Dylan Thomas Depicts a Wintry Pub, 1947

The Welsh poet and essayist Dylan Thomas enjoyed beer rather too much and it’s no surprise that pubs often crop up in his writing, and that their atmospheres are so brilliantly evoked.

Return Jour­ney’ was writ­ten for the BBC in 1947 and we came across it in Quite Ear­ly One Morn­ing, a 1954 col­lec­tion of Thomas’s radio scripts. You can find the full text today in var­i­ous books in print today such as the Dylan Thomas Omnibus.

But, by way of a taster, here’s the pas­sage in which Thomas describes vis­it­ing the Hotel (a pub) in a bleak post-Blitz Swansea in search of his younger self:

The bar was just open­ing, but already one cus­tomer puffed and shook at the counter with a full pint of half-frozen Tawe water in his wrapped-up hand. I said Good morn­ing, and the bar­maid, pol­ish­ing the counter vig­or­ous­ly as thought it were a rare and valu­able piece of Swansea chi­na, said to her first cus­tomer:

Seen the film at the Ely­si­um Mr Grif­fiths there’s snow isn’t it did you come up on your bicy­cle our pipes burst Mon­day…

A pint of bit­ter, please.

Prop­er lit­tle lake in the kitchen got to wear your Welling­tons when you boil an egg one and four please…

The cold gets me just here…

…and eight­pence change that’s your liv­er Mr Grif­fiths you been on the cocoa again…

After a pas­sage in which Thomas describes his younger self (“blub­ber lips; snub nose; curly mouse­brown hair”) there is a won­der­ful non sequitur from the bar­maid…

I remem­ber a man came here with a mon­key. Called for ‘alf for him­self and a pint for the mon­key. And he wasn’t Ital­ian at all. Spoke Welsh like a preach­er.

…and some more cus­tomers arrive:

Snowy busi­ness bel­lies pressed their watch-chains against the counter; black busi­ness bowlers, damp and white now as Christ­mas pud­ding in their cloths, bobbed in front of the misty mir­rors. The voice of com­merce rang stern­ly through the lounge.

The final sad com­ment on pubs in this sto­ry reflects a com­mon expe­ri­ence across Britain dur­ing the post-war peri­od:

What’s the Three Lamps like now?

It isn’t like any­thing. It isn’t there. It’s noth­ing mun. You remem­ber Ben Evans’s stores? It’s right next door to that. Ben Evans isn’t there either…


An Enormous Drinking Barracks, 1959

Among the literary sources we identified but did not have space to mention in 20th Century Pub was Keith Waterhouse’s 1959 comic social realist novel Billy Liar.

It con­tains a chap­ter in which Bil­ly Fish­er, an aspir­ing come­di­an and writer in the fic­tion­al York­shire town of Strad­houghton, prac­tices his stand-up rou­tine at a local pub:

The New House was an an enor­mous drink­ing bar­racks that had been built to serve Cher­ry Row and the streets around it. The New House was not its prop­er title. Accord­ing to the flood­lit inn-sign stuck on a post in the mid­dle of the emp­ty car park, the pub was called the Who’d A Thought It. There had been a lot of spec­u­la­tion about how this name had come about, but what­ev­er the leg­end was it had fall­en com­plete­ly flat in Clo­g­iron Lane. Nobody called the pub any­thing but the New House.

There was a windy, rub­ber-tiled hall­way where the chil­dren squat­ted, eat­ing pota­to crisps and wait­ing for their moth­ers. Two frost­ed-glass doors, embossed with the brew­ery trade­mark, led off it, one into the pub­lic bar and one into the saloon…

The men who say [in the pub­lic bar] were refugees from the warm ter­race-end pubs that had been pulled down; they around drink­ing mild and call­ing to each oth­er across the room as though noth­ing had changed… The few items in the New House that gave it any­thing like the feel of a pub – the dart­board, the crib­bage mark­ers, the scratched blind-box, and the pok­er­work sign that said IYBMADIBYO, if you buy me a drink I’ll buy you one – were all part of the same portable world, as if they had been wheeled here in prams in the flight from the old things.

