What a nice pub, I say. Authentic, cosy and characterful, full of little quirks. ‘Ha!’ says the landlady, bitterly. ‘It’s a dump.’
The sloping bar top is hilarious: if you put your glass anywhere but on a drip mat it drifts towards the precipice. A customer makes a dive to save his lager, catching it just in time, and everyone laughs, except the landlady.
‘We lose a few pints that way,’ she says. ‘We’ve asked time and time again for it to be fixed but, no, they don’t care about us — we’re only tenants. If this was a managed house they’d be all over it, but not us.’ She prods the floor behind the bar with her toe, steps with theatrical care over a gap in the floor I can’t see. ‘This is all rotten. They want us to spend our own money on it. Well, you can forget that.’
‘It’s a Proper Pub, though,’ says someone else. ‘No fancy food, none of that gastro stuff.’
The landlady sighs.
‘We’ve been after a refurbished kitchen for ages. I can’t cook because it’s disgusting back there. Damp, mould. It’s not safe. But they won’t do anything. And you can’t make money without food these days.’
Whatever rot and mould and disrepair is going on behind the scenes, it really is a lovely pub to drink in, which highlights an uncomfortable tension: what is the ideal pub for some punters, old-fashioned and full of character, is very likely the very opposite for those who have to live and work with it.
After this conversation, we’ll certainly spare a thought for the licensees next time we’re coo-ing over some tumbledown relic, even if we don’t want the relic done away with for the sake of convenience.