A Pleasingly Busy Pub

The Star Inn, Crowlas (exterior)

I took my parents to the Star Inn at Crowlas, our favourite pub, on two occasions last week and they were amazed at how busy it was.

They are for­mer pub­li­cans, albeit almost 40 years ago now. It did­n’t work out for them – they talk about Whit­bread much the same way present day cam­paign­ers talk about pub­cos – and kept mut­ter­ing, aston­ished, and jeal­ous: ‘We’d have been hap­py with this on a Sat­ur­day night, nev­er mind a week­day teatime!’

Every­thing is stacked against the Star, on paper at least. It’s way out of town, and there’s no food. It’s a hand­some build­ing but not a quaint old inn by any mea­sure, not with the A30 run­ning right past the front door. Though there are camp­sites near­by Crowlas isn’t real­ly a tourist des­ti­na­tion either.

And yet, there the cus­tomers are, ses­sion after ses­sion, day after day.

A group at the bar.
Mid-after­noon at the Star back in Jan­u­ary – a rel­a­tive­ly qui­et moment.

It’s tempt­ing for us to argue that the Star’s suc­cess is down to the exem­plary prod­ucts of the Pen­zance Brew­ing Co, the onsite micro­brew­ery, that dom­i­nate the pumps, along­side exot­ic guest ales from the North. Cer­tain­ly that’s what gets into the Good Beer Guide and draws in at least part of the crowd – peo­ple who might oth­er­wise not make the trek on pub­lic trans­port from places like Hayle, Pen­zance and even St Just. That the beer is rel­a­tive­ly cheap by Cor­nish stan­dards, as well as being great, prob­a­bly does­n’t hurt either.

But there’s more to it than that. It’s a prop­er vil­lage local with a loy­al core of reg­u­lars attract­ed, we guess, by the same thing my par­ents par­tic­u­lar­ly liked: it’s com­plete­ly unpre­ten­tious, with­out being rough. A tightrope walk for sure.

Peo­ple come in track­suit bot­toms and train­ers, over­alls and work boots, tweeds and wellies, suits and ties, hik­ing boots and anoraks – in short, they wear what­ev­er they like, in what­ev­er con­di­tion they like, and no-one cares. Well-trained dogs roam about lick­ing up pork scratch­ing crumbs, some­times joined by a child or two in the after-school win­dow, drift­ing qui­et­ly from par­ents to rel­a­tives to fam­i­ly friends with pop bot­tles in hands. The man­age­ment sets this famil­ial tone – infor­mal, low-key, blus­ter-free.

We’re not against food in pubs, or even anti-gas­trop­ub (see the upcom­ing book for more on that) but my Mum was right when she observed that it made a change not to smell deep-fat fry­ing the whole time. The lack of din­ing also seems to encour­age friend­ly groups to form in what would oth­er­wise be incon­ve­nient places. It also leaves tables free for scat­tered news­pa­per pages or for elbows-on-the-wood deep-lev­el con­ver­sa­tion. The absence of food changes the mood, in oth­er words. It’s cer­tain­ly anoth­er blow for the received wis­dom that a pub can’t thrive with­out a kitchen in 2017.

When we left after our trip on Wednes­day my Dad, not a demon­stra­tive bloke, turned and looked back at the door. ‘Bloody love­ly pub,’ he said, sound­ing almost annoyed to have been so seduced by an estab­lish­ment 150 miles from his house.

Dis­clo­sure: the Pen­zance Brew­ing Co’s Peter Elvin has shout­ed us a few pints over the years, includ­ing a round for Dad and me last week.

9 thoughts on “A Pleasingly Busy Pub”

  1. My part­ner and I are just by coin­ci­dence stay­ing in Crowlas when we vis­it Corn­wall next month. I can­not wait to have a drink or two in here, it sounds like the real deal.

  2. There’s a pub local to me that I just won’t use because it always smells of fried eggs. Now I like fried eggs, but I don’t want a pub to smell of them. Food smells can be great, but can be ter­ri­ble.

    As to the Star, been past it many times on the A30 but have nev­er been able to jus­ti­fy stop­ping. Sad­ly.

  3. You cap­ture the appeal (infor­mal, low-key, blus­ter free) bril­liant­ly. The list of semi-rur­al drinkers pubs that remain sur­pris­ing­ly busy is a short but inter­est­ing one. Exhib­it 2 would be the Dead Poets in Hol­brook near Belper, with a sim­i­lar feel to the Star.

    Con­fes­sion – I did­n’t rate the beer qual­i­ty (Potion No.9) much last year, though I thought the pub was great and I’d revis­it. If pushed, I feel the same about the Blue Anchor. Just shows, nev­er judge a pub­’s beer on one vis­it.

    1. Potion has had some ups and downs in the last cou­ple of years. It’s frus­trat­ing that the rare downs often coin­cide with a vis­it from some­one we’ve raved about the place too. For the last, say, six months, though, it’s been pret­ty con­sis­tent­ly excel­lent. My Dad loved it last week which is unusu­al because he’s high­ly scep­ti­cal of any beer that isn’t brown or black.

    2. Some of the rural/village Sam Smith’s pubs in Cheshire (and I would assume in oth­er areas) man­age to achieve this kind of “pub­by” atmos­phere in a way that their food-dom­i­nat­ed local com­peti­tors don’t.

      Of course the $64,000 dol­lar ques­tion is to what extent the way the Star is run is actu­al­ly gen­er­at­ing cus­tom as opposed to shift­ing it from oth­er pubs.

  4. This is my favourite type of pub to be hon­est, is it just me or does a food serv­ing pub some­times make you feel real­ly unwel­come if you’re just drink­ing? Con­cur with mudgie above, there are some great Sam Smiths and sim­i­lar in Cheshire which are just 100% wet pubs with a strong set of pun­ters such as the Cor­ner House in Frod­sham and my local, The Lion in Run­corn.

    1. The Cor­ner House (Gold­en Lion) in Frod­sham is where my dad had his last ever pint in a pub :’(

      How­ev­er, I’d say both that and the Lion are urban pubs with a large pop­u­la­tion with­in walk­ing dis­tance, so not direct­ly com­pa­ra­ble to the Star. Frod­sham may call itself a vil­lage, but in real­i­ty it’s a fair-sized town.

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