The Pub as Quasi-Happy Eater

Good George Pacific PearlOur local Wetherspoon’s isn’t a very good one. It rarely has any­thing oth­er than Doom Bar, Rud­dles or Greene King IPA on offer, usu­al­ly a degree or two too warm, served in an ambi­ence that brings to mind a faux-pub on a cross chan­nel fer­ry. We pop in from time to time, though, just in case some­thing excit­ing might be avail­able and, yes­ter­day, we were tempt­ed to stop for a cou­ple of pints from the inter­na­tion­al beer fes­ti­val range.

Pacif­ic Pearl, brewed by Good George of New Zealand (Kel­ly Ryan (PDF link)) was very good indeed though, yes, a bit warm. A sort of a black IPA or cit­rusy porter, like an oily Terry’s Choco­late Orange melt­ed in a very posh cof­fee, it was cer­tain­ly worth £2.15. Fly by Night, brewed by the chap from La Trappe in the Nether­lands, on the oth­er hand, was all sweaty socks and card­board – bad rather than off, we think. Swings and round­abouts, eh?

As we drank, we talked about why, apart from the beer, we didn’t like the pub. Our con­clu­sion: it feels like a fast food restau­rant with some pub-like fea­tures – very con­ve­nient and obvi­ous­ly good val­ue, but naff. Then, coin­ci­den­tal­ly, last night, we came across this pas­sage in the 1985 CAMRA Good Beer Guide, on the sub­ject of Host Group, Grand Met/Watney’s new­ly announced pub chain:

The Host pack­aged pub enter­prise is as much of a threat to those who love indi­vid­u­al­i­ty and con­sumer choice, as the pack­aged beer phe­nom­e­non was in the last two decades,’ says Peter Lern­er of CAMRA’s Pub Preser­va­tion Group. ‘We can­not let our pubs decline to become chains of look-alike qua­si-Hap­py Eater, Ken­tucky Fried Chick­en bars or motor­way ser­vice sta­tions.’

A qua­si-Hap­py Eater is a very good descrip­tion of our local JDW.

28 thoughts on “The Pub as Quasi-Happy Eater”

  1. Always amazes me how branch­es of JDW can vary so much, even in the same town. Hol­born in That Lon­don has The Shake­spear­es Head (Excrable) and Penderel’s Oak (Very Good) with­in about a mile of each oth­er.

  2. The same is true of course of most of the mod­ern chain din­ing pubs, which are seen as a major growth area by Greene King and Marston’s. In effect they are fam­i­ly-ori­ent­ed infor­mal restau­rants with a pub theme.

    From what I’ve seen, many of Spoons’ lat­est open­ings are more like a recent­ly smartened up McDon­alds in their decor than any­thing you would recog­nise as a pub. Bright pri­ma­ry and pas­tel colours, light wood or tubu­lar met­al fur­nish­ings, geo­met­ric floor designs.

  3. The genius of Spoons is that they hit so many tar­gets at once: they’re fam­i­ly-ori­ent­ed din­ing pubs, but with good beer for tick­ers, cheap beer for peo­ple who want to get tanked up, and (in the evening) a ‘live­ly’, ‘socia­ble’ atmos­phere, rem­i­nis­cent of a hotel bar when a coach trip’s in. The one thing they’re not is cool, and I think that’s by design as well.

    I had a bit of an unsat­is­fac­to­ry expe­ri­ence at a Spoons’ last night; the atmos­phere is relaxed but not relaxing, and it can get a bit much. But I’d rather be sur­round­ed by live­ly & socia­ble ordi­nary peo­ple on lager or Rud­dles than live­ly & socia­ble hip­sters neck­ing craft beer, for the sim­ple rea­son that the hip­sters are typ­i­cal­ly younger & loud­er. (Ide­al­ly I’d rather not be sur­round­ed by any­one, which I also achieved last night.)

