Friday 30 August 2013

Bad pubs for crappy people

Yesterday’s comments by the editor of the Good Pub Guide that Britain still had far too many “bad pubs” that were stuck in the 1980s and deserved to close certainly stirred up a hornets’ nest. Now, if she had said that, because of the various pressures on the industry, many pubs were under threat, there would have been widespread agreement. But the message was much more one of rank snobbery, that there were still far too many pubs doing what pubs always used to do and frequented by rough people who read the Sun and swear a lot, and couldn’t be considered safe places for Giles and Tabitha to enjoy a braised lamb shank with redcurrant jus.

There’s really very little I can add to Chris Snowdon’s blogpost:

The aim of the chattering classes is not unlike that of the early Anti-Saloon League—to rid of the country of what they see as the scourge of drink-led, politically incorrect, smoke-filled, privately run, child unfriendly, sports-watching boozers that are frequented mainly by working class men—pubs that have customers who are indifferent to food because they don't go there to eat. Proper pubs, in other words; havens from sterile, prod-nosed Britain. A place for grown ups.

When politicians and metropolitan pundits disingenuously pay homage to the 'great British pub', these are not the kind of establishments they have in mind at all. Their vision of a pub is essentially a mid-priced restaurant with horse brassings on the wall; somewhere to take their children on a Sunday afternoon. Somewhere to read The Observer for four hours while nursing a solitary pint.

So when a bien pensant like Mark Easton says that "pubs aren't dying - they are evolving", he means that pubs are dying, but that's okay because there are more bistros and restaurants opening up (albeit in much smaller numbers) and they serve a fine cup of coffee. The photo below shows the winner of Pub of the Year according to the Good Pub Guide. I'm sure it's a very agreeable place, with its Cold Pressed Ox-Tongue, Caramelised Onions, Watercress & Cashel Blue starter and Olive & Rosemary Gnocchi, Globe Artichokes, Tomato & Sweet Pepper Coulis main (£24.95 for a set menu), but it's not really a pub, is it?

I’ve reproduced the photo above.

And, as Pete Robinson says in the comments on the Morning Advertiser report, maybe it would be a good thing if we could go back to the 1980s when pubs were actually thriving. Who mentioned warts and all only the other day? It's a pity we so seldom see Pete’s all-to-true analysis following the closure of The Publican magazine.

And don’t forget that the Good Pub Guide charges for inclusion, so it can’t be regarded as an objective guide to anything apart from which pubs are prepared to stump up their money to attract a clientele of snobs and poseurs.


  1. How do you know she didn't just mean, like, bad pubs?

  2. So how many wet-led boozers feature in the Good Pub Guide, then?

  3. I have no idea. Just looking at the Cambridge entries, it looks like about half?

  4. I thought we all agreed that pubs needed to evolve to meet the changing needs of their clientele base, anyway? Why the sudden change of heart, mudgie?

  5. 2006 Good Pub Guide:

    Number of full entries for Cheshire: 20

    Number of wet-led pubs: 1 (ish) - the Albion in Chester, which isn't exactly a working-class boozer

    Number of Brunning & Price pubs: 4

  6. That's what you get for living in poncy Cheshire!

  7. Professor Pie-Tin30 August 2013 at 10:27

    I'm with her on this one.
    Seems to me you can't grumble year in year out about the closure of pubs and then lift up your underskirts and storm off when someone gives a perfectly valid reason why.
    I recently spent a week in Dartmouth and drank in five very good pubs and two shit ones. Guess which ones didn't do food.

  8. Fiona Stapley is making a value judgment about a certain style of pub that goes well beyond whether pubs are actually successful or viable.

    And, as Chris Snowdon says,

    "No one denies that the pubs that close are the ones that do not cater to people's tastes—that is self-evidently and trivially true. The question is whether publicans are unwilling or unable to cater to people's taste."

    You have read his blogpost, haven't you?

    It's also very obvious that many pubs have successfully evolved into Asian restaurants, convenience stores, day nurseries and wine warehouses. Adapt or die? They have adapted.

