Tuesday, 9 October 2012


There has recently been a lively discussion on the CAMRA forum (registration required, although viewable by non-members) about the merits and demerits of J. D. Wetherspoon. Now, while you can’t argue with Wetherspoons’ success, one charge that is often levelled against their establishments is that they’re not, well, very “pubby”.

Pubbiness is one of those things that you recognise when you come across it, but is impossible to define precisely. However, I offer the following as a few suggestions as to what might make somewhere “pubby”:

  • At least some bench-type seating
  • Some feeling of intimacy – broken up into distinct areas even if largely open-plan
  • Customers who regularly come in for a social drink, even if just once a week
  • Geezers standing or sitting at the bar
  • Hosts sports teams and social events
  • Real fires in winter
  • Pub pets – dogs and cats
  • Cards pinned up behind the bar with nuts and other snacks
  • Pictures and memorabilia unique to that pub
  • Pub games – darts, pool, bar billiards etc
  • Jukebox
  • Bar staff who don’t wear uniforms and some of whom are over 25
  • A noticeboard advertising local businesses and events
If you have any other ideas, please mention them in the comments.

And two things that to my mind instantly make a pub feel unpubby are place-settings on tables and uniformed bar staff.

But of course the key point about “pubbiness” is that it’s something that develops naturally over time – you can’t install it ready-made from a checklist.

Many years ago I tried to define the characteristics of my ideal pub, but, as I said there, “unfortunately, though, I suspect you'd find you did all these worthy things and no bugger would turn up!” And one, of course, is now illegal...

(incidentally, one point on the list above contradicts one on that webpage, but I don’t have to actually like everything that makes somewhere pubby)


  1. As someone who dislikes tripping over them, pubs tend to have common sense policies of no children at the bar (and when did it come legal for them approach it? When I was a kid you weren't allowed to) so that people can order their drinks and carry them without being tripped by something running around at knee level.

    And for me, no reservations policy, its a pub for crying out loud not a restaurant.

  2. "when did it come legal for them approach it?"

    2005 Licensing Act - see my response to Jonathan Bagley on the Children/Pub Bores thread.

    Admission of children is now entirely at the discretion of the licensee. Even before then, it was widely ignored, of course.

    "No table reservations" is worth adding to the list, although I tried to concentrate on things that pubs had, not things they lacked. A few reserved tables isn't necessarily a problem, but when you go in a pub and 80% of the tables are reserved it is.

  3. I've always thought of low light as quite important, ideally just what comes through the window or from a few 'uplighters'. Dark walls help.

    And Sam Smith's pubs in London always feel very pubby to me, despite uniformed staff, very little personalisation, etc.. Lots of wear-and-tear and original features help, I guess.

  4. Yes, a bit of a lived-in feel helps, without being tatty. A job lot of spanking new furniture tends to be a bad sign.

  5. I don't mind stools at the bar as long as its a big enough bar and they're not right in the middle in everyone's way. Its only when you have to pass your money over some blokes shoulder that it starts you pee you off.

    talking of Sam Smith's pubs, there one in Lincoln is pretty decent.

  6. Can we add criminal types selling knock off gear? Especially around xmas. Nothing says xmas to me more than taking a break from the shopping, going for a pint, and being offered stolen xmas tree lights.

    Can we also add maybe a bit of casual racism? Pissed old codgers moaning about immigrants but being careful to qualify it with the fact that they once met an asian or black person that was in their view "okay"

    Scrawl on toilet walls casting aspersions on the attractiveness and/or respectability of the local female population also tell me I am in an authentic pub alongside messages from the supporters of football teams outside town that believe said team is better than the local one.

    How about the worry that if you sit on the shabby seat you may somehow ruin your nice trousers? That too says to me "pub"

    How about the adding the general depressing feeling you get at the tattiness of the whole place?

  7. Numbered woodenspoons.

  8. Professor Pie-Tin9 October 2012 at 11:06

    A small but idiosyncratic beer snack selection that carefully walks the line between anything seen as a service to customers but sufficiently salt-laden to encourage further drinking.
    Hairy pork scratchings and BBQ-flavoured Hoola Hoops to be included.

  9. "Numbered woodenspoons"

    You mean those numbered spoons they put out to show your table number?

    Nothing against them, but I would have thought they were really a bit of a modern gastropub affectation.

    And blokes coming round selling stuff, whether knocked off or not, is a bit of a genuine pub characteristic. Incidentally, the old-style cockle and mussel man seems to have entirely disappeared now.

  10. Oh I'd also like to add a rough unfriendly unpleasant landlord into the mix. Someone that swears at customers at closing time and responds to polite requests for things the pub does not sell with rude profane annoyance.

