Monday, 15 February 2016

Pub perfection

In yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph there was an interesting piece by Michael Deacon entitled My ten essential requirements for the perfect pub. Obviously it’s a little tongue-in-cheek, especially #9, but on the other hand I’m sure many of us will find much to agree with. A notable omission, which several commenters have pointed out, is any mention of beer. The comments in general are well worth reading. The pub recommended in the article – the Cock at Luddesdowne in Kent – does sound rather excellent, not least in its strict “no children” policy.

It’s not exactly the list I would draw up myself, and is rather biased towards country pubs, but there’s plenty of overlap. So, let’s look at his points one-by-one.

  1. Genuine memorabilia. Totally agreed. Should be a wide, eccentric variety of stuff assembled piecemeal over the years, not a designer collection of local Victorian photos
  2. Walls lined with books. No – a pub is not a library, and buying old books by the yard was an unfortunate design trend of the late 80s. Better to have a small collection including a road atlas, the Guinness Book of British Hit Singles, several Good Beer Guides and copies of Cheshire Life or the local equivalent, all well out of date
  3. There must be at least one dog present. Can’t be guaranteed at all times, but the pub should certainly be dog-friendly. And have at least one pub cat, of course
  4. There must be a fire or wood-burning stove. Very nice to see in winter, but unless you’re the Warren House or the Tan Hill, a bit unnecessary all year round
  5. The pub must have dark wooden beams. Up to a point, but that is a bit of a “country pub” thing. Wood panelling, door surrounds, bar back etc. will do the job just as well
  6. The ceiling must not be bare. Don’t really get that. Collections of old bank notes or beer mats (or even knickers in the case of one famous pub) can be characterful, but hardly essential and a bit difficult to clean
  7. There should be no TV. Certainly not showing satellite sports, or in the lounge. But I could make a limited exception
  8. The pub should have no pretensions to being a restaurant. Absolutely. No place-settings, no reserved tables. Indeed, I don’t see that it needs to serve food at all – many of the best pubs don’t. If it does, it should have typed menus in little red plastic A5 wallets bearing the text “Snacks at the Bar”.
  9. The pub should be inexplicably unpopular. Bit of an odd one that. Should be popular enough to be convivial, but not to the extent where you can’t get a seat. Having said that, the pub where you can’t get a seat is a rarity nowadays unless some seats have been reserved for diners
  10. No-one should be permitted entry under the age of 45. Seems a bit unreasonable, but in many of the best pubs it’s largely self-selecting anyway. But he is right to say “the true spirit of a pub should at all times maintain an atmosphere of stoically accepted defeat.”
It prompted me to knock up a quick list of my own Top 10 “perfect pub” features, which regular readers could probably have written for themselves.
  1. Interior divided into a variety of rooms or sections
  2. Extensive bench seating, but no high stools
  3. Welcoming to dogs, and has at least one pub cat, the older, fatter and lazier the better
  4. No piped music. At all. Ever.
  5. Serves (amongst other beers) a traditional English ordinary bitter from an unfashionable family brewer. Or Draught Bass
  6. Much dark wood in the decor – beams, panels, bar back etc
  7. May serve straightforward, good-value food, but makes no pretence to be a restaurant
  8. Children not allowed in the main bar areas, although might have a separate dining or family room
  9. Has at least one “character” amongst the regulars
  10. The only TV is in the public bar showing the racing and any major sports events on terrestrial TV. Preferably an old CRT one
I did do this in more detail back in 2000, although obviously in one important respect that’s an ideal that no pub can achieve any longer.


  1. Agree with your 10, Telegraph's ideal sounds like an OAP's dining pub pretending not to be.

    Trying to think of a pub that meets your criteria - Arden Arms or Boar's Head ?
    If Greene King counts as unfashionable now (!), the Free Press in Cambridge still qualifies, otherwise pubs meeting 5) a bit thin on the ground locally. More in Stoke.

  2. Not sure anywhere really meets all 10, and obviously I recognise merit in and enjoy visiting plenty of pubs that meet very few.

    The no satellite TV and no piped music criteria rule out a lot.

    Perhaps the closest are some of the Sam Smith's pubs in rural Cheshire such as the Bird i'th Hand at Mobberley and the Vine at Dunham Woodhouses.

    Also some pubs in the south-west such as the Crown at Churchill and Black Horse at Weston-in-Gordano.

  3. You missed the most important point and the one overlooked by most publicans: it should be easy to buy drinks. You should never, as so often happens, walk into a pub to find that there is no one behind the bar and no way of summoning service. You should never have to wait for fifteen minutes whilst the single harassed barmaid attempts to serve forty punters.

  4. An atmosphere of barely-surpressed casual violence and the presence of people hawking shoplifted meat are two big draws for me.

  5. No, he didn't mention a meat raffle did he: sign you're in a very local pub.

    No one will agree I'm sure but like Orwell I do like a glass with a handle.

  6. Professor Pie-Tin17 February 2016 at 08:54

    It happens increasingly rarely these days but I used to love walking into a pub and hearing BBC Radio Four.
    And,of course,TMS during the cricket season.
    I think I'd even prefer to listen to Aggers and Co rather than watch the cricket on telly in a pub even with Sky's technical wizardry.
    Cricket,conversation and a pint seem perfect bedfellows.

    1. In the days when Test Matches were televised by the BBC they could be a soothing accompaniment to a pint showing on a little portable in the corner.

  7. #1 for me is a Publican who is always there, identifiable (and not by a name badge), friendly-ish, with a good memory, likes a drink, cares about the place, and employs good bar staff.

    Everything else can fall into place if the right person is running the show.

  8. Replies
    1. Maybe the pub could have a separate room for ailurophobes ;-)


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