When is a pub not a pub?

The Adam and Eve pub in Westminster, London

If you ask most people to define a pub as opposed to a bar, restaurant or club, the conclusion will usually be a statement along the lines of: “It’s hard to say, but I know one when I see one.”

After our irritating experience in the Greenwich Union a couple of weeks back, we’ve been giving this some thought.

Could the defining features of a pub be informality and the dominant presence of beer?

  • Table reservations are one thing: pubs where you have to reserve a table stop feeling like pubs.
  • Food in pubs is a good thing, but table cloths, candlesticks and cutlery laid out when you arrive probably mean you’re in a restaurant.
  • If you’re expected to eat,  then that’s not very pub-like.
  • If there are bouncers then it’s either a bloody rough pub or some kind of club or bar.
  • Dress codes (when actually enforced…) are not very pub-like.
  • If the wine list has had more thought put into it than the beer, it’s probably a 1980s wine bar disguised as a pub.
  • We’re fans of continental-style waiter service, but is it something you’d expect in a pub?

It’s tempting to add that places with more chrome than wood are bars, but that’s entirely superficial.

If you can wander in wearing jeans and trainers and just order a pint at the bar, then it’s a pub, regardless of the decor.

The Betjeman Arms, at last

Almost a year after it opened, we finally made it to the Betjeman Arms at St Pancras station.  It’s run by the Geronimo Inns lot and, like the other Geronimo pubs we’ve visited, there are a lot of glossy but dull Euro-brands, together with some nice cask ale.  In this particular case, they have commissioned their own house brew from Sharps.  It’s called Betjeman Ale and is pleasant enough, but unchallenging.  They also run the odd beer festival now and then.

We gather it’s supposed to be a bit ‘gastro’, but we didn’t eat there.  It’s certainly very good by the standard of lots of station pubs and we loved the roof terrace — even though it overlooks the busy Euston Road, it felt very peaceful up there, and the view made us feel a bit in love with London.

Lots of other bloggers have reviewed this place; see Stonch, Pete Brown, London Randomness,  and Tandleman for more.