Thursday, 10 October 2013

Slumming it

In the comments on my recent post about Sam Smith’s pubs, John Clarke writes “go into one of their Stockport pubs late afternoon and it's usually full of elderly drunks, and not all that welcoming.” Now, this is true enough, and over the years I’ve been in a number of pubs, and not all Sam’s or Holt’s, where the same kind of seedy atmosphere and unsavoury language prevails. Indeed many Wetherspoons can be like that at some times of the day. Obviously this isn’t to everyone’s taste, and isn’t my preferred kind of pub environment either, but I don’t personally find it threatening and in its way it can be quite entertaining. It also seems a touch prissy to criticise pubs for accommodating a group of working-class blokes who have consumed a few beers and are having a good time. You’re often lucky to find a busy pub, full stop, and if you don’t like it, just go somewhere else.

On the other hand, it’s very common for people writing about pubs to look at them through rose-tinted spectacles, and talk of raucous singalongs arond the old Joanna and old yokels sitting in their favourite corner with a wealth of tales to tell. The self-proclaimed beer and pub enthusiast often finds himself more a spectator than a participant in pub life, and it can be difficult to avoid a somewhat patronising tone when talking about “the friendly locals”. At times this is more honoured in the breach than the observance, such as in the Real Ale Twats cartoon from which I have posted an extract above, where the “wide range of fascinating characters” actually turn out to be a pubful of people just like themselves. Could it be that the “specialist beer bar” has become the 2010s urban equivalent of the old, socially exclusive “up-market pub”?

Surely one of the major positive points of a good pub is that it isn’t a monoculture, and it does bring a spectrum of people together and enable you to “see life” in a way you never will just by going to restaurants, shops or the cinema.


  1. Overheard in a Bristol city centre Spoons about ten years ago; elderly drunk, pretty much wasted at 1.00 pm, going to the bar for another pint of Bass:
    Elderly Drunk: "Bass please"
    Barman: "You're having a good time"
    ED: "Aaar well, Oi started early"
    Barman: "When was that?"
    ED: "Yesterday!"

  2. Then there is the theory that you go to the pub to specifically avoid the spectrum of people you normally meet...

  3. Martin, Cambridge10 October 2013 at 19:57

    Sams pubs seem to have a good balance of male/female custom, even if it is of the more mature type. I rarely see really boisterous behaviour in any pub these days, beyond a flying chair in Rugby a few years back.

    It's a long while since Spoons gave us cheap Bass, which is now rarer than Magic Rock outside a ten mile radius of Derby, so deserving of cult status.

  4. @Martin: you can still get cheap Bass in central Bristol Spoons. Flat as a pancake which is how Bristolians like it. Don't like the stuff myself.

  5. Of course, the only worthwhile pubs are ones you like. All else are shitholes. People that like summat different are wrong and should like what I like.

  6. I had a genuinely strange experience one Friday afternoon at the Tiviot (not a Sam's pub, or indeed a Spoons). The punters trying to strike up a conversation with the Jack Russell were the least of it (if truth be told I was probably one of them). I was more spooked by the dog itself - which stood rooted to the floor in the middle of the bar, staring at an unidentifiable patch on the wall. That, and the guy in the corner who I initially thought was talking to the dog, only realising later that he was actually talking to the wall. It was almost enough to put me off daytime pub crawls, Mild Magic or no Mild Magic. (I now work full-time, which removes the temptation.)

    I went on from there to the George (also not one of Sam's), where it was Party Night! and clearly had been for some time. Despite it being 3.30 on a weekday. Having previously 'done' Stalybridge and Hyde, I was pretty well gone by this stage, but I still felt uncomfortably sober - very much the vicar at a rave-up. Town centre pubs, can't live with 'em closed, can't live with 'em busy.

  7. If a pub has a decent pool table or dart board or Sky Sports on, then you don't mind the loud drunk blokes so much because everyone knows that is the price you pay for those facilities. There are very few genteel pubs with a pool table.

    Its when a pub doesn't offer those attractions and is still full of sweary drunks that there is a problem. Why would people go back? Pubs like that don't last long nowadays.

  8. If you chaps feel a bit uncomfortable in a rough pub, maybe you wanna man up a bit.

    Get a few tattoos, shave yer head. Stop necking that pong and go for a pint of wife beater.

    Don't fear the locals, have them fear you.

  9. No need to be scared of rough pubs but no need to get tattoos either.I have been in the some of the roughest pubs imaginable suited and booted for work and the locals were scared shitless of me because they assumed I was from the Social Security or the tax office.

  10. Going back to the original theme of this post, I've been brooding over the question "Could it be that the “specialist beer bar” has become the 2010s urban equivalent of the old, socially exclusive “up-market pub”? In terms of exclusivity the modern craft beer bar resembles the posh Gin & Jag pubs I remember from 30-odd years ago although the latter tended to feature twats with cravats whereas the former have twats with daft hats. The hat brigade are actually probably the grandsons of the cravat mob. In both cases, ordinary people who just wanted a pint of bitter (or some lovely fizzy lout Cookie) weren't exactly welcome.

  11. the associaion between pubs and violence might give a clue as to why pubs are dying.....

  12. @Graeme, oh come on, get a grip man. There's very little violence in pubs. Outside, perhaps, very occasionally, but you can choose whether to get involved or not. There's probably more violence occurring in your local shopping centre but I don't see those losing their popularity.

  13. It has to be said that nowadays, very often the best place to find the traditional "mixed clientele" is in a town-centre Wetherspoons, where the clientele can range from the aforementioned elderly drunks to pairs of old ladies enjoying a coffee and a sandwich after a trip round the shops.


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