There are loads of pubs in Southampton and I've not been to all of them, on this page I summarise the ones I have been to in the Bevois Valley area of Southampton.
The Hobbit is a very popular pub with students, but has a huge beer garden at the back of the pub, which never seems to fill up, no matter how many people are out there. As you may have guessed, it's a Lord of the Rings themed pub, with pint coctails and "shottails" for each of the main characters. There's a jukebox (which is disabled when live music is available downstairs), a pool table, a quiz machine and an arcade machine in the upstairs area of the pub.
The upstairs area of the pub is relatively small, but plenty big enough during the day (possible exception being weekends), but when the inside gets busy, you're bound to find a seat in the outside area at the back of the pub. Downstairs there's a small room with another bar and a small stage,where live music, including DJ sets, is performed on several days during the week. The room and bar are closed when live music isn't being played, so you'll have to go upstairs to get a drink when live music isn't on.
Keep going downstairs and you'll end up outside the back of the pub, confronted with a huge paved beer garden, filled with many picnic tables. There's an awning attached to the back of the pub, with some heaters and a couple of picnic tables, though this area gets filled up first. If you're just looking for a sheltered area there are several benches which are under cover, around the garden and more tables which aren't under cover.
The Hobbit is very popular with students, but there's always room to sit down somewhere in the grounds of The Hobbit. If you've got a big group of people, larger than will fit in most pubs, then The Hobbit is a good choice, so long as you don't mind sitting outside.
The Hobbit has hot food, served up by Chef Bernie. The food is served up from a cabin outside in the beer garden and you go to the counter order and wait for your food. Bernie serves up carribean food, but does more traditional burgers and chips aswell.
Later in the evening on Friday/Saturdays you'll be charged an entry fee, to get into The Hobbit, for a few pounds. If you don't want to pay to get into the pub, be sure to get there earlier rather than later (before 9 I guess, I don't know exactly).
There are often live music events and occasionally all day events are organised, usually on bank holiday weekends, where they will usually charge more for entry to the pub.
In summary, The Hobbit is a very popular pub with plenty of space for the crowds of students that it draws in. The pub caters for a wide audience, it's suitable for people looking for a quiet night out and also for large groups of people looking to have a drink and be loud outside.
Clowns is a cheap pub just south of The Hobbit and has been dubbed "The precursor to Jesters", it's next door to Jesters and I think the two are owned by the same people. Clowns sells pitchers of lager and snakebite and is frequented by students looking to go out and get very drunk for as little money as possible. If your night doesn't revolve around getting extremely drunk then this probably isn't the place for you.
Clowns has sofas and benches around large tables, so it is good for large groups of people playing drinking games. There's a pool table at the back of the pub, if you're coherent enough (and can find someone else who is coherent enough) to be able to play a game.
In summary, Clowns isn't a place for a small group of people looking to have a quiet drink on a Saturday night, but if you can handle being surrounded by lots of loud drunk students and want cheap drinks before you head off to a nightclub, then this is as good a place as any.
If you haven't already heard of Jesters, then you probably don't want to go there. Jesters is a night club of the lowest kind. Going there on your own while sober on a Saturday night during University term time is probably one of the worst things you can do.
Jesters becomes absolutely packed with students who are barely able to stand up on their own, because they're so drunk (and students who aren't able to stand up because they're even more drunk). The dancefloor is usually so packed that you can hardly move at all, let alone actually dance.
It typically takes so long to get to the bar that you have to buy several drinks at once to make it worth going back to your group of friends, then coming back to get another drink when you've finished it. You typically cannot see the bar, unless you're less than a meter away from it and it will take you what feels like an age to get there and be served a drink.
The floor in Jesters is usually covered in some sort of liquid, just hope it's spilt beer and nothing less hygeinic. The toilets are even worse, make sure you don't need to sit on the toilet seat at any point and you'll have to queue to get to a toilet aswell.
To be fair, these points seem to only apply during term time. The one time I went there in the middle of the summer holidays, there was space to move around and even dance on the dance floor, I could get a seat inside and see the bar while sat down. The floor was also dry, so it seems that it's at its worst when packed with students, which is most of the time during university term time.
