Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Campaign for Real Pubs

In the September issue of the CAMRA newsletter What’s Brewing there’s a letter from Frank Mitchell of Claverdon which includes the following comments:
In my part of Warwickshire there are so few decent drinking pubs remaining compared to just a few years ago. Many of them have been taken over by people masquerading as chefs and attempting to become the latest gastro-venue and have discouraged drinkers from going there just for a drink.

In others the beer quality and service is so poor or the prices so unreasonable that customers have almost abandoned them altogether.

There is hardly a decent pub where you can meet friends just for a drink and a chat together without having a menu thrust at you or being made to feel guilty for occupying a table that food can be served on.
It has to be said that this reflects what I’ve been saying on here for the past four years. The same is a major problem in Cheshire. Of course food has its place in pubs (as Mr Mitchell later acknowledges), but there comes a point where it dominates to the exclusion of all else. The core purpose of a pub is as a social meeting place where people will gather over a few drinks, yet nowadays you see so many press articles that assume that the menu is the main attraction. I’d say, once more than four-fifths of customers are there just to eat, you’ve lost it. But even a sprinkling of social drinkers can keep your pub authentic.

So, maybe as CAMRA has saved real ale, we need a Campaign for Real Pubs to save pubs. Pubs that work as pubs should, that don’t make casual customers feel unwelcome, that cultivate sociability, and that don’t make food the centre of their offer. This applies especially outside major urban centres, but within them too. Obviously the smoking ban, beer duty hikes, the demonisation of “one-drink driving” and the general anti-alcohol climate have all had their effect, but such pubs do still survive and deserve to be celebrated.

CAMRA’s National Inventory and the additional regional lists would be a good starting point. A few of the pubs on there won’t qualify, but the vast majority will. I’d doubt whether any Wetherspoons would be included, or any chain dining pubs, and many of the specialist beer pubs concentrate on that aspect of the business so much that they fail in the basic social function. On the other hand, if they attract a good number of customers who aren’t just there for the beer, as with the Barrels in Hereford, they might qualify.

Maybe I should start a blog of Real Pubs as a counterpoint to Closed Pubs, so people couldn’t accuse me of being unrelentingly negative...


  1. I've always campaigned for real pubs Mudgie. And still do.

  2. I agree with this post; there are still many good pubs around, even though I have just had to post the loss of a good one near here on my own blog.

  3. My 'local' about 200 yards away from home I haven't entered for over a year now.
    Its a wonderful looking pub and has everything you could desire for a pint, until you enter.
    The roaring log fire is in front of empty tables dressed for dinner. The scummy drinker is NOT allowed to use them. These tables fill about two thirds of the pub and will remain empty all day until 6pm onwards.
    Anyone simply wanting a pint and a chat can shiver.
    This pub gets two awards from me. One for the amount of clothes I have worn and still felt like I was getting frostbite and the other for putting up the price of a pint by 50p overnight. I never returned.

  4. A blog of Real Pubs is a damn good idea.

  5. Yes, a Campaign for Real Ales Houses (CAMRAH) should be set up. In fact, I may have a play at building a website for it ;)

    I am lucky that when my old local got destroyed by a foody landlord, I found another Real Pub - The Anglers Rest in Wombwell.....A pub like they used to be :)

    Russell VR Ord
    Campaign for Vaping in Pubs

  6. Well, CAMRA (or whatever it was originally called) started with four blokes in a pub in the 1970s without any of the social media, word-of-mouth advantages that are available today.

    Why not start a Facebook Group (or something similar) and take it from there. See who's interested in getting actively involved. See how it grows and develops.

    It's just a question of persuading people to feel strongly enough to join in.

  7. Out of interest, does your beer club define "real pubs" like it defines "real" ale?

    When a pub becomes a pub themed restaurant is it still defined as a pub for your books and what not?

  8. @Cooking Lager

    In my experience, most real pubs have real ale. However, I can think of one near me which has none but is still a stonking good pub. (There's always Guinness) It'd be even better with some proper beer though.

  9. Nothing to do with the beer club, Cookie. And Bill is right that some pubs without cask beer would qualify - I can think of one or two Sam Smith's that would, for example.

