Wednesday, 22 January 2014

A house for the public

The pub has a unique legal and psychological status. In one sense it’s a private house, but in another it is open to the public. It’s something quite distinct from a shop or a café.

Across the country, although pubs vary dramatically, their “body language” is always clear. Wherever you are, you can enter a pub, order a drink and – if available – food and not have your purpose or presence questioned. It is a public house, you are a member of the public, thus you are welcome. Yes, there are the occasional inner-city or estate pubs where regulars will remark on the presence of strangers, but that is extremely rare and even less common now than it once was. I find it very impressive that, over many years of legal drinking, I have so rarely encountered any signs of hostility or adverse comment in pubs.

But what of establishments that, while they may have a full on-licence, do not identify themselves as pubs? Are they as welcoming and inclusive? Would you be as keen to nip in to Frotters Bar for a swift half as the Red Lion? Or, for that matter, an Indian with a full on-licence that describes itself as “restaurant and bar”? Some “bars” come across as quite inclusive and generally welcoming, but others certainly don’t. I would imagine, for example, that many casual pubgoers would feel seriously out of place if they happened to wander into a BrewDog bar. Is the spread of bars as opposed to pubs perhaps undermining the traditional universal welcome of licensed premises?

Of course that isn’t a problem with Wetherspoon’s where nobody is made to feel that they don’t belong.


  1. Not sure Mudge, got your rose tinted glasses on for a view of the past? Didn’t pubs used to discriminate on social class by having different rooms with different prices for people of differing social class? Then in a more egalitarian age rip these out in favour of everyone rubbing along together? Then when it became clear that people really don’t want to rub along with other tribes, hasn’t the market reacted by creating diverse establishments with differing prices and offer and style meant to appeal to a particular social group and put others off? Humanity is tribal. People want to socialise with their own tribe. The services offered will reflect that. What is interesting is what tribes exist and why. You have to be a member of a tribe. I think the beardy pong drinking tribe ought to plot war against the hipster craft tribe. First mover advantage over limited pub stock resources. Get reading your Sun Tzu.

  2. Of course there have always been posh pubs and rough pubs, more so in the past than now. But, as I said, the basic "body language" of a pub is pretty constant. And they did used to have those things called public bars.

  3. Hardly a universal welcome for all Mudge. Could also have mentioned the race protests in London when pubs refused service to black people in the 60's.

    Your ideal has never been the reality. Possibly these days there is at least a place for you, whoever you are, even if it isn't for everyone.

  4. conversely, does anyone feel they positively belong in a 'spoons?

  5. I've said it before but the positive description of Wetherspoons is not one we recognise here in Wirral.

  6. Well, this chap has a more favourable view of Spoons.

    The point of this post (and the previous one on "Decline of the All-Purpose Pub") isn't really to sing Spoons' praises but just to say that they maintain an across-the-board appeal - even if just appealing to a lowest common denominator - that a growing number of other licensed outlets don't.

  7. Anyone who feels wanted and made welcome in a Wetherspoons crypt
    deserves our sympathy and prayers.
    A visit to an
    Excorcist(registered)may be of some assistance
    I have suggested to the local Spoons they put LOURDES WATER on draught to frighten off the local druids and Lenin look alikes.

    how much longer?

  8. My main feelings on this are that if I've ended up in a spoons and I'm not at an airport (where they're very welcome), then something has gone very badly wrong with the night out.

    Maybe that's just me, but I'd rather suffer more expensive beer for a chance of a visiting a decent local pub where you can have a chat and a game of darts/pool, listen to the juke box, watch the cricket/rugby on the telly with the locals etc.

    Spoons seem to vary between being very boring or very rough.

  9. I wouldn't think many people would end up in a Spoons on a night out unless it happened to be the nearest pub to the station, but Spoons, like many other pubs, are used in a whole raft of different contexts - having a meal, meeting up before moving on elsewhere, having a quick drink before or after the theatre etc.


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