This fic­tion­al pub has a con­cert hall which sug­gests to us that Water­house had in mind one built between the wars rather than in the peri­od after World War II.

The Belle Isle, on an estate not far from where Water­house grew up, is one pos­si­ble can­di­date as a mod­el – a drink­ing bar­racks indeed, but now a nurs­ing home.

Davey Jones, the Man Behind the Real Ale Twats

The ‘Real Ale Twats’ strip first appeared in the adult comic Viz in 2001 and has a cult following among beer enthusiasts, because they recognise in it either themselves, or The Enemy.

We’re long-time Viz sub­scribers and spent a bit of time research­ing the RATs, as they are abbre­vi­at­ed, when we were writ­ing Brew Bri­tan­nia. A cou­ple of peo­ple had sug­gest­ed to us that the RATs might be the source of the pop­u­lar stereo­type of the beard­ed CAMRA mem­ber, assum­ing incor­rect­ly (as did we) that it had first appeared as far back as the 1980s. That proved to be a dead end for the book but gave us a fresh appre­ci­a­tion for the strip, espe­cial­ly on those occa­sions when it felt as if the author was eaves­drop­ping on beer social media.

Then, when we hap­pened to con­nect via Twit­ter with its cre­ator, Viz vet­er­an Dav­ey Jones, ear­li­er this year, we took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ask him some ques­tions about how the strip came to be, and the source of its often painful­ly accu­rate obser­va­tions.

The fol­low­ing Q&A was con­duct­ed by back-and-forth of emails with some light edit­ing for clar­i­ty and flow.

* * *

What prompt­ed the idea of the Real Ale Twats? Was there some spe­cif­ic inci­dent or per­son you had in mind?

I’ve always been a fan of the band Half Man Half Bis­cuit and they had done a song called ‘CAMRA Man’ which made me want to draw a strip along those lines. It’s got lyrics like “Week­end vin­tage car show, Dr Who afi­ciona­do” and so on.

Also I’ve spent quite a lot of time in pubs and the char­ac­ters are sort of com­pos­ites of types that I encoun­tered. There was a bloke who used to come into my local in New­cas­tle who had a big beard and a beret and always seemed to be car­ry­ing sev­er­al shoul­der bags. He may not even have been a real ale enthu­si­ast – I don’t think I ever heard him speak – but he had the right look, so I drew him. Prob­a­bly very unfair­ly.

How did the edi­to­r­i­al team react to the idea when you pitched it?

Back then I was part of the edi­to­r­i­al team – there were five of us at the time, I think. I’ve since gone back to being a free­lancer, work­ing on my own. But in 2001 we were sat around in someone’s back gar­den, try­ing to come up with ideas, and I men­tioned want­i­ng to do this strip about real ale drinkers. As we were chat­ting about it, Simon Don­ald, who did the Sid the Sex­ist strip, start­ed talk­ing in this stu­pid ‘stout yeo­man of the bar’ voice – “Hith­er bar­lord, a foam­ing tankard of your finest” and all that, and that seemed to fit.

The first strip involved the three char­ac­ters going to a pub called The Murderer’s Arms by mis­take, and ends with the main char­ac­ter get­ting a pint glass shoved in his face. Which is some­thing that hap­pens quite often in Viz car­toons.

A panel from the strip about Christmas pubgoers.

How does a strip typ­i­cal­ly come togeth­er? How do you go about find­ing the seed for a sto­ry?

I just try to think of a pub-relat­ed theme that I haven’t done yet – vap­ing, or pub grub, or what­ev­er. I enjoy doing ones that are vague­ly auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal, or at least are exag­ger­a­tions of thoughts that I’ve had myself. For instance, I’ve caught myself inward­ly grum­bling about all the peo­ple who only go to the pub over Christ­mas, crowd­ing the place out and not know­ing the cor­rect rules of behav­iour at the bar. So I got a cou­ple of strips out of that, with the Twats pon­tif­i­cat­ing about “ama­teur drinkers” and so on. It can be quite sat­is­fy­ing to make fun of your­self, espe­cial­ly if you’re the only one who knows that you’re mak­ing fun of your­self.