  11. Professor Pie-Tin9 October 2012 at 11:28

    A condom machine in the Gents complete with " this chewing gum tastes awful " graffiti.

  12. A mysterious pool of blood and teeth on the steps as you walk in.

    A white bearded old gentleman kindly informing me "buzzards old cocksnorter is drinking well today" whilst taking a break from a chemical fizz related rant.

    A sticky floor

    Sticky tables

    A moments thought of where elephants go to die.

    A pub of the month award

    Ah the list is endless.

  13. Ok, I'll try a bit harder, starting with the gents..

    Things masquerading as pineapple chunks in the urinals (surprised the elf and safety nuts have realised a child, or adult, could choke on one of those)- sadly, no longer accompanied by dog ends.

    Piss covered floor - not too bad since flares and bell bottoms went out of fashion.

    Wrong way round taps - only one of which works (usually the cold one labelled 'hot').

    Crap tiling.

  14. This does seem to have metamorphosed into a thread about distinctive crappy features of pubs, whereas the original intention was to identify good features of pubs that distinguished them from Spoons, style bars and airport lounges :-(

  15. Cooking Lager seems to have terrible trouble finding a decent pub. I don't.

    As for blokes selling stuff, I was made aware of the North-South divide when I was waiting for my friends in a pub in Bournemouth. A man came up to me with a big bag and asked, "Do you want to buy some venison?"

  16. Cookie has terrible trouble extracting his tongue from his cheek.

  17. Gents, for a pub to be "authentic" it has to be a bit shabby. Are you lot the type of ponces that want to drink overpriced "craft" beer in gentrified surroundings whilst eating giant yorkshire puddings whilst people in cravats pluralize "Lexus" with "Lexi" Tell me is that what you want?

    On pub toilets, all of what prog said. The piss covered floor is a must. No hand towels or toilet paper is a must alongside a broken hand dryer. No liquid soap, but a single dirty worn bar of soap with hairs on. The smell of powerful detergent fighting with piss. Copious cock and ball drawings echoing the origin of man in cave paintings.

    Oh and how about the lingering smell of puke at one end of the bar that immediately explains why that part of the pub is empty.

    If asked to describe the atmosphere, the most adequate one would be "broken dreams floating on a cloud of despair above the sound of a thousand angst riddled screams"

    Sorry for diverting your thread, Mudge.

  18. Maybe time to resurrect your own pile of toss, sorry, blog, Cookie, since you seem to be writing more on here than I do.

  19. Euston Tap recently turned down a place on N London CAMRA's Pub of the Year shortlist, because they'd rather be considered a bar, apparently.

  20. Lord Egbert Nobacon9 October 2012 at 19:30

    Curmudgeon said...

    Maybe time to resurrect your own pile of toss, sorry, blog, Cookie, since you seem to be writing more on here than I do.

    No one else has been able to take over Cookie's mantle as the Caffrey's Smooth of beer blogging.

  21. My local Spoons is quite pubby - regulars, geezers at the bar, plays host to local events, even some bench seating. What really lets it down is being a single huge room. That, and the student-age barstaff in uniform t-shirts. And the standard menus on every table.

    There is the odd multi-room Spoons, but even then you're stuck with the uniforms and the menus, and a certain lack of local character.

    I very rarely feel that a pub has character these days, though - even if the decor looks old I find myself wondering how long they've had it like that. The Vic in Withington is a classic example - the decor looks 'older' now than it did in 1983, when it still had waiter service and a playable piano. Pubs with real character are hard to find, at least in Manchester.

  22. It's not really anything to do with being old, though - a new refurbishment can easily qualify if it meets the right criteria. And, although I've not been in there for ages, Holt's new-build Sidings round the back of Levenshulme was certainly pubby when it opened in the late 80s.

    There's no shortage of "pubby" pubs in Stockport - Griffin (Heaton Mersey), Nursery, Armoury, Arden, Boar's Head just for starters.

  23. Your idea of a "pubby" pub really does appear to be a rejection of modern pubs in favour of an equally artificial gentrified post war pub. An authentic pub is a disreputable establishment that would leave the nice middle class CAMRA folk terrified and rushing to join the temperance movement.

  24. Actually I would say it was more respectable working class than gentrified, Cookie.

  25. Martin, Cambridge10 October 2012 at 21:10

    A diverse mix of customers and a lot of chattings and laughs; best example the Vine in West Brom which still has (Indian) food as a key feature.

    Bass or Pedigree from the jug is always a good sign, as in the Dead Poets in Holbrook which has a great fire and no children.

  26. Strippers.

    No pub is really complete without a stripper.


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