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.