That’s inter­est­ing. It makes it seem a bit less ‘mean’, for want of a bet­ter word.

Yes, I do regard myself as being a bit of a Twat. It takes one to know one, to some extent.

But what about real ale – have you ever been a CAMRA mem­ber your­self?

I nev­er got round to join­ing CAMRA. I don’t know why. I love pubs. When I was younger I spent a lot of time sit­ting in pubs on my own, and there’s noth­ing quite like it. You just sit there drift­ing from thought to thought, and tun­ing in and out of con­ver­sa­tions going on around you, as the drink set­tles in. As I’ve got old­er I do less soli­tary drink­ing, but some­times think I should go back to it a bit more, because you get to observe all these weird social dynam­ics and pow­er games going on around the bar. All the boast­ing and one-upman­ship. When you’re hav­ing a socia­ble drink with friends, you tend to miss all that, prob­a­bly because you’re doing all those things your­self.

I drink real ale and like it, but I’m not knowl­edge­able about it. If it’s about 4 to 4.5 per­cent, and got ‘sum­mer’ or ‘blonde’ or ‘gold­en’ in the name, I’ll prob­a­bly give it a go. But by the time I get home, I’ll have for­got­ten what I was drink­ing. Hav­ing said that, my favourite beer is Wye Val­ley Brewery’s But­ty Bach. I’m from Here­ford, where Wye Val­ley Brew­ery is based, and when­ev­er I go back to vis­it fam­i­ly I’ll have a few pints of that. Part of the rea­son they’re my favourite is that they sent me a free box of their HPA when I men­tioned them in a RATs strip. I also like Wylam Brew­ery who are based in the North East, and who once sent a cou­ple of crates of their assort­ed beers to the Viz office.

One of our local pubs in Bris­tol, a fair­ly down-to-earth place that doesn’t tend to have real ale on offer, has one of your RAT strips pinned on the wall, and that’s some­thing we’ve seen a few times up and down the coun­try. It feels a bit like a warn­ing to us, or per­haps just an expres­sion of frus­tra­tion on the part of pub­li­cans. How do you feel about that kind of thing?

Yeah, I’ve occa­sion­al­ly seen them pinned up in pubs. I don’t think it’s nec­es­sar­i­ly a sign that they hate real ale enthu­si­asts. I’ve nev­er worked behind a bar, but I imag­ine it’s a job that often involves putting up with bores. Not all pub bores are real ale bores of course, by any means. But the main RAT char­ac­ter with the beard is def­i­nite­ly a bore, and I quite often have him hold­ing forth to the bar staff, because they’re a cap­tive audi­ence. And as you say it must get quite frus­trat­ing to be sub­ject­ed to someone’s pompous opin­ions for hours. But in gen­er­al the strips are intend­ed as a fair­ly affec­tion­ate piss-take, so I hope they’re pinned up in the same spir­it.

What has been the feed­back from read­ers over the years?

Read­ers will some­times send in pic­tures of looka­likes who they’ve spot­ted in the pub. Some of them are, er, quite remark­able.

And CAMRA mem­bers? Have you ever received any com­plaints?

I don’t think CAMRA has ever com­plained, as far as I know. The Real Ale Twats are doubt­less CAMRA mem­bers but they’re not real­ly sup­posed to be rep­re­sen­ta­tive. They’re stereo­types of a cer­tain kind of pub-goer, real­ly.

On a relat­ed note, what do you make of the num­ber of real life real ale drinkers who iden­ti­fy them­selves as Real Ale Twats?

It’s quite odd. I recent­ly became aware of a Real Ale Twats group on Face­book, which has thou­sands of mem­bers. Which felt strange. I don’t sup­pose they’re all famil­iar with the Viz car­toon, but if they’re hap­py to laugh at them­selves that’s prob­a­bly a good thing. I think.

"One does yearn for the days when womenfolk were not permitted in pubs."

