Tuesday, 24 September 2013

What Pub shall we go to?

Last year I did a road test of some of the various pub review sites that are around on the Internet. The conclusion was that, while all of them had their good and bad points, all were substantially lacking in at least one respect and none could be remotely regarded as definitive.

At the time, CAMRA’s own WhatPub? site was still in beta and available to members only, but this week it has finally gone live for the general public. First impressions are pretty good – the search facility is easy to use, it directs you to pubs near the one you have selected, and it gives a reasonable write-up for the Black Swan at Hollins Green which was the pub I used as an example for my initial investigation. There are also decent write-ups for the Crown at Churchill and the Dolphin in Plymouth which I have recently featured on Campaign for Real Pubs.

However, the entry for the Black Swan shows up an obvious problem – patchiness of coverage – as four of the five nearby pubs highlighted don’t have a picture, and if you change the selection criteria to include pubs not serving real ale two are also doubled up with slightly different names. Some areas, including my own, are very good (try browsing the coverage for Stockport) but others are rather lacking. This is obviously something that can be rectified given time, but it doesn’t give a very good initial impression.

The site also by default only searches pubs that offer real ale, and even if you change the search criteria it doesn’t given much information about keg pubs. In a sense this is what you would expect from something produced by CAMRA, but on the other hand it does limit its wider appeal and it has to be recognised that some people may be searching for pubs offering, say, food, or Sky Sports and have no interest in real ale. It thus can’t claim to be a comprehensive guide to all pubs.

The entries also tend to be somewhat anodyne and, while to some extent you can read between the lines and maybe conclude that, if it doesn’t say much about a pub, there isn’t much to be said, it does make it difficult to distinguish between the outstanding and the ordinary. While not suggesting it adopts the totally unmoderated but often entertaining user-generated comments of Beer in the Evening, it would benefit from some facility for used-added content, maybe allowing trusted users to add comments, or even just letting people give ratings out of 10.


  1. In general it's a good guide which I've been using quite a lot in beta form, but the Dolphin in Plymouth is quite a good example of one issue I have with the guide as it is now. The Photos! Only two of which (stillaged Bass Casks) give any real idea of what the pub is like. Why the need to add so many images of basically the same thing, and why has so little effort been made to take photos other than exterior shots. We rarely even get the benefit of a garden shot for most pubs. Maybe this will improve over time.

    I also strongly feel that non-real ale pubs are being sold short by an organisation which claims to campaign for pubs, but can clearly be seen on WhatPub to only really campaign for the pubs its members like. Much like the people behind the Good Pub Guide I suppose. I can't see this improving.

    I think we all know that the proof of whether this is really the most comprehensive guide to pubs will be in a year or twos time when a significant amount of the data on there will be woefully out of date unless updated regularly.

  2. It looks okay for beardie types. Not a lot of use, as you say, for checking out the cheapest lout nearby with the game on.

  3. I have been using WhatPub on and off, for awhile now, primarily to post NBSS scores. I found the search facility worked well, but that's probably because thanks mainly to the efforts of our branch chariman, West Kent CAMRA has over 90% coverage for the pubs in our area.

    As a non-computer geek though I'm puzzled by all this talk of a beta version. WTF are people on about? I know CAMRA loves its often cringeworthy acronyms, but surely there's no need for cross-fertilisaton with equally nerdy computer jargon? So let's cut the gobbledegook and replace it with some plain speaking English!

  4. @Cookie - it does have a symbol for "Sports TV", but not one for "fit birds".

    @Paul - "beta" just means it's in a development stage. That has now finished with it being released to the general public.

  5. Do you know of any website that will give you a sortable list of pubs in a given area, based on things like number of beers, sports tv, ratings from members, proximity to a central point etc?

    There is very little point to a guide in which you have to spend 5 hours clicking through every single pub to see which one meets your requirements.

  6. I was disappointed to find that of the on the first two pages - 20 pubs - of pubs near Whaley Bridge five of them are closed, two of them for over twenty-five years. Doesn't inspire confidence in the rest of the content

  7. No fit birds symbol? Is there one for chubby orange lairy birds necking lambrini & jagerbombs and chatting you up with the compliment "you look like Ronnie Barker, you" before dragging you out the back to do unspeakable things to you by the bins?

  8. @David - while you can disable that criterion, the default is to search for "open pubs only".

    Some closed pubs may reopen, and for others it may be useful to show them to confirm they haven't simply been missed off the list. However, I would agree there is little point in listing pubs like the Squirrel in New Mills which, as you say, must have been closed for twenty-five years.

  9. Or you could alway use a good, well moderated site that lets you review pubs, post scores out of 10and which currently has 53174 open pubs. 42025 have photos, 25017 have customer reviews, over 19300 are marked as selling real ale. You can also find out whether a pub has a pinball machine, pool table, dartboard, is dog friendly etc.

    Yep, you could always use Pubs Galore! :-))

  10. As I said on the earlier post I linked to:

    "Pubs Galore has an attractive appearance and the facility for users to add both comments and photos. There’s also a good search facility. However, it’s entirely dependent on users to add information with the result that coverage is distinctly patchy. It also says “Pubs Galore exists to promote good pubs, if your purpose is solely to leave negative reviews of pubs you dislike, they will be deleted”. This is fair enough, but does result in a rather bland site, whereas some of the negative comments on BITE can be quite amusing and also in some cases genuinely telling."

    But the coverage remains patchy - there is no review of either the Black Swan or the Old Red Lion just down the road.

  11. You have a point, but they would have reviews if you joined up and supplied them wouldn't they? :-))

    The more people we can get reviewing, the better it will be for all of us.

  12. "chubby orange lairy birds necking lambrini & jagerbombs" - Cooking.
    I think there is not enough space on the website for such granularity. Sub dividing fit birds into even fitter birds is problematic from a ontological perspective. I think a symbol that infers the likely hood of getting into a scrap in any specified pub would be more informative and take up less visual real estate. ‎Maybe an indication of a beard turning up at any pub could be very useful when deciding what pub to go to.

  13. This search engine is quite good. Does the dog symbol really require? I guess very less number of people carry their pets while going to pubs. By the way thanks for sharing...

  14. Apparently CAMRA are going to include the "dog friendly" symbol in the Good Beer Guide. To be fair, it is a factor that for some people makes the difference as to whether they go to a pub or not, which really is what symbols are for.

    Personally I'd like to see a "pub cat" symbol >^..^<

  15. And, for cynophobes like me, the dog symbol will tell us which pubs to avoid.

  16. Funny how you interpret things. I would have thought a cat friendly sign denoted korean food available.

  17. Beer In The Evening is all but dead anyway.

    Plenty of pubs in Leeds not there, despite requesting their addition.

    A good guide is needed, for sure.

  18. "But the coverage remains patchy - there is no review of either the Black Swan or the Old Red Lion just down the road."

    Want to have another look now?

    And no it wasn't me. :-))

  19. I am a former B.I.T.E. user and now active poster on Pubs Galore and as such would like to argue against it being a bland site due to its deletion policy.
    The policy is mainly there to remove 'one post wonders' who only come on to rant about a pub because the roast potatoes with their Sunday lunch were cold and do not contribute useful information in any way.
    There are several caustic reviews left of poor pubs and poor pub experiences by the regular reviewers. And these are regularly shared and celebrated in one of the forum threads, "PuG Reviews - Appreciation Thread".
    I will agree that the number of reviews for the more remote regions is currently lacking behind B.I.T.E for example, but that can be fixed if like-minded beer enjoying souls joined up and posted.


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