Community pubs defined too narrowly?

A recent advertisement from Meantime Brewing.
A recent advertisement from Meantime Brewing.

By Bailey

Jerry: What community? There’s a community?

Elaine: Of course there’s a community.

Jerry: All these years I’m living in a community, I had no idea.

‘We were so pleased when an Antic pub opened round the corner from our house,’ said a couple of our non-beer-geek (‘normal’) friends in London last week, slightly startling me. ‘It was such a relief.’

It turns out that the lively but more traditional pub near their house had never been their cup of tea — its full of posters for a political party they definitely don’t support, and they got too much faintly threatening attention from the the regulars. Sure, it was a community local, but the community in question didn’t want them. At the Antic, on the other hand…

On entering, they bumped into someone they knew, and there was some hugging and air-kissing. Ten minutes later, they realised that their neighbours were sat nearby, and exchanged notes on the preceding Monday morning’s hangovers. Then the chap from across the road wandered by and they gossiped for ten minutes about some matters of local concern. The twenty-something barman greeted them like old friends, too. There was, in short, more chit-chat and chumminess than we’ve seen in a lot of supposedly friendly village pubs.

Just because this particular community happens to be made up of middle-class professionals, some of them gay, most of them from places other than London, doesn’t make it any less ‘authentic’, and Antic seem to have found a gap in the market: they need somewhere to congregate. Our friends seem to know the location of most of the Antic pubs in South London and see them as safe ports of call. (A chain with a reliable if predictable offer… Is it too much to call Antic ‘the middle class Wetherspoons’?)

It’s easy to take the piss out of the olives and Macbooks, the expensive Scotch eggs and silly hats, but that’s all superficial inverse snobbery: the important thing is that people are in a pub they like, buying beer, and having a bloody good time.

The beer? Well, one of our mates was drinking kegged Meantime Pale Ale — his favourite, he said, it reminded him of IPAs he’d enjoyed on a particularly enjoyable holiday in the US last year. Make of that what you will.

19 thoughts on “Community pubs defined too narrowly?”

  1. Nice middle-class pubs for nice middle-class incomers – that’s a market niche all right. Growing, too. There’s a bar just down the road from me which I had securely filed under “a bit too cool, a bit too expensive, never hear a local accent” – until another bar opened two doors down. I won’t describe the second bar, except that it made the first one look like The Docker’s Armpit. Decent beer though, to be fair.

    What puzzles me is where all these people are coming in from. I always assumed they came from That London, but according to this story (which is backed up by the Meantime ad!) London is one of the places they’re colonising. They can’t all be from Barnes, can they?

    Me, I relocated to Manchester from Croydon (well, not Croydon Croydon, out past Croydon on the A23, you won’t have heard of it). But I always thought it was up to me to fit in. Inverted snobbery, or just respect for an established community?

    1. Phil — Boak will comment on this later, but she is actually *from* London. Her colleagues, however, were from Manchester, Doncaster, Oxfordshire, Leicester, Newcastle; while her other half (that is, me) is from Somerset.

      The chums mentioned in the post above are a couple, one of whom is a Londoner, the other from Manchester.

      “But I always thought it was up to me to fit in” — another example of going to the pub as hard work and/or an ordeal? No wonder lots of people don’t bother.

      1. Not about the pub specifically – I always thought it was up to me to fit in as a middle-class incomer in Manchester. As for pub-going being an ordeal, going just about anywhere can be an ordeal when you’re a newcomer. The idea is to get talking to people, get to know people and (eventually) stop being a newcomer.

        I’m not sure inverse snobbery has anything to do with it – the Antic crowd, bringing their olives & Guardians to the wilds of London, could be likened to the people who go to Spain and never look beyond the nearest English Pub. It’s about going somewhere different and bringing your own culture along with you, fundamentally. But I’m getting perilously close to insulting friends of yours, so I’ll shut up.

        1. Well, the bits of London they’re in were *built* middle class, for commuting City workers in the 19th century, so I don’t know that they’re an invading force exactly. And London is so jumbled up — it’s not especially ghettoised — that you can very easily have a middle class neighbourhood overlaid on a working class one, sharing a few artery roads and supermarkets, but otherwise barely interacting.

          A bit weird, I admit.

          Broadly speaking, I agree that it’s not healthy to isolate yourself amongst your own social group, but how many times do you force yourself to go to a pub, and make nice, and get the cold shoulder, before you give up? Sometimes, that cold shoulder isn’t a class thing — it’s just that the people in the pub in question are miserable, unfriendly *arseholes*. (We’ve found one or two like that in Cornwall.)

  2. Well yes, it is a community of sorts and good luck to the members of that community. There is nothing wrong with it. To view it with a critical eye can be inverse snobbery but isn’t defacto inverse snobbery. It kind of depends on the point the critic is making. To dismiss criticism as inverse snobbery is simply to decline to understand what point the critic is making. It is all too often a lazy retort of people that either fail or do not wish to understand a point someone is making.

