Saturday, 20 August 2016

The pub-themed restaurant

Throughout my drinking career, the steady encroachment of food into pubs has always been a bone of contention. “It’s gone over to food” was a common howl of complaint as yet another boozer succumbed.

Of course, in the present day, most pubs depend to a greater or lesser extent on serving food, and plenty major on it. In itself, there’s nothing wrong with that. I’ve eaten hundreds if not thousands of meals and snacks in pubs over the years. But a line is crossed when a pub becomes so focused on food that it completely forgets the original core purpose of pubs, for people to meet and socialise over a few drinks..

It’s hard to say exactly where that line is drawn, but to my mind pubs that have a greeter on the door asking whether you will be dining, and that have all tables furnished with place settings, have undoubtedly crossed it. On the other hand, many of the modern new-build “family dining” pubs, such as the Flying Horse near Manchester Airport, do have an area with pool table and TV sports where it’s clear drinkers are welcome.

It does increasingly seem to be the case, though, that there are establishments that still trade under the name of pubs, but which deliberately make anyone just wanting a drink – or even just a drink and a sandwich – feel unwelcome and out of place. I really object to walking into somewhere and being made to feel like something the cat has dragged in. And I’m a white, middle-class bloke. They have become, in effect, pub-themed restaurants, or PINOs – Pubs in Name Only. I’m not talking about places that won’t serve drinkers, full stop, but those where all the cues indicate they’re not really wanted.

Sadly, some of these places manage to creep into the Good Beer Guide, as Martin Taylor and Simon Everitt have sometimes found in their GBG-ticking travels. So I thought I would create a poll on the subject. The results aren’t overwhelming, but a clear majority of 55% voted in favour of such places being given a different designation from “pub”. Perhaps there’s a need for a “Keg Buster” test before anywhere gets in, i.e. old bloke in cap and muffler gets served a pint without demur.

Of course food is an important part of the pub offer nowadays. But if I can’t go into an establishment, walk up to the bar, order a pint, and plonk myself down into a nearby seat, without anyone batting an eyelid, then really it isn’t a pub.

16 comments:

  1. Agreed. This is particularly problematic Saddleworth way where there at least a couple have staff that look at you confused when you announce you "just want a drink."

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    1. No doubt including the White Hart at Lydgate.

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  2. I once went with a friend to The Case Is Altered (near Warwick) and after four pints for some reason I was peckish. I asked Mine Host if he had maybe some nuts or crisps. He gave me a long stare and said solemnly, "This is a beer 'ouse." And that was that.

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  3. In St Albans we have a brewpub called the Verulam Arms. It's mainly wet-led and dog friendly Sunday through to Thursday. On Friday & Saturday evenings, its more of a restaurant and all the tables will indeed be booked so you stick around the bar. It's a balance that's accepted by the locals who almost saw it turn into a block of flats and its brewing gets better and better. Which category would this pub go under?

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  4. What really annoys me is that the foodification of pubs invariably goes hand in hand with a reduction or dumbing-down of the beer range.

    Don't these idiots realise that I'm more far likely to stay and eat their confit pork belly if there are half a dozen beers I want to drink on?!?

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    1. According to Martin Taylor's reports, it's not uncommon for the rural ones to keep on a beer range considerably larger than they can turn over properly to impress the Peroni and Pinot Grigio drinkers. "This must be a good pub - it's got six real ales on."

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    2. And the six real ales in question will be Pride, Doom Bar, Ghost Ship, GK IPA, 6X and Pedigree. FTFAGOS.

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    3. Actually the Cheshire ones are more likely to feature the "safer" local micros such as Coach House, Tatton and Weetwood.

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    4. Interesting one this. Coach House and Weetwood for me are pretty characterless, but then I don't like Kalton & Barlow. My local is a Restaurant Group pub but sells six cask beers, three of which rotate and at least two of which are local, with Oracle a fixture. Yet its turnover is 70% food. It's a much better pub on every level than the other two in the village, one of which serves no food so fits the "proper pub" category.
      BTW, Tatton is normally pretty good IMO.

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    5. Hmm, tries to work out which village it is. Bunbury? Sutton? Thelwall?

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    6. Here's a clue, I live in Cheshire (just) but 200 yards from the pub, which is in Staffordshire.

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    7. Some years ago I did a write-up for "Opening Times" about the Hand & Trumpet. If you're interested, drop my your e-mail address (mine is in the sidebar, or PM on Twitter) and I'll send you a copy.

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  5. I share your dislike of greeters, but no problem with them in the Beer Guide unless a drink is conditional on eating.

    You're right about smarter places putting on the micros; sadly the low cask volumes just produce lower quality beer that reflects badly on the brewers. Diners associate dull beer with brewers not the pub.

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    1. If a pub *will* serve drinkers, then a local branch is fully entitled to put it in the Guide, but it just seems wrong to me the a Good Beer Guide should feature pubs that are conspicuously unwelcoming to those who just want to drink beer. I suppose in practice, though, that a high proportion of those drawn to these pubs by the GBG are diners anyway.

      It will be interesting to see what my local branch makes of the description for the Arden Arms in the 2017 edition.

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