In recent years it’s felt as if the strip has fall­en into sync with ideas around ‘mansplain­ing’ and the latent sex­ism of a cer­tain type of know-all bloke. How con­scious­ly have you set out to make that kind of point?

It was nev­er a con­scious attempt to make a point, I don’t think. The char­ac­ters just lend them­selves to those atti­tudes. The types of peo­ple the RATs are based on are ones I’d see in the pub, a bit social­ly inept, com­ing out every night and mak­ing ham-fist­ed attempts at flirt­ing with the bar­maid. I’d imag­ine that a lot of women who do bar work can feel their hearts sink when they see a par­tic­u­lar reg­u­lar com­ing in through the door – some­one who is going to spend the whole night on a barstool regal­ing them with wit­ty ban­ter, and spray­ing crisp crumbs in their face. And blokes going on and on about their divorces – “Best thing that ever hap­pened to me!” repeat­ed over and over through­out the evening. I think the RATs are scared of women but try to cov­er that up with brava­do, which is fuelled by booze. A bit like Sid the Sex­ist in that respect, come to think of it.

Do you still think, in 2018, that real ale drinkers are a tar­get worth satiris­ing? Is there any chance of the RATs mor­ph­ing into the Craft Beer Twats at any point, for exam­ple?

That’s a good ques­tion. I don’t know if the beardy, pot-bel­lied stereo­type is a bit out­dat­ed. Maybe it is. Viz has always dealt with quite broad­ly-drawn stereo­types, but the char­ac­ters some­how devel­op lives and per­son­al­i­ties of their own. To some extent it becomes more about the char­ac­ters than about satire. So as long as you keep think­ing of sit­u­a­tions to put them in, you keep draw­ing the strips. Actu­al­ly there was a strip a few years ago which had the RATs look­ing down their noses at craft beer-drink­ing hip­sters. I think it end­ed with the RATs start­ing up a ‘Cam­paign for Real Real Ale Cam­paign­ers’ or some­thing.

Hipsters in the pub.

Of all the RAT strips you’ve pro­duced over the years are there any you think stand up par­tic­u­lar­ly well?

I think my per­son­al favourite was one where the RATs set off to their local, talk­ing about the wide range of fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ters you meet in the pub, and then there’s a big pic­ture of the pub inte­ri­or and all the cus­tomers look, and talk, just like the Twats. The rea­son I like that one is that I spent quite a long time on the draw­ing and was quite pleased with how it turned out. Which doesn’t always hap­pen.

Have you ever thought about a Real Ale Twats book? We sus­pect all of us beer bores would buy it.

Yeah, I’d like the idea of doing a col­lect­ed book, but all the copy­right belongs to Viz and the pub­lish­ers, so it would be up to them, real­ly. (I retired from the edi­to­r­i­al six years ago, and went back to being free­lance). I’m not sure there’d be enough mate­r­i­al to jus­ti­fy a book just yet. But cheers for the vote of con­fi­dence.

* * *

You can read ‘The Real Ale Twats’ in Viz on an irreg­u­lar basis, in the Christ­mas annu­als, and there is a sam­ple on the offi­cial web­site. Images in this post were sup­plied by Dav­ey Jones.

Further Reading #2: Understanding IPA

We’d love to be able to buy a reference anthology of great writing on the subject of IPA. This post, a manifestation of wishful thinking, is the next best thing.

There is also an idea that when peo­ple ask for advice on where to read about the his­to­ry and cul­ture of IPA, which hap­pens from time to time, we can just point them here.

Hope­ful­ly, this series of links, in rough­ly this order, pro­vides the out­line of a nar­ra­tive with­out too many details and diver­sions.

It’s aimed at learn­ers, or peo­ple after a refresh­er, but we hope even jad­ed vet­er­ans will find a cou­ple of items they’ve missed.

Where we have been able to iden­ti­fy free-to-access sources we’ve pro­vid­ed links and in the cas­es of mate­r­i­al you have to pay for we’ve tried to sug­gest free alter­na­tives.