    I would not describe a critic commenting on exclusivity as inverse snobbery. The establishment may be welcoming to you as you fit the demographic or social class. Is commenting that it may not be welcoming to all a form of inverse snobbery? You describe the difference in welcome between 2 pubs and comment you feel more welcome in the latter. For sure, but presumably some feel more welcome in the former. I am not sure a pub needs to be welcoming to all but it is a criterion I personally like. The slaughtered lamb (American werewolf in London) stereotype of an unwelcoming pub being amusing but not the type of boozer I would frequent. Given the 2 pubs you mention I suspect I would, like you, prefer the latter.

    Certainly taking the piss for the sake of it could be described as inverse snobbery even if many of the of the pretentions of the middle classes are funny, but dismissing all criticism as inverse snobbery is a lazy way of failing to understand another’s perspective.

    1. “You describe the difference in welcome between 2 pubs and comment you feel more welcome in the latter.” No, our *mates* felt more welcome in the latter. (We’re not as middle class as them…)

      Jeez, for a self-defined lighthearted banterer, you don’t half sound pompous and lecturing sometimes these days.

      1. My apologies for attempting to make a more serious point. I find what you are saying here interesting. I think we as a society in Britain are more part of communities of mutual interest, class and education than geography and understanding that interests me. That will reflect in the services we as punters are offered. I’ll restrict myself to attempting amusing one liners. Daft hats? That rhymes with twats. he he.

        1. Sorry, got a grumpy there. Don’t mind you being serious, but it doesn’t feel like conversation — it feels like being told off quite a lot of the time.

          To address your point, what I meant specifically was that it would be easy to laugh at the accoutrements of middle classness but that, as superficial wossnames, that’s no better than laughing at someone for having tatty trousers or wearing a tracksuit. If there’s a point being made or conclusion being drawn (not just pointing and laughing) then that’s different.

          Both pubs are exclusive, in their way, although neither is doing anything overt to ban anyone — there aren’t any KEEP OUT or GROUP X NOT WELCOME signs.

          Ultimately, people ought to go where they feel comfortable, and shouldn’t have to moderate their behaviour/manner/clothing any more than they want to to feel welcome.

          1. My intention was to engage with the general discussion that blog posts start, not to come across as condescending. I have reread my comment and I cannot see it myself but apologise if it reads so. I will watch out for that in future. For what it is worth I agree with much but not all of what you say.

            In regard to equating that laughing at the middle classes is no better than laughing at the working classes, I would beg to differ. I am an inverse snob that finds it more comfortable to laugh at the middle than working classes. Certainly a chav joke can make me wince in in the same way a racist joke does. Laughing at the middle classes doesn’t make me wince. But that is not an explanation. I think society isn’t really as integrated as people like to imagine. Think there are differing groups within it. I think some groups have more reason than others to be unhappy with the status quo. Therefore laughing at some groups is for me uncomfortable as they can be seen as victims of an unfair game. Laughing at other groups that appear to be winning the game doesn’t seem at all unfair. To all intents and purposes I am middle class myself and many of the pretentions I find funny are those I and my friends possess.

          2. To all intents and purposes I am middle class myself and many of the pretentions I find funny are those I and my friends possess.

            Wot he said. My father was fiercely proud of where he’d come from (his dad was a miner) and at the same time proud of how far he’d got from it – a difficult combination, which I think I inherited. I feel slightly out of place in the kind of bar where you’ll never hear a local accent or the word ‘fuck’ & in the kind of pub where you hear nothing else – although of the two I think I’d pick the latter if I had to (the beer’s usually cheaper). Mind you, nowhere with BNP posters on the wall is getting my custom more than once.

  3. Points to agree with from both B&B and Cookie, here.

    Let’s face it, the choice between a BNP pub or a middle class/hipster (and how lazy and, yet, how useful that last monniker remains) – if forced to choose – would be a 5%-95% split.

    There is, though, something in what Cookie says in being uncomfortable with the effect of bare brick walls, mounted gazelle skulls and expensive craft beer on the less affluent members of the locality. As he himself says, he might choose to drink there, like the pong, have a scotch egg and still wander out wishing such places could be more universally appealing.

    Living in Cambridge, a city of 100k residents, a smallish number of pubs managed to have the universal appeal of the platonic pub. Professors talking to labourers, defence analysts doing a shift behind the bar because the landlord was short of staff, etc. London’s all-things-for-all-people density of provision allows for greater atomisation.

    I want community pubs (places where people know each other, mingle, mix, organise a footie team, etc.) and yet in London, such community pubs are most likely (there are, of course, exceptions) to be frequented by an almost exclusively working class clientele and not have beer I want to drink.

    Hailing from the working class myself (tugs forelock, adjusts cloth cap), I would dislike being accused of snobbery. But it isn’t pleasant to be in a pub where you stick out like a sore thumb – and being a beer snob (if nothing else), I’m not going to settle for Fosters.

    (Now is the point where I say – much like “but some of my best friends are…” that there are of course some very fine and welcoming working class boozers in London. A list of the ones that are good would not detract from my wider point.)

