While it is perfectly possible to have a dismal pub operation in a superb building – and I have come across one or two that left me somewhat underwhelmed – in general the unspoilt historic interiors add to the atmosphere and produce a memorable pubgoing experience.
Over and above these, around the country there are still maybe a few thousand pubs that, while changed over the years, still present very much a traditional layout and atmosphere. A few examples from my local area would be the Thatched Tavern in Reddish, the Griffin in Heaton Mersey, the Armoury in Edgeley and the Boar’s Head on Stockport Market Place. Many years ago Peter Barnes produced a guide to “Vintage Inns of Greater Manchester” which listed a few hundred pubs that still fell into this category. Some of course have since been closed and gutted, but many are still very much in business.
Some may dismiss this as having an affection for old-fashioned, “dumpy” pubs that have no place in the modern world except as museum pieces, but in reality pubs were designed like this because they worked, and still often provide a far better pubgoing experience than their more modern counterparts.
Until relatively recently, when new pubs were built they still generally conformed to the established norms of layout. For example, Holts’ Sidings in Levenshulme is still recognisably a “proper” pub in the traditional mould. However, over the past couple of decades an entirely new design vocabulary has evolved for pubs and bars that throws all the traditional design concepts out of the window. The key features of this are:
- Very long bar counters dominating the space in which they are installed
- Wide circulatory spaces around the bar
- An interior comprising a sequence of free-form interconnecting areas rather than defined “rooms”
- Free-standing chairs and tables rather than fixed seating
- High ceilings
- A deliberate avoidance of warm textures and colours
This new design language removes any feeling of cosiness or intimacy and produces an atmosphere more akin to an airport lounge than a conventional pub. Unlike a shop, a pub is somewhere where, as well as buying goods, you are in effect buying time in a particular environment. No matter how good the food and drink on offer, if you don’t feel “at home” you’re not really going to enjoy yourself. And give me a keg Sam Smith’s pub with bench seating and geezers standing at the bar any day over drinking some beer that tastes of tropical fruit while perched on a stool in somewhere resembling the interior of a power station.
(The photo of the lounge in the Nursery, Heaton Norris is taken from the National Inventory website)