This one feels like more of a work in progress than the lager list. If you can sug­gest sub­stan­tial, solid­ly researched arti­cles that fill in gaps then let us know either in the com­ments or by email.

Con­tin­ue read­ing “Fur­ther Read­ing #2: Under­stand­ing IPA

BOOK EXTRACT: The Birth of the Gastropub, 1990

In the summer of 1991 The Times’s food critic, Jonathan Meades, took a break from visiting upmarket restaurants to investigate a new eatery that was generating a strange amount of buzz.

He found it ‘chaot­ic-look­ing and very noisy’ and was luke­warm about the infor­mal set-up: no book­ings, order at the bar, lunge for any avail­able seat before any­one else took it. The cus­tomers around him were young, though, and seemed to like this kind of thing. The food wasn’t refined but it was good val­ue, gen­er­ous­ly por­tioned, very much in line with the ‘rus­tic’ style then in fash­ion. He duly filed a review of the Eagle in Far­ring­don Road, North Lon­don, which was not far from glow­ing. [1] Some­thing inter­est­ing was afoot but, for the moment, the lan­guage lacked a word to describe this col­li­sion of gas­tron­o­my and the pub­lic house.

* * *

The above is a con­densed ver­sion of the open­ing to the chap­ter on gas­trop­ubs from our book 20th Cen­tu­ry Pub which came out last autumn. We’re shar­ing it, along with the extract below, because it was announced today that we’ve made the short­list for best drinks book at the 2018 Fort­num & Mason Food and Drink Awards. The results are announced on 10 May which means we get a month to bask in the glo­ry whether we win or not. The book is avail­able in all the usu­al places at a rec­om­mend­ed retail price of £16.99 and is on a 31-strong streak of 5-star reviews at Ama­zon, so please do buy a copy if you haven’t already.

The Eagle in 2016.

The founders of what is gen­er­al­ly recog­nised as the first gas­trop­ub were Michael Bel­ben and David Eyre. They had worked togeth­er at sev­er­al restau­rants, most­ly recent­ly Mélange in Covent Gar­den, Eyre as a cook, Bel­ben in man­age­ment. In a por­trait pho­to tak­en in 1990 they look like mem­bers of a synth pop group – slim, moody, Bel­ben in a dark suit, Eyre in cot­ton shirt­sleeves. [2] Bel­ben is old­er, born in 1952, while Eyre, born in 1961, grew up large­ly in Mozam­bique and Rhode­sia (now Zim­bab­we), mov­ing to Britain to attend uni­ver­si­ty. [3]

They were both keen to start out on their own but, in the mean­time, absorbed culi­nary influ­ences, strug­gling to rec­on­cile their taste in fine food with their lim­it­ed funds. Eyre got mar­ried in 1989, but came out of that short-lived rela­tion­ship after 20 months with very lit­tle except an idea, giv­en to him by his ex-wife’s aunt: with a reces­sion immi­nent, open­ing a restau­rant would be fool­ish, she argued, so why not run a pub? She hadn’t meant a pub with food, but it was the spark Eyre and Bel­ben need­ed. Why not open a pub with decent food, cater­ing to peo­ple like them who longed, but couldn’t afford, to eat at places like the then super-hip Riv­er Café?

For­tu­nate­ly for them, a cat­a­stroph­ic change to the British pub own­er­ship mod­el was under­way. In 1989 the UK gov­ern­ment passed a bill which meant that brew­eries own­ing more than 2,000 pubs would be required to dis­pose of half of the excess. This act, known infor­mal­ly as the Beer Orders, meant in the first instance that the largest brew­ers had no choice but to dump a large num­ber of their worst-per­form­ing pubs on to the open mar­ket, or sell them en bloc to oth­er firms. In this respect, as food crit­ic Jay Rayn­er has said, ‘the gas­tro pub move­ment is a pure prod­uct of Thatch­erism’.