In summary, if you're not looking to get horrendously drunk, you don't like small and/or crowded places, you would like to sit down while drinking, you don't like loud places full of drunk places or you value your personal hygeine, then Jesters isn't the place for you. Somehow, despite all of this, the place draws masses of people in. I don't quite understand it myself, but if you go there, don't say I didn't warn you!
Sobar is, to me, a more upmarket version of Jesters. The place is still full of people looking to get drunk, but it's less crowded and there's more space to sit down and talk to people. There's a large outside area at the back of the club, with lots of cover. Sobar is the next pub/club south of Jesters on Bevois Valley road and also gets packed during term time. Sobar has a much larger dance floor than Jesters, so if you value your personal space you can actually use the dance floor without worrying.
The outside area at the back of Sobar is a floor below the entrance and main bar and dance floor area. There's lots of picnic tables, so you should be able to find somewhere to sit. The outside area is large, but not as big as the area at the back of The Hobbit, but The Hobbit is used as a general pub mostly, whereas SoBar is a club and only open in the evenings. When I last went there I was charged around £4 for entry and I recall the drinks to be more expensive than the average around Southampton, but not excessively so.
In summary, if you don't fancy Jesters, but still want somewhere to get drunk and/or dance, with the option of sitting down and chatting (without having to shout in order to be able to hear each other), then Sobar is a good choice. The music tends to be generic club music, slightly more to the indie/rock direction.
The Shooting Star is a fairly new pub, opened in the last couple of years, which is owned by the same people who own The Hobbit, they do named coctails which are similar to the named coctails at The Hobbit. The Shooting Star is considerably smaller than The Hobbit and it's quieter too, so if The Hobbit is too busy for you, and you want a similar experience, then head south to The Shooting Star.
The Shooting Star has sofas, a pool table, juke box and they often have live music in the evenings. Unlike The Hobbit, you won't find heavy rock bands playing here, so if The Hobbit has a local rock band playing and you fancy some lighter music, try The Shooting Star.
Although The Shooting Star does't usually sell hot food, they do serve roast dinners on Sundays, so if you want something more than a packet of peanuts at any other time, get some food elsewhere, before you arrive.
In summary, The Shooting Star is a quieter version of The Hobbit, which tends to be less popular than The Hobbit, especially with students, than The Hobbit. If you like The Hobbit's coctails, then you're bound to like The Shooting Star's coctails, because, although they have different names, they have very similar recipes.
The Dungeon is my favourite place to go out to in Southampton, it's a club which caters for the alternative crowd, but even if you like cheesy music, you can come down on a Wednesday night for cheesy music and cheap drinks, £2 entry all night.
If you're looking for rock, EBM, industrial and/or metal music, then you've come to the right place. The Dungeon has three floors, the top floor(which is where you enter the club at street level) has a pub feel to it, there's a pool table (unavailable on nights where the upstairs DJ booth is in use) the main bar area and the toilets. There's the main bar area upstairs, typically with 2-4 staff serving up drinks. The floor below has a small seated area and a door to the outside area. The outside area is all on one level, unlike The Hobbit and Sobar, and is long and thin, with lots of picnic tables, half of which are under cover.
The bottom floor has a small bar area, several tables and seats around the edges of the room and the main dancefloor area in the middle, with the DJ booth in the corner. If you would like to request some songs for the DJ to play, then you can take a biro and a scrap of paper from the DJ booth, go and write down as many songs that you would like to hear that you can fit on it, then hand it and the pen back in to the DJ. If you request songs which suit the style of the night, then you're much more likely to hear them played, so choose carefully.
The drink prices are similar to The Hobbit, except The Dungeon often does cheap drink deals, especially earlier on in the night. You can see which deals are on by looking at the posters behind the bar, which advertise the cheap drinks offers for the night. There are several named shottails available, most of the names are sexually themed, though there are exceptions. If you're feeling hungry, then The Dungeon sells hot food: chips, burgers, chicken nuggets, meatballs, toasties and more. It's not the cheapest food you'll find, but there aren't many clubs which sell hot food, so you can't really complain.
In summary, The Dungeon isn't nearly as scary as it sounds and it can suit the tastes of most people, if you like cheesy music, come down on a Wednesday night, rock and dance/EBM on Fridays and metal on Saturdays. Remember that there's plenty of space outside of the dance floor, so if dancing and/or loud music isn't your thing then you can stay upstairs or go out in the garden, where it's quieter.