A Pleasingly Busy Pub

The Star Inn, Crowlas (exterior)

I took my parents to the Star Inn at Crowlas, our favourite pub, on two occasions last week and they were amazed at how busy it was.

They are former publicans, albeit almost 40 years ago now. It didn’t work out for them — they talk about Whitbread much the same way present day campaigners talk about pubcos — and kept muttering, astonished, and jealous: ‘We’d have been happy with this on a Saturday night, never mind a weekday teatime!’

Everything is stacked against the Star, on paper at least. It’s way out of town, and there’s no food. It’s a handsome building but not a quaint old inn by any measure, not with the A30 running right past the front door. Though there are campsites nearby Crowlas isn’t really a tourist destination either.

And yet, there the customers are, session after session, day after day.

A group at the bar.
Mid-afternoon at the Star back in January — a relatively quiet moment.

It’s tempting for us to argue that the Star’s success is down to the exemplary products of the Penzance Brewing Co, the onsite microbrewery, that dominate the pumps, alongside exotic guest ales from the North. Certainly that’s what gets into the Good Beer Guide and draws in at least part of the crowd — people who might otherwise not make the trek on public transport from places like Hayle, Penzance and even St Just. That the beer is relatively cheap by Cornish standards, as well as being great, probably doesn’t hurt either.

But there’s more to it than that. It’s a proper village local with a loyal core of regulars attracted, we guess, by the same thing my parents particularly liked: it’s completely unpretentious, without being rough. A tightrope walk for sure.

People come in tracksuit bottoms and trainers, overalls and work boots, tweeds and wellies, suits and ties, hiking boots and anoraks — in short, they wear whatever they like, in whatever condition they like, and no-one cares. Well-trained dogs roam about licking up pork scratching crumbs, sometimes joined by a child or two in the after-school window, drifting quietly from parents to relatives to family friends with pop bottles in hands. The management sets this familial tone — informal, low-key, bluster-free.

We’re not against food in pubs, or even anti-gastropub (see the upcoming book for more on that) but my Mum was right when she observed that it made a change not to smell deep-fat frying the whole time. The lack of dining also seems to encourage friendly groups to form in what would otherwise be inconvenient places. It also leaves tables free for scattered newspaper pages or for elbows-on-the-wood deep-level conversation. The absence of food changes the mood, in other words. It’s certainly another blow for the received wisdom that a pub can’t thrive without a kitchen in 2017.

When we left after our trip on Wednesday my Dad, not a demonstrative bloke, turned and looked back at the door. ‘Bloody lovely pub,’ he said, sounding almost annoyed to have been so seduced by an establishment 150 miles from his house.

Disclosure: the Penzance Brewing Co’s Peter Elvin has shouted us a few pints over the years, including a round for Dad and me last week.

9 thoughts on “A Pleasingly Busy Pub”

  1. My partner and I are just by coincidence staying in Crowlas when we visit Cornwall next month. I cannot wait to have a drink or two in here, it sounds like the real deal.

  2. There’s a pub local to me that I just won’t use because it always smells of fried eggs. Now I like fried eggs, but I don’t want a pub to smell of them. Food smells can be great, but can be terrible.

    As to the Star, been past it many times on the A30 but have never been able to justify stopping. Sadly.

  3. You capture the appeal (informal, low-key, bluster free) brilliantly. The list of semi-rural drinkers pubs that remain surprisingly busy is a short but interesting one. Exhibit 2 would be the Dead Poets in Holbrook near Belper, with a similar feel to the Star.

    Confession – I didn’t rate the beer quality (Potion No.9) much last year, though I thought the pub was great and I’d revisit. If pushed, I feel the same about the Blue Anchor. Just shows, never judge a pub’s beer on one visit.

    1. Potion has had some ups and downs in the last couple of years. It’s frustrating that the rare downs often coincide with a visit from someone we’ve raved about the place too. For the last, say, six months, though, it’s been pretty consistently excellent. My Dad loved it last week which is unusual because he’s highly sceptical of any beer that isn’t brown or black.

    2. Some of the rural/village Sam Smith’s pubs in Cheshire (and I would assume in other areas) manage to achieve this kind of “pubby” atmosphere in a way that their food-dominated local competitors don’t.

      Of course the $64,000 dollar question is to what extent the way the Star is run is actually generating custom as opposed to shifting it from other pubs.

  4. This is my favourite type of pub to be honest, is it just me or does a food serving pub sometimes make you feel really unwelcome if you’re just drinking? Concur with mudgie above, there are some great Sam Smiths and similar in Cheshire which are just 100% wet pubs with a strong set of punters such as the Corner House in Frodsham and my local, The Lion in Runcorn.

    1. The Corner House (Golden Lion) in Frodsham is where my dad had his last ever pint in a pub :'(

      However, I’d say both that and the Lion are urban pubs with a large population within walking distance, so not directly comparable to the Star. Frodsham may call itself a village, but in reality it’s a fair-sized town.

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