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Not a proper pub, but not so bad

Sometimes, holding an establishment up to the standard of the mythical perfect English pub can be unfair because there are now so many different business models operating successfully under that banner.

One of the most common alternative models is one we associate particularly with Wetherspoons, although we’ve got no idea if they originated it. These kind of pubs:

  • are “food-led”, but certainly not gastropubs
  • high turnover
  • operate on a “what’s your table number?”, order food at the bar basis
  • are usually based in very big hall-like buildings and
  • have some of the trappings of a traditional pub, e.g. dark wood.

In Cornwall, with its busy tourist trade, there are lots of these places, half empty in the winter but heaving in summer. Most are run by St Austell but not all.

What does a good pub of this type look like? Let’s take a St Austell pub in Newquay as an example.

  • Despite being food-led, a great range of beer in tip-top condition.
  • Efficiently run — not too much waiting, food delivered quickly.
  • Clean and tidy — no peas rolling around the floor or crumbs on the tables.
  • As cosy as possible — big enough to house a Zeppelin but warm, with booths and pillars to hide behind.
  • No illusions — this pub doesn’t claim to be traditional, historic or characterful.

We’ll always choose a proper pub first but, in their own way, pubs of this type give beer a home in unhospitable territory. They’re rarely charming, but they surely have their place.

Bailey used to work in a pub like this as a student waiter (a “Brewer’s Fayre”). One of his jobs was picking chips and peas out of the revolving sauce tray and stirring in the crust on the ketchup. That is why they always have sauce in sachets these days.

18 replies on “Not a proper pub, but not so bad”

I’m just glad you linked to the wikipedia entry on Orwell’s Moon Under Water. Proper, English or otherwise, I want that place in my neighborhood.

Funnily enough, I heard a radio interview with someone before Christmas talking about Orwell’s ‘Moon Under Water’. My nearest Wetherspoons is called The Moon Under Water and couldn’t be further from it. Although, being a ‘spoons does mean there is a decent variety of ale.

I always find it funny how foods (and drinks) go out of fashion. I can almost hear my gran saying ‘we never would’ve won the war on brie and cranberry paninis!’

Pub I used to work in had sachet ketchup, but mayonnaise came from a catering bucket and was kept in a clingfilmed gravy boat in the fridge overnight. Stirring in the yellow crust was part of the lunchtime setting up.

Ah, yes, mayonnaise crust…

My absolute favourite job was cleaning out the ball pool. The stuff you find in the bottom of those things… yick.

Alan — not saying it’s not good, but I think you’d struggle to find a pub in UK with any under the counter…

Ed — they’re pretty much fast food joints aren’t they? Generally, pubs of this type make more on food than drink (or so we’re told).

Spoons have a massive food trade, a massive get-smashed-for-a-tenner trade and a genuine commitment to stocking a variety of interesting and well-kept cask beers. I’ve no idea how it all fits together. They’re a riddle inside a mystery wrapped in a soft flour tortilla with sour cream and spicy tomato salsa.

Phil — ha ha, yes, JDW is a fascinating and confusing beast.

You’re right, of course: while their’s are examples of the kind of pubs we set out above, they are also great examples of other types of pub.

One thing they’re not, though, despite Tim Whatisname’s founding principles, is traditional pubs. They bear no relation (except for the presence of wood and carpets) to the mythical English pub Orwell describes. Sam Smith’s are much better at that, in my view.

They are a weird institution. Once you accept that there’s a difference between a ‘pub’ and a ‘bar’, you realise that Spoons aren’t either of them; they’re something else, that doesn’t really have a name (‘transplanted holiday-camp dining hall with real ale’ comes close but isn’t very snappy).

My local Spoons is a typical one-room barn, with rather a large get-smashed-for-a-tenner clientele; they’ve also had trouble with the gas pipes or possibly the drains, leading to a persistent smell. One way or another I was quite glad when my new-CAMRA-member Spoons tokens ran out, and I probably won’t set foot in there now until their next festival. But I’ve had some superb beers there.

Phil — another good point — there are several distinct types of Wetherspoons. For starters, there’s a big difference between (1) The big posh city centre flagship establishments in places like, e.g., the City of London (polished brass, magnificent building); (2) the smaller JDWs in out of the way suburbs, like the Drum in Leyton, which seemed to cater primarily for hardcore drinkers and is a bit tatty round the edges.

It’s why Wetherspoons is a dump/”Oh no it isn’t!” arguments reach dead ends: depends which specific JDW you have in mind.

Wetherspoons also reliably fulfil the otherwise unavailable requirement of being able to have a breakfast and a pint.

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