Gastropubs of 1951

Detail of book cover: The Good Food Guide 1951-1952.

“It’s gone all foody,” people used to grumble in the nineteen-nineties when a pub started offering meals. “It’s a restaurant now,” they’d mutter, “not a proper pub… knives and forks… smimble…”

Is the idea that food is something essentially ‘un-pubby’ a post CAMRA Good Beer Guide idea? A recently acquired pocket-sized gem of a book, The Good Food Guide 1951-1952, certainly suggests quite a different point of view.

First Rule. — If you are in a strange town, without any guidance from a friend or an entry in this list, always prefer a clean and brisk-looking public house… [You] are more likely to find there than in teashops a survival of the older English tradition of solid eating. In both cases the cooking may well be, at the best, unimaginative, but in a pub, at last, you are not expected to peck like a sparrow.

Perhaps, then, it’s only pretentious food which is un-pubby?

And what about women in pubs, inhibiting the farting and sexist banter? That’s a new thing, too, right?

[A] clean-looking British public house with a menu outside is a place where any respectable woman can go for her lunch without any disquiet… She should not go into the Public Bar, which may be rough, but into the Saloon Bar or the Lounge; nor need she drink beer, for lemonade and such are sold equally willingly. She should also, by the way, ignore the statement… that “British beer should be drunk warm”.

Still, one thing we know is new are the terrible pressures under which pub licensees find themselves compared to the halcyon days of old. Oh, wait…

[The] proprietors of licensed houses are having a difficult time, and deserve the support of all the benevolent people. they pay heavily for their licences, and the disproportionate taxes on beer have driven away their customers.

And yet, sixty years on, there are still pubs, and there are still customers.

Don't be scared off by cutlery

As the death of the gastropub is announced, we found ourselves pondering how people react to the ‘food led’ pub and why we’ve never really had a problem with it.

Admittedly, if a place is sending clear signals that, despite being in a pub building, the establishment is really a restaurant, we don’t go in unless we want dinner. (Those signals, by the way, might include a name with the word ‘restaurant’ in it, or simply not stocking any beer at all.) Generally, however, we don’t let a bit of cutlery and the odd bit of French on a menu stop us going inside.

We have never been turned away and have always had great success with a bit of human interaction: “Is it OK if we just have a couple of pints?”

On a couple of very rare occasions, we have had to drink our pints with a snooty looking owner sulking nearby, but, as far as we’re concerned, that’s their problem. Is it us or are hardened, experienced drinkers sometimes rather sensitive flowers when it comes to this kind of thing?

The Falmouth Packet is a Cornish pub which really gets it right. It is food-led — the landlord is a chef — and it has almost no seating for people who just want to drink. Nonetheless, they have not only always made us feel welcome whether we’re eating or not, but actually take the time to make conversation with us as we sit at the bar. They have an excellent beer, Jolly Farmer, brewed exclusively for them by the Penzance Brewing Company, as well as two other cask ales. It’s cosy, too, and the locals who gather around the bar are always up for a chat. So, food-led or not, we have no hesitation in recommending this as a great place to go for a pint.