The Eagle was an unre­mark­able Vic­to­ri­an cor­ner pub in Far­ring­don, then a rather unfash­ion­able part of Lon­don, and was owned by the aston­ish­ing­ly unfash­ion­able brew­ery Watney’s. For a brief time in the 1980s it was a freak­ish hang­over from the theme pub era – a ‘fun pub’ dec­o­rat­ed with met­al fur­ni­ture, exposed pipes and bare breeze-block­ing so as to resem­ble a nuclear bunker. [4] (Fun indeed.) When it was unloaded by the brew­ery in response to the Beer Orders, Bel­ben and Eyre took it on, describ­ing it as ‘the first and cheap­est dead pub we found… But beneath the sad grime we could see an attrac­tive, if small, room with huge win­dows and maple floor’. [5]

Portrait shot of a man with beard and white shirt.
Michael Bel­ben at The Eagle, 2016.

They paid for it with a com­bi­na­tion of bank loans and mon­ey bor­rowed from fam­i­ly, got the keys on 18 Decem­ber 1990, and under­took ren­o­va­tion work them­selves, scrub­bing it back to an almost bare min­i­mal­ism and let­ting the light flood in. Michael Bel­ben fit­ted it out with, as food writer Diana Hen­ry recalled in 2003, ‘mis­matched chi­na, bat­tered fur­ni­ture, sag­ging sofas and a few lamps with wob­bly shades’. [6] They oper­at­ed at first, from 16 Jan­u­ary 1991, with an 8 by 5 foot kitchen con­tain­ing a microwave, fridge, grill, two burn­ers and a sink, none of pro­fes­sion­al stan­dard. In the flat above the pub, where Eyre also lived, they used an oven to pre­pare one or two share­able dish­es in pots, such as casseroles. Twen­ty years on, Eyre recalled their work­ing rela­tion­ship:

Mad Mike. Mike was prone to be a bit crazed at any time. But you see, he did get it and he was very good at… [pause] I got all the glo­ry, but he was very good at trudg­ing down to the bank and get­ting the float and spend­ing hours and hours in the office… Not the best peo­ple per­son some­times. Infu­ri­at­ing some­times. I mean, we did have some blind­ing argu­ments… But we were good. It was that kind of oppo­sites thing.

Bel­ben and Eyre have always empha­sised their demo­c­ra­t­ic inten­tions, under­lin­ing what to them were key signs that the Eagle was still a pub:

It was impor­tant that a table could be used by peo­ple in mud­dy boots drink­ing lager as much as by peo­ple who’d come to the best place to eat ribol­li­ta. It was very egal­i­tar­i­an – a great lev­eller. You’d have the edi­tor of the Guardian next to a builder, next to a fresh-out-of-school graph­ic design­er. [7]

There were no reser­va­tions for tables, no dress code and, they insist­ed when chal­lenged, cus­tomers could just turn up for a drink – din­ing was not com­pul­so­ry. ‘It was the Anti-Restau­rant Thing that we sort of embraced whole­heart­ed­ly,’ Eyre would recall in a series of record­ings made in 2011 by Niamh Dil­lon for an oral his­to­ry project:

No uni­forms, chefs wore fisherman’s smocks… Mis­matched plates, the no starters, the no desserts, the one-course eat­ing, the old fash­ioned por­tions of the food, the fact that there was no ser­vice – if you want­ed to tip a mem­ber of staff you bought them a drink. [8]

The come­di­an and broad­cast­er Gra­ham Nor­ton worked with Eyre and Bel­ben at Mélange and con­sid­ered Bel­ben ‘one of the most het­ero­sex­u­al men I had ever come across’ but ‘impos­si­ble to work for’,411 a friend and a men­tor. He joined the wait­ing staff at the Eagle where, freed from the oblig­a­tion to kiss-up to earn tips, he enjoyed being rude to cus­tomers:

A smile costs noth­ing,’ a cus­tomer who’d been order­ing in dribs and drabs and there­fore irri­tat­ing me would say.

And intel­li­gence can’t be bought,’ I’d retort. Why nobody rab­bit-punched me I don’t know. [9]

From the cus­tomers’ per­spec­tive this kind of thing meant that the Eagle could some­times be faint­ly intim­i­dat­ing, despite its founders’ avowed desire to cre­ate warmth and con­vivi­al­i­ty.

