Wednesday, 8 June 2016

In the club

I'll have no weirdy beardies in here, thank you!

I was recently rather tickled by Simon Everitt’s account of the less than fulsome welcome he received from the Good Beer Guide-listed Royal British Legion in Penistone, Yorkshire. The inclusion of clubs and off-licences in the Guide has been a perennial source of debate, so I thought I would run a poll on the subject.

The results show strong support for off-licences with a small bar section, with brewery taps and members’ clubs not far behind. Pure off-licences, which were common in the early years of the Guide, were less favoured, and very few people thought that establishments where you have to either stay overnight or eat a meal to have a drink should be featured. Only 20% of respondents went for “none of the above”.

I suppose it depends whether you see primary purpose of the Guide as being to lead you to good real ale wherever found, or whether it should concentrate on pubs where there is a more conventional all-round welcome. To be honest, I incline to the latter view, and regard clubs and off-licences as something of a waste of page space.

As Simon found, almost by definition, clubs do not set out to appeal to casual customers, and are often places where the one-off visitor does not feel at home. “Whatever the attitude,” he writes, “you can rarely be as anonymous in a club as you can in a pub.” There’s nothing wrong with that, but they’re a fundamentally different beast from pubs.

I could also have gone on to question whether self-consciously unpubby modern bars should be included, but that’s a whole different can of worms.


  1. The only gaffs in the beard guide out to be gaffs with no fewer than 15 handpumps of pong and populated by millets wearing hobbit people.

    Normal places for normal people verboten.

    1. I’ll assume out should be ought but what is a millet? How do they wear hobbit people?

  2. I can see the case for making the Good Beer Guide the "Good Beer That You Can Drink On Site Without Having To Buy Dinner Or Accommodation Guide". It's always been kind of implicit that that's what it's about.

    I'm not so sure that there's a case for making it the "Good Beer In Places Where Mudgie Likes The Decor Guide".

  3. It's a guide to good beer, so as long as you can go in without paying for things other than beer it ought to be judged on the basis of consistently good beer. York dropped a clanger omitting the Blue Bell recently for limiting crowds, I recall a similar stance with the famed Palmerston in Peterborough. Social clubs that don't welcome non-members ought to work out whether they want the little extra business or not. Some do.

    1. Maybe clubs need to be asked to sign a statement that they want to be included, as understandably some don't.

  4. Of course an online poll with 68 self-selected respondents is pretty much statistically worthless but having said that I think it has produced a common sense result. Personally I've always thought it's a pretty sad indictment of the local pubs if you put a club in the GBG.

    1. These polls are only ever intended to provide a bit of fun and stimulate discussion, although sometimes they can provide useful insights.

      I don't think locally we have ever even considered putting a club in the GBG, although we do have some good ones.

      To my mind it's a bit of a poor do that there are three within a few miles of each other in North Cheshire.

    2. I don't see why having a club in the Beer Guide is in anyway a bad thing. It (should) just mean that they have consistently higher quality beer than the competition. That can be because of a particularly good steward and high turnover. The Redcar club served a better Bass than I've had for a while.

      I hear the same argument against Wetherspoons - it's an indictment on a town if they get in the Guide. That's true in North West London or parts of SCotland where they're the only option for good ale but not in Derby or Manchester where they add to the offer.

      Personally I don't like clubs as places to visit; they're too open and visually dull.

  5. I’ve never been a fan of clubs, although it’s hard to pin-point the reasons why. Possibly it’s the whole signing-in rigmarole; something which sets a club apart from the all encompassing inclusivity of a pub. Often though it’s the atmosphere; or lack of it. Most clubs resemble an airport departure lounge, with fixtures and fittings which seem little changed from the 1970’s.

    Including clubs in the Good Beer Guide does show recognition for the work which many club stewards put in, but I wonder how many ordinary buyers of the guide, visit these clubs? It’s OK to say the club will admit card-carrying CAMRA members, but most guide users are ordinary members of the public, and do not fall into this category. Also, my experience is that many clubs are far from welcoming of strangers.

    West Kent CAMRA hold their AGM, most years, at the Tunbridge Well’s Constitutional Club. I can see the attraction, as the club has several private meeting rooms, and the beer selection (and quality), is normally pretty good, but after the meeting I can’t wait to escape from its stuffy confines and get myself along to a proper pub, full of real people, and a decent atmosphere.


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