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?