Whatever happened to the theme pub?

Sherlock Holmes pub, London.
One thing all the beer and pub writers from the nineteen-sixties and seventies agree on is this: the theme pub is an abomination and a terrible threat to the ‘proper’ pub. Derek Cooper’s The Beverage Report (1970) has a whole chapter on them.

You only have to turn your back on a pub for a few days now and it has undergone some bizarre transformation. A bewildered beer-drinker sent me this sociological note: ‘A pub that I once knew well was called the Kentish Horseman. Imagine my surprise this week to find it has blossomed out under the name of The Escape. The motif: RAF escapes. The walls are hung with with such trivia as flying uniforms, photos of renowned escapers and Mae Wests etc, etc…’

He also lists pubs themed around the wild west, the roaring twenties, medieval minstrels, torture dungeons, vikings, sailing ships, Kon Tiki, trawlers… you get the idea.

A handful of theme pubs still exist. The Sherlock Holmes on Northumberland Avenue in London is one we’ve visited and it’s not so bad, the Victorian theme happening to overlap quite nicely with what we’d expect of any pub. Penzance has a couple of very ‘piratey’ pubs, as it happens. There are also plenty of international Irish, Australian and German pubs.

Other than these odd freaks, though, the theme pub didn’t really have legs. They were presumably expensive to fit out, each requiring unique design work, and at the mercy of changes in fashion. (The Roaring Twenties are out and the publican is stuck with an oil painting of Al Capone.) At some point, they were given the heave-ho, and the theme for most pubs became ‘pubbiness’: brown wood, sepia-toned prints, ‘useless shelves’ and Victoriana, even in buildings less than thirty years old.

But… is ‘craft beer’ a kind of theme?

Picture by Matt from London, via Flickr Creative Commons.

Imperial stout and Sherlock Holmes

A poster for Mann's starring Sherlock HolmesWe were feeling a little fragile on Friday night after heavy weeks at work and decided to spend the evening in with a game of Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective and a couple of suitably Victorian gothic beers.

Marble Decadence (8.7%) was pleasing in every way; large gulps were a mindblowing treat for the senses, but delicate sipping worked too, giving us chance to enjoy the  chocolate, vanilla, cherry and raisin flavours which emerged in the mouth one after another over the course of several minutes. A bit of a Heston Blumenthal beer, this one — there’s surely some alchemy at work in its brewing.

Brodie’s Romanov Empress Stout was a freebie and even heavier at a whopping 12.1%. It gave Boak an instant headache (lots of alcohol, lots of sugar) but Bailey enjoyed the almost chewy texture and complex, Harvey’s-like sourness and hints of coal-tar. Enthusiastic conditioning meant that the carpet enjoyed most of it, sadly, but then a full 500ml would have probably done for us.

We solved the case fairly easily. The lion tamer’s brother did it.