    Of course, having a working class background myself means I also get frustrated by the affectation of the more overtly kissy-wissy middle class or fashion-crazed youth.

    Is it too much to ask that pubs could not be universally welcoming? Not so rough as to push middle classes away; not so elitist as to reject those with more modest means?

    The plaintive cry above is, though, irrelevant. Of course it’s not impossible. And if we still socialised geographically, such pubs would be plentiful.

    But we don’t, at least not middle class Londoners.

    We have our uni pals or work colleagues, organise a mutually-convenient meeting point via social networking sites or on our mobiles and drink there. And when there’s no reason to drink somewhere other than it’s location relative to the participants, you’re not going to choose a spit-and-sawdust joint. You’ll choose somewhere for a reason (“the beer’s good/they’ve got a selection of pool tables/it’s the latest cocktail place/they do great Thai curry/there was a good review in the Standard…etc., etc.”

    You may not – shock horror – even go to the pub.

    1. Not much to disagree with. I think I will join you all in the middle class pub if you don’t mind, especially if the alternative is BNP types ;)

      I have been thinking further in an attempt to articulate why I think it is important we have pubs where as wide a section of society feels welcome and I think it worth making the point if only for offering a better understanding of where I am coming from. I think pubs are more than beer shops for enthusiasts or drinking dens for regular drinkers, I think they are places we engage with the society we are in on our own terms. Unlike work we do not have to be the person someone expects us to be. We can be ourselves and engage with others. I think if we sit in our own safe comfort zones we simply have our prejudices reinforced rather than challenged. That trackie wearing lad looks like a bit of a yob. I think when I sit in the Spoons beer garden I talk to all manner of people I never would otherwise encounter. I discover people from differing communities are not that different from me. You meet all sorts in the Spoons beer garden. You discover the trackie wearing yob is quite an articulate nice lad and his pram face girlfriend a rather good mother to her noisy brood. The retired old gent is quite an amusing fella and not the Daily mail reading bigot I assumed he was. You do meet the odd twat but that is life. When I sit in a craft beer bar I engage only with people like me and every prejudice I may have is reinforced. They read the same newspapers to me and all have been to university. I rather like German beer gardens. I like the fact you can meet and talk to the very richest and poorest at the same table in the same garden. You never know who you will get chatting to. I think I wish slightly we had more of that here. So I guess my point is nothing more than personal social politics really.

  4. Isn’t this really the “what makes your local” thing again? I grew up in a small very “working-class” town in the north of England, and for sure, some people (usually fairly homogenous by “class”) stayed in their neighbourhood locals. Other people chose their boozers on other grounds; jukebox selection, tolerance of male makeup / flamboyant homosexuality, beer range. In these places you’d end up with a socially mixed but sub-culturally fairly tight crowd. Actually, being a small town, one place might be host to a number of distinct youth (and older) sub-cultures – over there the Goth corner, yonder the old farts who used to play in bands, there the local labour party activists, etc. Meeting at the bar or in the toilets with a certain wary tolerance. Sometimes generating interesting crossovers.

  5. Cookie said: “I rather like German beer gardens. I like the fact you can meet and talk to the very richest and poorest at the same table in the same garden.”

    Agreed. But, and without wishing for the thread to fall too far into this territory, there are wider cultural and political forces at work here.

    Why are Finnish school results so good, when classes are almost universally mixed ability? Because they have a more equal society. How did they get a more equal society? Well, for one thing, the schools are so good.

    Chicken and egg – but whichever came first, you need public policy aimed at both to achieve the virtuous circle.

    In my view, people are more likely to socialise between classes and generally get along if the gaps between those classes are (relatively) narrow, or at least conceivably bridgeable. In London, that divide is very stark and, again – in my view, contributes to the atomised social scene.

  6. You might be right. Not sure the stats but when I look at Munich I get the impression there are large differences in wealth but that is not a reason to avoid each other. There is less envy among the poorer and less fear among the wealthy. Going north I get the impression that the gap is narrower in money terms but wider in social terms. In Berlin there is a desire to avoid people from the old DDR. I think in Britain it comes down to a fear that the poor have envy which leads to fear of being the victim of crime. I feel safer in Munich than either Berlin, Manchester or London.

  7. I think most of us would agree that when a pub genuinely does achieve a real mix it makes it a great pub. I’d love to know what the magic formula is. Friendliness of staff plus spaces where you don’t feel self conscious – but is part of it luck, or vicious / virtuous circles?

  8. Pondering a bit more, I suppose all I’m saying is that it’s nice my friends and their neighbours have found a pub they like. The alternative isn’t that they persevere in the other one, and eventually integrate, and a new era of community is born: it’s that they stay at home and get sloshed on wine in front of a DVD box set.

  9. The newly opened pub for the middle classes isn’t just a London thing. Brunning & Price have a number of such pubs mainly in the Chester area where the Cheshire Set like to show off. I thought their Harker’s Arms was posh until they opened ‘The Architect’ near the racecourse a few months back. It makes Harker’s look like the pub in Shameless.

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