  10. Facebook group started;

    Website address;

    All welcome and suggestions for content gratefully accepted :)

    Russell VR Ord

  11. I only ask, because without a definition of a "proper" pub, it falls into the same problem you have with craft beer. Namely a campaign for pubs you like and defacto against ones you don't.

    Considering the Spoons are welcoming to none diners and don't take issue with drink only customers and stock a wide range of keenly priced drinks including pong, the issue clearly isn't one of food.

    If craft beer is an elitist and snobbish idea, this one sounds like reverse snobbery. A campaign for dumpy old mans pubs and against nice smart establishments you can take your lady in.

    Why not have a campaign for flat caps and woodbines too?

  12. @Cooking Lager

    Craft beer is good. However, it's not the be-all and end-all. Ordinary beer can be good too. I grew up with dumpy old mens' pubs and there's nothing wrong with them. Quite a few un-dumpy young blokes like them as well. As for "nice smart establishments you can take your lady in", yes, there's room for these too. Having said this, my own sweet lady quite likes dumpy old mens' pubs.
    Finally, my grand-dad wore a flat cap and smoked Woodbines and nothing wrong with that either.

  13. Cookie, the whole point about "real pubs" is that you can't define one in a hard-and-fast sense, but you know one when you find one.

    And, as I've explained before, the concept of the up-market pub as a place to take the squeeze for a drink to impress her, as opposed to a meal, no longer exists.

    In my experience, many of the "real pubs" in the Home Counties are regarded as "quaint" and patronised by the highest echelons of society.

  14. OK, I've bitten the bullet and set up a blog.

    Obviously this will be more dependent on third-party contributors than Closed Pubs, but let's see how it goes.

  15. Great post!

    See, if you guys in the UK are complaining about the lack of real pubs, can you imagine how bad is the situation in Brazil? I mean, here you can find (in major cities, at least) a few self-entitled "pubs". And some of them even resemble British a great deal. But in none of them the customer enjoys the pleasure of drinking in a real pub.

    They usually don't have real ales, the waiter keeps coming to your table and bothering you (things like cleaning the table while you're still there, asking if you want another pint, etc) and there's a fake atmosphere to these places that I really don't know how to describe.

    I'll be following your blogs and Facebook pages. Maybe I can get some ideas for doing the same here in Brazil. This country desperately needs some real pubs hehe.

  16. I so agree with the essence of this idea.

    I love pibs but am usually disappointed by the reality of the establishment.

    But what is a real pub? For me personally it has three basic componants. 1) good ale. Mot necessarily a big choice .. just two or three good ales, well kept, that come up clean, served in clean glasses. 2) A convivial atmosphere, a rattle of chatter and animated conversation, sociability, friendliness. 3) Pleasant surroundings. Clean. Preferably hard floors, not too much 'renovation' , integrity of decor and furnichings.

    Those are my three basics.

    For me the things thast detract from a 'real' pub are:

    1. Too much emphasis on food
    2. gaming machines
    3. piped music
    4. over furnished, too many soft furnishings
    5. unfriendly staff
    6. big TV screens with the sound turned down (or up)

    Those are my thoughts. Simple enough but maybe the majority of the population think otherwise, as why have we so many poor pubs, selling poorly kept beer, with tiny piped music and screens advertising stuff???

    I have a few favourites here and there .... The Newman Arms on Rathbone Street in Fitrovia (in my top 5, free house), The White Hart (Aldburgh, Adnams) The Butt and Oyster (Pin MIll, Adnams - though food here is a big thing there is a proper, flag stone bare with stove that is pretty lovely), The Odd One out (Colchester, free house), The Albion (Rowhedge, free house).

    I have yet to find a pub run by a management company (Punch, Spirit) that comes anywhere near providing a decent pub experience. Usually its free houses or some of the regional or small brewery houses that are a nice place to drop into.

    Thise are my thoughts, but I accept that my definition of a real pub and other peoples may differ.

    On the subject of a place where you can go that women will enjoy .. Most of the women I know apprecitae a real pub just as much as me. All the soft furnishings, do dadds and white wine or fruit based alco pops in the world do not make up for the atmosphere, cleanliness and friendliness of a real , proper, pub.

    I would like to hear about any other pubs that maybe fit my criteria.

    Perhaps we could complile a directory??


  17. Well, if you want to submit a write-up of any pub for Campaign for Real Pubs, please go ahead :-)


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