chips, cod and chips, lasagne and goats cheese and tomato tart), though it was excellent value for money.
Our meals seemed designed for 18 stone beer-drinkers with a craving for carbs, loaded as they were with huge mounds of potato.
Jon and Richard F chose potato wedges with a garlic mayonnaise dip as starters. They were each confronted with the equivalent of a large potato sliced into wedges and deep fried.
They were delicious, but when their main courses - a thick, juicy steak burger - arrived with the same amount of chips it seemed like overkill. Mind you, they still managed to down the lot.
Liza and I chose Ardennes pork and liver pâté as a starter, which was served on a soft baguette. The only gripe I had was that it came with the same salad and vinaigrette that then accompanied my main course of a goats cheese and tomato tartlet, as well as the obligatory mountain of pan fried potatoes.
The strong flavour of the goats cheese in puff pastry tart was nicely sweetened by the tomato, but a little variety in the side dishes wouldn't go amiss.
Liza said her lasagne had good thick layers of meat, while Richard D tucked hungrily into his chilli beef with rice and tortilla chips.
After such huge portions none of us could think of having pudding - a good job, as the waitress informed us the only choices left were sticky toffee pudding (one portion only), spotted dick and a selection of ice cream.
As it was still only 8.30pm at that point I thought it a pity they were not better stocked for the night, although admittedly downstairs in the bar area drinkers were starting to outnumber the diners, upstairs the non-smoking restaurant area was emptying out.
The Bear and Billet is well-known to American visitors to Chester for its historic architecture and Japanese tourists flock there to honour the fact that John Lennon's grandmother - Annie Jane Milward - was born there in 1873.
Strangely, I have noticed that many Cestrians have no idea where it is, or have never been inside.
This does mean you can always count on getting space to breathe there on a weekend night, but it is a pity this gem of a Chester pub isn't getting the recognition it deserves.
* Bear and Billet, Lower Bridge Street.
* Tel: 01244 311886.
* Best thing: The beer and the building.
* Worst thing: The high ratio of potatoes to plate.
* Would suit: Tourists in search of a cute Chester pub, beer lovers in search of the ultimate pint.
* Cost: £80 for five people eating two courses with drinks. Set menus are available throughout the week.