  4. TIW – unfor­tu­nate­ly, we’ve only ever lived/worked near crap ones. The Drum, Ley­ton, is a hole, for exam­ple.

    Cur­mud­geon – that sounds like ours. Very pla­s­ticky, designed for food ser­vice rather than cosi­ness.

    Phil – “they’re fam­i­ly-ori­ent­ed din­ing pubs, but with good beer for tick­ers, cheap beer for peo­ple who want to get tanked up, and (in the evening) a ‘live­ly’, ‘socia­ble’ atmos­phere” – except ours doesn’t have good beer, and, though it’s often busy, doesn’t seem espe­cial­ly socia­ble either. No-one goes to a fast food joint to socialise. The Dock, the Blue Anchor and the Star Inn, on the oth­er hand, are all great places for a spon­ta­neous con­ver­sa­tion with a stranger.

    1. Sur­prised about the beer – I wouldn’t say I’ve nev­er been into a Spoons with­out good beer, but I can gen­uine­ly only think of a cou­ple.

      Not sure whether you’re actu­al­ly dis­agree­ing with me re the atmos­phere – I didn’t say the ‘socia­ble’ atmos­phere was one that made me feel socia­ble, or even com­fort­able. You do get the impres­sion that quite a lot of oth­er peo­ple are let­ting their hair down, though.

      1. IME most Spoons have OK beer, few have what I would real­ly call “good” beer. It often seems as though it has been drawn through a very long pipe from the cel­lar. And I’ve been in Spoons where even get­ting a clear pint has been a major achieve­ment.

        1. Had a long chat with a barman/cellarman at anoth­er pub on this sub­ject. He drinks in Spoons in PZ for, I think, finan­cial rea­sons, and said that the beer has got a lot bet­ter recent­ly as they’ve done some work in the cel­lar. Still slight­ly too warm, though, and cer­tain­ly not *impres­sive*, even when not bad.

          In short, there’s bet­ter beer to be had else­where.

  5. Went to spoons last night for the first time in a year or so, as a last, last, last resort because every­where else that did food after 8pm in Lin­coln was ful­ly booked.
    Exact­ly as we expect­ed, food was cheap but mediocre, beer was ok but served far too warm. We quick­ly drank up and left.

    Some­one said spoons is a pub for peo­ple who don’t like pubs – might even have been Sir Tim him­self. I think that about sums it up. I quite like pubs, there­fore, I dis­like Wether­spoons.

  6. Had a Fly By Night at the Spoons pub in Bark­ing­side and it was love­ly, so pos­si­bly down­town bad cel­lar­ing than poor brew­ing. Have to say the afore­men­tioned Spoons is an oasis of well-kept beer in an East London/Essex bor­der­land that’s renowned as a real ale desert.

    I so agree there are some Spoons that are ghast­ly, but my over­all impres­sions of many Spoons is there are gen­er­al­ly more good than bad.

  7. Woo a shit spoons. There’s an orig­i­nal sub­ject for a beer blog post. As a nation­al brand­ed chain, they are always going top be dis­missed by those that like indi­vid­ual small busi­ness­es.

    Some Spoons are crap, a lot of them are quite nice. My obser­va­tion is that if you pick pubs at ran­dom it is a bet­ter bet than most region­al brew­ery offers & all oth­er pub co’s.

    But because they have brand­ed their offer and estab­lished a mod­el they apply con­sis­tent­ly they stand out.

      1. No more than usu­al, fel­las. But you know. The not lik­ing the Spoons vis­it is one of the many tired old tropes of beer blog­ging. There must be a mil­lion vari­a­tions on it. All of which can be summed with, if you don’t like the Spoons offer, they are clear­ly brand­ed, steer clear. If you like them but find a crap one, the signs are clear the minute you walk in. Glass­es uncol­lect­ed, tables messy, long queues, Walk out. For none beer geeks after a cheap pint, they are a safer bet than most estab­lish­ments. In a big UK city I check out the Spoons before any­thing else.

