Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Up Town Top Ranking

My esteemed blogging colleague Cooking Lager has often been critical of traditional, “dumpy” pubs, saying that if he wants to take his lady squeeze out for a drink he is looking for somewhere that is at the same time more up-market and less old-fashioned. There’s an example in this comment on Pete Brown’s blog:

Oh and traditional boozers do not fit the bill, the kids don't like 'em and neither do most women. By welcoming establishments I mean something smarter and modern.
The only problem is, I think he’s describing a type of establishment that simply doesn’t exist, at least round here.

Yes, there are plenty of pubs and bars that have gone for a more modern image, but in general that has been accompanied by an overt appeal to the youth market, and they are often places to avoid unless you’re looking for a fight or a pull. So many times, a pub going “trendy” has been a precursor to a downhill spiral that ends in closure.

On the other hand, many of the pubs with the most solidly middle-class clientele, because of their locations, are ones that still put across a resolutely traditional image, such as the Nursery in Heaton Norris, the Church in Cheadle Hulme and the Davenport Arms in Woodford. In central Stockport, the only two pubs with any aspirations to being upmarket, the Arden Arms and the Red Bull, are both staunchly traditional in aspect.

There are a few pubs dotted about that have made a conscious attempt to replace benches with sofas, introduce a wine list and serve ciabattas, but the chief characteristic of their clientele compared with their competitors tends to be not that it’s more classy, but it’s a bit younger.

There used to be some notably snooty pubs in stockbroker belt areas – the Admiral Rodney in Prestbury springs to mind – but very often those were the most olde worlde of the lot. And the upper middle classes seem to like entertaining at home more nowadays, with the result that I don’t find any Cheshire pubs as exclusive as they once were.

Likewise, there was once a vogue for drinking in hotel bars, but the hotel trade has changed, with many of the established “coaching inns” being converted for other use, and I don’t think that hotel bars are seen as anything like so aspirational nowadays, tending to cater mainly for captive residents.

Of course there are plenty of country dining pubs that fit the bill perfectly, the Brunning & Price chain being a classic example. You won’t find many trackie bottoms in there. But they are very much a rural phenomenon that doesn’t really penetrate into the conurbations. And I think he’s looking at going for a drink rather than taking the lady squeeze out for a meal to impress.

So, the question remains, if you want to go for a drink in an urban or suburban area, in somewhere that is smart and contemporary, where you can avoid chavs, scruffy ale aficionados and hacking, mild-drinking old boys, where do you go?


  1. "Going for a meal" in a pub is the
    modern way for pansy men to be held
    down to sitting at a table for two
    by the wimmin folk discussing the
    merits of boef et champignons.
    Its the only way Ms can hold the attention of the ferrel male.
    Curmudgeon, not bad selection of inns you mentioned but for the rest round there I'de rather go
    swimming in the Amazon with an
    open sore.

    Drink to me only with thine eyes

  2. I'd pretty much agree with what you say PC, only to add that a couple of Brunning&Price's pubs are in town centres - I've been to their Shrewsbury & Chester pubs. They seem to do food, beer & atmosphere very well - though you've got to remember to bring your wallet :~) & I'd still say that they are broadly traditional (wood floors, handpumps, old poster adverts, etc), albeit up-market, female friendly, etc.

    & in answer to Anon, well I can't really answer that, apart from to give a definition of the word "ferrel" - "A metal ring or cap placed around a pole or shaft for reinforcement or to prevent splitting. Or bushing used to secure a pipe joint." I'm unsure which is meant in this context.

  3. A good point, MicMac - I have been to both the Armoury and the Old Harkers Arms and suspect they probably come closest to Cookie's ideal. The general tone of the decor is traditional, but they are open-plan in a modern way. Very smart, very female-friendly.

    I find B&P really a bit too up-market for my tastes, although I respect what they do. I'm sure if they could find the right site on the southern fringes of Greater Manchester they could make an absolute killing. The Sutton Hall near Macc is a massive establishment that has been full on both occasions I have visited.

    One aspect of their operation I salute is offering generally lower-gravity real ales from local micro breweries.

  4. I couldn't believe how busy The Sutton Hall was when I was last there - my brother moored his old narrowboat up nearby & we sauntered in, assuming it would be a quiet wet Tuesday lunchtime - we could hardly get a table! Lots of Mercs, BMWs & 2by4s in the carpark & business suits in the dining rooms.

