Sunday, 19 January 2014

Decline of the all-purpose pub

In the early years of my drinking career, it was noticeable how a lot of pubs managed to strike a good balance between drinkers and eaters. They would have a menu of food, very likely placed on each table in the lounge in a PVC binder, and possibly an A-board outside advertising their food offer, but would avoid having table reservations, place-settings or areas for diners only. You would be more than welcome if you wanted to eat, but they would still retain a strong core of customers just there for a drink. In many ways this mixture of regular and casual customers led to a vibrant pub atmosphere.

Although obviously not found in the inner-city backstreets, this model of pub was very common in town and city centres, suburbs, small towns, villages and rural locations. But, over the years, it has steadily been eroded. Many of the more successful ones have been converted to an entirely food-led format where drinkers are made to feel like second-class citizens. Some, while ostensibly still laid out in pub style, have effectively achieved the same result. Others have closed down entirely, while some have retreated to a mainly wet-led model and stopped opening on weekday lunchtimes. I have had meals in several pubs that are still open but which no longer serve food.

They still exist, albeit in dwindling numbers, and I continue to feel that, because of the wide customer mix, they are places that, more than many others, generate a good buzz of welcoming pubbiness. The Davenport Arms at Woodford is a good example. A good pub shouldn’t be a monoculture where everyone is after the same thing, whether it be food or beer.

Maybe now it is Wetherspoon’s who are foremost in championing the mixed-use pub used by people with a range of different objectives.


  1. This must be a Northern thing, almost all the real ale pubs on the Cambridge backstreets offer a decent bar menu and the mix between drinkers and diners is typically 50:50.

    I can only think of a couple of pubs in the entire of Cambridge that don't do food at all; conversely I don't know many pub restaurants where drinkers would feel out of place either.

  2. agree with pyo it must be a more northern thing, as most the pubs around Suffolk Ive been to still very much offer the mix of food and beer and mingle quite happily. I only know one or two pubs that tried the food led approach, and they closed because there werent enough people going for the food.

  3. Agree with Pyo and Stono. I can't think of a pub in rural East Anglia that doesn't cater for the drinker and diner (some do it better than others). I'd go as far to say there has been a renaissance in the 'all-purpose pub'. The most gastro of gastro pubs put on beer festivals and have stalls at the bar and the smallest traditional drinkers pub offers a simple menu. Even this place, that has only 2 tables in the entire pub does basic cooked food

  4. May well be more of a northern thing - I've noticed before that the general approach to serving food varies quite considerably across the country.

    It's certainly very evident in Cheshire and Lancashire. The Brunning & Price chain, although much lauded for their commitment to local microbreweries, are not really places that anyone would feel at home just having a casual drink.

    I've said to pyo before, though, that Cambridge is remarkably untypical of the pub scene across most of the country.

  5. Its a small, typically English, very middle class city. Its probably quite representative of other similar cities or large towns like Oxford, Bath, Harrogate, York, Shrewsbury, Chester, Guildford, Norwich etc etc etc.

  6. Cambridge is home to one of the world's top universities and has a large number of well-paid professionals.

    Shrewsbury is a very nice historic town, but you won't find middle-class pubs in its inner suburbs.

    Please make a trip to Stockport, pyo, and I, Cookie and Mr Clarke will show you around and teach you a few home truths about pubs.

  7. Martin, Cambridge19 January 2014 at 22:52

    The area around Mill Road in Cambridge does indeed have a good mix of diners and drinkers (Cambridge Blue and Devonshire for example), but that's a small part of Cambridgeshire and I recognise Curmudgeon's description in many pubs around me. The Davenport does indeed have a wonderfully inclusive atmosphere.

  8. Depends which way you go out of town, Swann Hill is quite smart, the pubs down Belle Vue are alright, and Abbey Foregate has some middle class bars etc.

    I'm sure stockport wouldn't be very different from the various rougher areas of Nottingham I have lived in.


Comments, especially on older posts, may require prior approval by the blog owner. See here for details of my comment policy.

Please register an account to comment. To combat persistent trolling, unregistered comments are liable to be deleted unless I recognise the author. If you intend to make more than the occasional comment using an unregistered ID, you will need to tell me something about yourself.