        1. Our posts are clear­ly brand­ed. If you don’t like the offer, steer clear. A moan about tired old tropes of beer blog­ging is sure­ly one of the tired old tropes of com­men­tat­ing upon beer blog­ging, etc..

          1. Eye, but blogs are free and you get what you pay for. Com­mer­cial jour­nal­ism would have to think of some­thing inter­est­ing to say about the Spoons. Like why are they so pop­u­lar? Is all down to price? Why do they have so many imi­ta­tors? Both Greene King & John Bar­ras run copy­cat estab­lish­ments with a beer and burg­er for a fiver­ish type offer. These are more numer­ous than Spoons but get lit­tle by way of flak because they don’t tempt the beer geeks in with tokens & beer fes­ti­vals. Lots of inter­est­ing ques­tions to ask.

  8. I think the inter­est­ing ques­tion about Spoons is what they are. There are plen­ty of bars around which nobody would call a pub, just on the basis of the ambi­ence. Spoons don’t have a name of their own (oth­er than ‘Spoons’) but I think they’re at least as un-pub-like as the aver­age bar – and ‘chain restau­rant’ doesn’t cap­ture it, for the rea­sons I’ve men­tioned (show me a Harvester’s which boasts of the num­ber of CAMRA mem­bers behind the bar).

    1. Absolute­ly. I think it’s played down these days, but all the George Orwell ‘per­fect pub’ schtick now seems slight­ly ludi­crous.

  9. Cook­ie – you said: “Com­mer­cial jour­nal­ism would have to think of some­thing inter­est­ing to say about the Spoons.”

    Have you read any papers late­ly? They’d get the work expe­ri­ence to do a blog about it, say­ing not that much, if they took any inter­est at all.

    So you don’t think there’s any­thing inter­est­ing at all in the pub­bi­ness or oth­er­wise of Spoons? And CAMRA’s endorse­ment of the chain which is oth­er­wise at odds with their save the local, tra­di­tion­al pub rhetoric? If you don’t you don’t, fair enough.

    (Pen­ny drops – are you Tim Mar­tin?)

    1. It is just that if all you have to say about the Spoons, that they are McSpoons (and I agree they are) then it has been men­tioned a fair few times before. It isn’t new. Are you say­ing they are pop­u­lar because of or in spite of them being McSpoons? That’s an inter­est­ing ques­tion to ask and attempt to answer.

      There are many things on the high­street I don’t get. I was walk­ing along one last week and noticed half the peo­ple had pri­mark bags. I’ve nev­er got pri­mark. Okay, it’s cheap but is that it? The squeeze had no answer. Lat­er on in the week my ger­man teacher men­tioned she’s off back and we are get­ting a new teacher. She men­tioned that she would miss pri­mark. I asked her why. She gave an inter­est­ing answer that allowed me to look through the eyes of anoth­er, Cheap is only part of the appeal. I sus­pect the boss of M&S would pay a lot of con­sul­tants to get the answer I got.

      As for McDon­alds, Wether­spoons, what­ev­er. Under­stand­ing why oth­ers like what you don’t is so much more inter­est­ing than dis­miss­ing what you don’t like and ques­tion­ing the taste of those that do. But sure they are McSpoons, you are right.But isn’t that the start, not the end?

      1. I’ll prob­a­bly get some flak for this, but I’ll say it any­way: I think a big part of the appeal of Spoons is that the atmos­phere is unapolo­get­i­cal­ly work­ing-class. That doesn’t mean everything’s cheap – being work­ing-class doesn’t mean you’ve got no mon­ey or that you want char­i­ty – but it does go along with there being cheap options (cups of tea, burg­ers, pints of Ruddle’s), because being work­ing-class does mean you know what it’s like to be hard up, and you don’t want your nose rubbed in it when you are. The ‘live­li­ness’ of the typ­i­cal evening atmos­phere is part of this (I’m using ‘live­ly’ to mean ‘not actu­al­ly on the brink of kick­ing off, but not a mil­lion miles from it’).