  9. You appear to be putting words into Ms Stapley's mouth. As far as I can tell she didn't say anything particularly specific about the pubs that would close other than what is obviously true, ie they're unsuccessful ones they don't cater to their clientele's needs.

    "The question is whether publicans are unwilling or unable to cater to people's taste."

    Probably a combination of the two.

    Evolution does not automatically mean poncing up into a gastropub. It could equally mean getting rid of the Strongbow and putting on a range of real ciders, or replacing the underused dining room with a pool room, as a pub near me has recently done and seen an dramatic increase in punters that have probably rescued it from impending closure in the nick of time.

  10. It just goes to show that people with a book out will say any old shit to get publicity. See also Jamie Oliver twice this week.

  11. totally agree with M Lawrenson, Ms Stapely has managed to get their book launched and not just passed in mention, but actually discussed as a major news item part of R4s Today programme, Radio 5s news, across all the major broadsheets,tabloids too, the 24hr news, regional news etc etc, before you even get to the stuff like the trade press, beer bloggers, twitters etc etc where youd expect this stuff to be debated.

    and everyone mentions the book and often the pub of the year as well, all over a piece which as you say change the words ever so slightly everyone would have sagely nodded at, kept calm and carried on.

    instead the perfect media hornets nest promotion storm is created, everyone is probably as aware of this book as theyll ever be and whether you agree with what they wrote or not, ultimately its their book and they are entitled to call it how they see it, its our job to explain clearly why we would disagree, not to in effect just "shoot the messenger".

    I dont think when the Good Beer Guide is launched in a few weeks your going to be finding John Humphries interviewing Roger Protz about it.

  12. I don't disagree with any of it. The Pub Guide figured on some good publicity and achieved it. No business deserves to fail whether it caters for the upmarket or downmarket end.

    But I also kind of think they had a point though expressed badly. There doesn't look much of a future for downmarket boozers.

  13. Cookie, not sure how you define a downmarket boozer. I know quite a few wet-led pubs that are thriving but I'm also aware of a fair few which were just full of cider-addled nutjobs which have gone to the wall. Possibly due to landlords who thought they could make a quick buck selling cheap booze to idiots while driving respectable long-term custom away. These people deserve to go out of business.

  14. There is a point beyond which the old maxim of "all publicity is good publicity" ceases to apply - as Gerald Ratner famously discovered.

    Mind you, there must be plenty of lamb shank lovers out there who say "I once went in a pub and it was really awful. It was dark and there were no scatter cushions on the benches. And there were people in there going on about the four canals, but I don't think they were narrow-boat lovers".

  15. Cooking Lager wrote: "There doesn't look much of a future for boozers."

    FTFY :p

  16. Well, maybe eventually, Mudge.

    In the shorter term it's the deadbeat type boozers with smart pub prices that appear to have little future.

    Stockport has many examples. For £3 a pint you can drink in a smart middle class type place, and for £2 a pint you can drink in a gritty dumpy pub. Or join the beards in the multi beer halfway house for £2.50

    I don't see a future for the dumpy £3 pubs

  17. Yes, it's the pubs that somehow manage to combine low standards and high prices that are on the way out I think.

  18. There is a problem for Robinson's there as, while they have got rid of a number of bottom-end pubs, they seem to have ended up in a position of charging a price premium over most of the local competition which isn't really justified by the quality of much of their estate.

  19. Martin, Cambridge5 September 2013 at 07:27

    The other issue here is why the Good Pub Guide gets a 2 week head start on the CAMRA guide when branches chose their entries some 6 months ago, which must give it a benefit in sales among people who don't differentiate the two.

    I bet Curmudgeon's eight year old copy is pretty close to the new one in content; I rarely see changes in it.

  20. It won't (hopefully) have the Dinorben Arms in, which was still there as a Lucky Dip in 2006 but must have closed not that long afterwards, if not before, given the state of it on the GSV image from 2009.

    Indeed, the GPG has a record of including closed pubs in the Lucky Dip section.

    Mind you, in some areas you will find a similar lack of churn in the Good Beer Guide.


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