Wednesday, 7 June 2017

What makes a good pub?

I’ve been in some really fantastic and often totally amazing pubs, bars and beer halls,  over the course of 44 years drinking; both at home and abroad (and that’s not counting the few years before I reached the legal age for consuming alcohol on licensed premises).

Equally I’ve also been in many more mediocre ones which, whilst meeting a few essential requirements, are pubs I can either take or leave. Then there are other outlets which having experienced once, I would never wish to set foot in again.

It’s perhaps easier to define what makes a bad pub, but a lot harder to come up with what makes a good pub; or even a great pub? The question is still worth asking even though it is seldom answered to the satisfaction of everyone. This is almost certainly because there are so many different possible answers, and for this reason alone, I would be hard pushed to write out a definitive list of my all time favourites.

So let us look more closely at this and see if we can come up with things which are essential and things which are desirable. There are some which most pub lovers would agree on, but equally there are others which divide opinion.
For beer lovers the quality, range or sometimes rarity of the brew(s) stocked plays an important and often essential part. Then for lovers of buildings, and fans of architecture in general, the design, layout, history and makeup of the pub itself make an equally important contribution. The people who frequent the pub (customers) are also an important factor; as who and what they are play a key role in determining the type of pub, its atmosphere and ambience.

The contribution of the people who run the pub; from the licensee down to the people either behind the bar or beavering away, out of the public eye, in the kitchen, or sometimes down the cellar, also play a vital role in determining what is a great pub, or just a mediocre one.

There are obviously pubs to suit different occasions, moods or social requirements; be they a place for thirsty and foot sore ramblers to stop off on a hot summers day, whilst in the middle of a country walk, or the same pub, on a crisp, but bitingly cold winter’s day, when there’s a welcoming log fire roaring away in the grate.

Then there are the town pubs, full of cool hip people offering a range of the latest “craft beers”, or alternatively traditional back street locals, with just a couple of good locally brewed ales on tap. On top of this there are the more upmarket pubs offering a fine dining experience, but of equal value how about somewhere more basic? A pub with tasty, value for money, genuine home-cooked food pub, rather than something bought in from the local chilled food distributor, and then re-heated in the microwave.

And then for sports’ lovers there are pubs showing the latest football, rugby or cricket tournaments.
Other pubs function as real community locals, holding quiz evenings, barbecues, fancy dress evenings and often fund-raising activities.

We all have our own ideas as to what makes a good pub, and ultimately it depends on exactly what people are looking for. It would be good to hear other people's views on this, so if anyone would like to add to the debate, please feel free to add you comments.


Curmudgeon said...

It's important to remember that "a good pub" and "a pub I like" aren't necessarily the same thing, although there will be a large overlap.

I'd say the key characteristics of a good pub are that it knows exactly what it's setting out to do, it doesn't make people feel unwelcome and it demonstrates attention to detail.

Some years ago, I wrote a piece on Curmudgeon's Ideal Pub although, as I said, "I suspect you'd find you did all these worthy things and no bugger would turn up!"

In terms of ticking boxes across the spectrum, probably the best pub I've ever been in is the Black Horse at Clapton-in-Gordano in Somerset.

Anonymous said...

I find it impossible to write the components down. As with great music, you just know. The Queen's Arms in Cowden Pound felt like a great pub as soon as I walked through the door !

Paul Bailey said...

The post was intended really as a bit of fun, particularly as the question of “What makes a good pub?” is so subjective and also deeply personal.

Curmudgeon probably comes closest in trying to “nutshell it”, with his second paragraph, but I think you are also correct Martin, when you say that sometimes you just know when you when you are entering a good one; even if you can’t always identify the components on paper, let alone put your finger on it.

Looking back on over 40 years of pub-going, I could probably identify quite a few pubs which, at the time, seemed the best ever, but on reflection was it more the occasion, the company I was with, the time of year plus a host of other factors, which made me feel that way, or was it genuinely the pub itself?

Pubs obviously change over the years, and so do we as people, and sometimes when re-visiting what you once may have thought an absolute classic, you are strangely disappointed; even if the pub hasn’t changed.

I am also firmly of the opinion that there are pubs to suit different occasions, different moods and different locations. For this, plus the other reasons outlined above, the perfect pub does not exist, because even if you managed to find it, you would always be on the lookout for something “better”.

Dave said...

Paul, love your comment even more than the post. Lot of truth there.