        At the end of the day there’s some­thing very insti­tu­tion­al about them – a con­trolled envi­ron­ment for peo­ple to let their hair down, just a bit – like a sergeant’s mess or a pack­age resort. For work­ing-class peo­ple, gen­er­al­ly, and most­ly for grown-up peo­ple. As 18–30 to ‘ver­ti­cal drink­ing’ dens, so Thomson’s to Spoons?

        1. It is just that if all you have to say about the Spoons, that they are McSpoons (and I agree they are) then it has been men­tioned a fair few times before. It isn’t new.”

          Fair point. That’s prob­a­bly why we didn’t spend more than ten min­utes writ­ing it and stuck it out among the stream of ‘stuff that occurs to us’ that con­sti­tutes the blog, rather than work­ing it up into a pro­pos­al for an eight part doc­u­men­tary.

      2. You sound like you’ve got lots of ideas on these type of sub­jects Cook­ie – have you ever thought of start­ing your own beer blog?

  10. I wan­na know what the ger­man lady said about Pri­marni now.

    RE Phil: class is def­i­nite­ly the ele­phant in the room when it comes to all the beer blog debates, whether its “com­mu­ni­ty pubs” vs spoons vs trendy bars, whether it comes to straight sided glass­es vs han­dled jugs vs pon­cy wine glass­es, and def­i­nite­ly when it comes to pongy ale vs hip­ster beer vs cook­ing lager.

    Most people’s opin­ions on all these seem­ing­ly incon­se­quen­tial things are either con­scious­ly or sub­con­scious­ly derived from what class they see them­selves as. Likes drink­ing craft beer out of a han­dled mug? Must be a mid­dle class ponce etc.

    Any­way I thought it was a per­fect­ly good top­ic for a blog post B&B. Just because some­thing has been said before doesn’t mean its not worth repeat­ing from a slight­ly dif­fer­ent point of view.

  11. Class is such a hot pota­to. I’ve been try­ing to think how to put this all after­noon. Not sure I’ve quite cracked it but, hey-ho, here goes.

    It’s impor­tant to dis­tin­guish between parts of work­ing class cul­ture that are gen­uine­ly good and enjoy­able – I’d say fish and chips, at their best, are real­ly tasty – and those which are not so much a choice as what’s left when oth­er options are ruled out because of lim­it­ed income/opportunity/exclusivity.

    Until fair­ly recent­ly, I wouldn’t go to cer­tain places because I’d assume peo­ple would sneer at me for being ‘uncouth’. They places I did go weren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly cheap­er but I felt more at home.

    Get­ting old­er and car­ing less means that I can now (just about) han­dle a restau­rant that has airs and graces, though I might still occa­sion­al­ly ago­nise over whether I’m wear­ing accept­able shoes or using the right fork or some­thing stu­pid like that. The cringe runs deep and I don’t like it.

    So, yes, Phil, you might be right – JDW and sim­i­lar pubs do have a cer­tain appeal based on the fact that, whichev­er town you’re in, they all work the same; and there aren’t too many oppor­tu­ni­ties for social embar­rass­ment, or to feel ‘looked down on’. Unless you for­get to take note of your table num­ber, that is, when you’ll be laughed out of town.

  12. Cookie’s same old, same old jibe about the blog entry would have been a bit more authen­tic com­ing from some­one who hadn’t spent a year or two blog­ging the same spiel about get­ting pissed on lout and ser­vic­ing the bint.

    But I’m in his camp when it comes to ‘Spoons. More often than not they’re per­fect­ly okay and some­times superb.

    You’ve got to ask your­self if the ‘Spoons wasn’t there what mangy old shit­hole would be.

    1. I nev­er said I was inno­cent of using tired old tropes. I repeat­ed the same old joke until even I was pig sick of it. I am allowed to be a hyp­ocrite. But look, some of the com­men­ta­tors have start­ed to say some­thing inter­est­ing about the Spoons. Maybe right, maybe wrong. Either way the com­ments have more going for it than the orig­i­nal post.

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