    I think my tastes are also a bit more relaxed and less up-market too, (my bank balance is glad of this) but I do salute the way that they run their pubs - very professional & as you say, with good focus on quality often local beer.

    (in particular I have a soft spot for The Harkers, as they inrtoduced me to Jaipur IPA - £3.50 a pint, in superb nick & maybe at the time I had more money than sense, but it seemed worth every penny!)

  5. on an entirely irrelevant note thought you'd like this, Mr Mudgie.


  6. I don't know stopford well enough to make a judgement in regard to whether any of the pubs and bars are to my taste. My glimpse of it was one being a nice enough northern market town. I would presume its pub stock is as varied as most places with establishments that varied from dump, to nice, to trendy and that both myself and missus would find something to our liking. Maybe I would like some of the places you describe. She baulked at the idea of joining me for a £1.99 feast. The existence of places that I don’t like doesn’t bother me; they will prosper or die on the business of others.

    As a general rule my preference is for modern establishments rather than traditional, not just because the missus likes them. I gather the perspective of your campaign is one of promoting cask ale and traditional pubs. I quite like the former, but not enough to be bothered whether it survives or dies, and have little time for the latter. That’s just my opinion.

    I have little time for places that attempt to remove the riff raff because by and large people are not riff raff. I may not go out in trackie bottoms but I want the right to do so. I cannot think of a worse place to drink than a traditional style pub with a middle class clientele. I’d rather be locked in prison cell with Dale Winton and tub of margarine. Bars, pubs ought to be classless, where I don’t know or care what another customer does for a living. So long as people behave and I’m in no danger of a fight, I could not care less whether I am in the company of solicitors for factory workers.

    I quite liked the spoons in your neck of the woods, it was only half an hour on a train, but then again I like the spoons. Whilst it is not your taste I have never had a problem with your opinion of their establishments as your opinion has always been one of them not being your cup of tea rather than the inaccurate view of those that paint a picture of a chav dump hell when what they actually don’t like is what they think are the lower classes. Usually because they are in the business of providing worse pubs with higher prices.

    Nice blog by the way, watch out for the black helicopters.

  7. "where you can avoid chavs, scruffy ale aficionados and hacking, mild-drinking old boys"

    Hell is other people.

  8. Cookie, my point was that the "modern" establishments tend to less savoury than many of the "traditional" ones.

    But if you want to drink in a rough, shabby bar with tubular steel furniture and mirrors on the walls, I won't stand in your way.

  9. What I like to drink in Mudgie is my own living room and when I don’t, visit a place or two that actually are pleasant continental cafe bistro style bars. If I have to have self service it might as well be cheap. English waiters are not quite up to the standards of our European cousins, but mass immigration is improving matters.

    What I find interesting is that I agree with a lot of what you put on this blog, and in principle have no problem with a campaign for cask ale and traditional pubs. I do have a deep opposition to a campaign against cheap grog and my cans of cheap lout and whilst I gather you also are no fan of this element of CAMRA policy, I guess I’ll remain a CAMRA sceptic until your club wakes up and smells the coffee.

  10. I remember when hotel bars were most excellent and you could usually get a decent pint of real ale. You are right there isn't anywhere that's slightly upmarket that one can take one's lady out for a nice drink and a meal and not be surrounded by spotty Herberts these days.

  11. Just thought. There are the few gastro brew pubs I suppose, but they are few and far between

  12. Martin,Cambridge13 January 2010 at 23:05

    I'd take my wife to the Olde Vic, for a treat, if I lived in Stockport. She'd probably prefer one of those smart bars in Chorlton, though.

    As you note, PC, upper-middle class don't seem to use town-centre pubs, as they only go to surrounding village pubs to eat.

  13. These pubs/trendy bars that you elude to not existing are basically what happens to the "5330" pubs which you claim have gone out of business due to the smoking ban.

    Old shithouse boozer with crap service, sticky carpets, warm vinegar and no patrons closes. Investor buys said lease and transforms old boozer into trendy cool bar. New bar is success as people (ok mostly females) like the modern atmosophere with no sleezy, smelly, fat bearded men ogling over them. Well thats how it works in London anyway.

  14. Zero evidence of that happening round here, or anywhere else I'm familiar with. London (and that's probably only inner London) operates to different rules from the rest of the country.

    Closed pubs either:

    (a) remain for years as mouldering shells,
    (b) are demolished and become vacant lots, or
    (c) are redeveloped as something completely different from licensed premises, very often flats


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