Generalisations about beer culture pubs

No Riff Raff

Something was odd about the pub we found ourselves in on Saturday evening, but it took us a few minutes to work out what: the landlord was wearing a shirt and tie.

We’ve been served in pubs by unshaven, bleary-eyed chaps in their slippers; teenagers in corporate polo shirts; or, y’know, normal people in normal clothes. But it was the first time we’ve seen a shirt and tie on a landlord for as long as we can remember.

Reading between the lines, we realised that we were in what, until recently, had been a rough pub, now under new management. The tie was an attempt — a reasonably successful one — to set the tone.

Turning around a really rough ‘Murderer’s Arms’-type boozer is a tough job. The most successful attempt we’ve ever seen was in Walthamstow. There, the Nags Head [sic] closed for several months while it was fumigated and refurbished. When it re-opened, there was jazz playing, zebra-pattern tablecloths and a carousel of olives.

Short of putting up a sign saying “NO RIFF RAFF” (or the only slightly more subtle “NO WORK CLOTHES”) these little signals are a publican’s most powerful way of choosing their clientele.

We define a rough pub as one where, as a bare minimum, you get stared at menacingly. Our favourite pubs are those where no-one pays us any attention at all.

20 replies on “No Riff Raff”

Reminds me of this place “Nota Bene” I reviewed a couple of weeks ago in my blog. Used to be a Gambáč, smoky dive, now it’s a nicely modern, non-smoking spot with six taps and a limited, ever changing, menu cooked with locally sourced produce… Changes can be for the better.

The Sultan in Wimbledon was extremely dodgy before Hopback took it over: coke snorted off the bar and knife fights in the gents, allegedly. Within a very short time the villains had been made unwelcome, the genuine locals had returned and the beer buffs also shown a friendly smile: it apparently continues to be a place where all sorts can mix happily, which shows that such a trick CAN be pulled off.

The self-consciously “smart” pub is a bit of a thing of the past now – even those with upmarket aspirations tend to go more for a kind of mildly distressed Bohemian chic. Having said that, a regular barman in a pub I often visit, aged maybe mid-40s, always wears a shirt, tie and pressed trousers, and has a military short back and sides too.

As a fairly recent newcomer to E17, can I ask when the rebirth of the Nags happened?

Was this the year-zero of Walthamstow village (re)gentrification?

I always wonder whether the phrase “no work clothes” is a subtle admission that those of us in white collar jobs do no work in a meaningful sense?

I take an instant dislike to pubs with ‘No work clothes’ signs. As much as I might be a beer or food snob, I’m not a snob snob. A pub should welcome patrons of all stripes and professions. I’d not likely enjoy a pub that openly sneered at those who’d worked on building a wall that day instead of manhandling spreadsheets, et al.

Agreed. In fact, passive-aggressive signs of any type are irritating and evidence of social ineptitude on the part of the management. Our old favourite is: “WELL-BEHAVED children welcome” (meaning “children not really welcome”).

Cask would be a high-profile and well-documented example of a turned-around pub. In my neck of the woods, the Prince Of Wales in Cleaver Square used to be a Courage pub with a slightly dodgy management and some frightening customers. Police vans used to drive round the square looking for faces…

In the end, the Residents Association (the Square is unbelievably posh) got the pub closed. It was GK for a short while and is now a genteel Sheps house.

Oh, yes, Cask is a great example. Not long after it opened, we saw a bloke wander in, order a half and start swearing at the other customers under his breath. Landlord snatched away his drink, gave him a refund and turfed him out. A bit sad to see — where do slightly, er, difficult people go when their usual haunts won’t have them anymore? — but necessary.

I’d say they make up about 10% of the regular clientele of my local JDW’s. There’s more to Chorlton than meets the eye.

On the OP, I think shirt-and-tie sends a much stronger message now than it did even a decade ago. In most walks of life a jacket and an open-necked shirt qualifies as ‘smart’ these days; jacket and tie is a level above, the level you go to for weddings, funerals, court appearances and job interviews.

The Newton Arms just off Kingsway in London (near the Freemasons hall) is a pub where the bar staff are always invariably wearing shirts and ties, but I certainly can’t think of many others. I daresay that given the area, they don’t attract many ruffians, even looking like an estate pub.

The Sultan continues to be a nice friendly pub in South Wimbledon, despite its 80s style curtains. The Hope in Carshalton is another great example of a pub turned around.

On the subject of smart landlords, I’ve long thought it admirable to see late middle-aged landlords in well pressed shirts and trousers with a proper length tie. Care and attention to detail is the message I get. Something the Japanese do very well. Of course, I’m only basing this on the positive experiences I’ve had in those pubs, but nevertheless I had made this connection in my mind.

The Professor’s noting a message of care and attention to detail is interesting – personally, if a well presented barman has a well scrubbed cellar then I wouldn’t be surprised, but am not wet behind the ears enought to assume that always applies!

Given a recent post here about beer in restaurants, this suggests there are many more nuances to a pub experience that dictate whether we expect to enjoy it than perhaps just price and choice.

That said, most of my beer drinking peers would baulk at drinking in any pub with a barkeep so well attired. Am not sure if this is because there is such a dearth of tailored staff in Sheffield pubs or whether it suggests too much attention to appearance, too little to beery considerations.

I have no doubt that I’ve been into loads of pubs where the bar staff are well-dressed and the beer has been poor. I just can’t remember them. But I probably have enjoyed the pub experience in a pub then noticed that the landlord is smartly presented, keeping a tight ship with his staff efficiently mopping up tables and serving you immediately and thought that the smart landlord knows his onions. I’m not talking about barmen in Armani, just clean, well-presented smart, clothes. They also tend to be of a certain age and comb their hair!!

I’ve also made other connections, like seeing British Institute of Innkeeping signs near the door as a positive indicator and seeing a cask marque sign on the door as a negative indicator (Oh no, the beer is going to be officially boring or badly served).

None of these observations probably bear scrutiny these days but people have a need to categorize things.

Don’t get me started on pubs and children. What gets me is the lengths some places go to not to say outright that kids aren’t welcome – why not just put up an “Over 18s only” sign if that’s what they prefer? The Maltings in York, a pub I liked a great deal when I went there on my own, serves food but doesn’t do children’s portions; what it actually says on the menu is “We don’t serve children so DON’T ASK FOR ONE!” Ha ha.

We’ve got a good example of a pub being turned around near where I live. Went downhill remarkably quickly and got shut down by the police.

Taken over and now a freehouse with 6 real ale handpumps, it’s working very hard to earn and keep a good reputation.

It doesn’t have barstaff in suits though. That is something I associate more with very old fashioned & conservative locals such as the Stockwell Arms in Colchester before it shut down.

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