The dark interior of the Eagle.

In the same 2011 record­ing Eyre explained that the Eagle was able to oper­ate with a low­er mark-up on food than restau­rants prop­er – 60 per cent gross prof­it rather than 70 or 75 – because there was no air-con­di­tion­ing, no linen, and the kitchen staff, hav­ing less for­mal train­ing, would work for less. Until 1997 even the most expen­sive items on the menu cost no more than £10 (about £20 in today’s mon­ey) and, Eyre said, stu­dents or younger office work­ers could go to the Eagle and have some­thing sub­stan­tial and well-made for only ‘twice the price of a sand­wich in a sand­wich shop’.

At its best, the atmos­phere was live­ly and, at its worst, when hype brought crowds of would-be din­ers into a venue with no table book­ings, it could be loud and chaot­ic. The back­ground music was direct­ed by Eyre’s old­er broth­er Robert, who worked there for a time and had a large, quirky record col­lec­tion: ‘I real­ly do believe my broth­er was the first per­son to buy Bue­na Vista Social Club.’ There was world music, jazz, blues, but def­i­nite­ly, point­ed­ly, no gui­tar-heavy clas­sic rock.

There was a prob­lem with all this. In a Jan­u­ary 2016 inter­view with Susie Mesure mark­ing the 25th anniver­sary of the Eagle’s open­ing Eyre said: ‘We weren’t real­ly pub-going peo­ple, because pubs didn’t seem to answer our needs’. [10] And there­in per­haps lies the source of much of the irri­ta­tion that gas­trop­ubs would go on to gen­er­ate in the decade that fol­lowed among those who were ded­i­cat­ed ‘pub-going peo­ple’: they were seen by many as mid­dle- class colonis­ers tak­ing over pubs and, in the process, denud­ing them of their essen­tial ‘pub­ness’. In prac­tice, to drinkers, the Eagle looked like an infor­mal restau­rant rather than a pub with food and, even if it was the­o­ret­i­cal­ly pos­si­ble to turn up and just have a drink, the pub soon became so hip it was impos­si­ble to get in the door any­way.

Jay Rayn­er, reflect­ing on gas­trop­ubs in 2001, said, ‘It is hard to over­state the impor­tance of The Eagle… When it launched in the ear­ly 90s, the idea was extra­or­di­nary, if not bizarre.’ He also point­ed out that, though much of what the Eagle did had by then become to seem clichéd, in 1991 it seemed ‘nigh on rev­o­lu­tion­ary’, inspir­ing many imi­ta­tors, often found­ed by peo­ple who had them­selves worked at the Eagle. [11]


[1] ‘Popped in, pigged out’, The Times, 3 August 1991, Sat­ur­day Review sup­ple­ment, p.27.
[2] Repro­duced in the Inde­pen­dent, 9 Jan­u­ary 2016, pp.20–21.
[3] Bio­graph­i­cal details for Mike Bel­ben from Debrett’s, retrieved 26 May 2016; and for David Eyre from 2011 oral his­to­ry record­ings, ‘Eyre, David (1 of 10)’, Niamh Dil­lon, Food: From Source to Sale­s­point, British Library.
[4] Cor­re­spon­dence with vet­er­an pub-goer Ian Wor­den, 14 June 2016.
[5] Big Flavours, Rough Edges, David Eyre, 2001, p.8.
[6] The Gas­tro Pub Cook­book, p.6.
[7] ‘20 Years of the Eagle Inter­view’, Liz Edwards, Clerken­well Post, 2011.
[8] ‘Eyre, David (6 of 10)’, Food: From Source to Sale­s­point, British Library.
[9] So Me, 2004, pp.74–75.
[10] ‘The Eagle: Britain’s first gas­trop­ub cel­e­brates its 25th birth­day’, Susie Mesure, Inde­pen­dent, 9 Jan­u­ary 2016, retrieved 17 March 2016.
[11] ‘Fox Hunt­ing’, Observ­er Mag­a­zine, 22 July 2001, p.49.