Friday 24 April 2009

Don't do down pubs

Most people would agree that the general concept of the British pub is good. Yes, OK, there are some bad examples, but there are many diverse forms of the animal. Indeed, I have a strong conviction that it is this diversity that makes them so interesting. We are of course worried that all is not well in the industry and many pubs are closing. I become more and more convinced that this is an inevitable situation. But it seems to me that the ones that are being innovative, the ones that are being progressive about the situation come in for the fiercest criticisms.

With the difficulties that face the pub industry it might be nice if we all, as a nation, supported the concept of the pub. A collective celebration of all that is good with the British pub might just be the tonic we need. Picking out the fact that we have many varied types and not only that, perhaps congratulating the people who run and work in them for the excellent job they do.

From the back street spit and sawdust boozer to the plush upmarket bar, through the rustic country pub doing it's traditional fare for the weary passer by to the foodie destination pub that might be daring close to the restaurant trade. Even that cavernous chain that has found a place in nearly every town centre selling reasonable real ale at fiercely competitive prices has it's place in the menagerie of the pub animals. Surely we love them all?

It would seem not. Most of the press and Internet is littered with comments about pubs being either dumps or too swanky (miss off the 's' if you like) or the pub that trots out unimaginative traditional zip and ping or the up it's own posterior gastro pub that has no right to be so busy I can't get a table for a drink. It seems we don't like pubs after all.

I found an article called "why gastro pubs are gastro flops" on the Guardian web site. It's very one sided and unimaginative. The same old slag of the gastro cliche. It's an easy bit of journalism to write. So what if some pubs are virtually restaurants? If they could survive as pubs they wouldn't need to go all gastro. Why can't we just love our pubs in all their various forms?

We can't be that fickle can we? What makes the perfect pub? One that isn't too slummy, but not too posh, food is traditional, but has to have a bit of flair and imagination. A large selection of ales seems essential but woe be tied the pub if the through put is low and any are below scratch. A confusing set of criteria for any publican to get right.

I can't help feeling that the negative reporting of individual pubs is having a negative effect on pubs overall. The general condemnation of moving with the times is pulling us back in time. Everybody seems to be at it. It's no wonder more and more people are going to restaurants these days and turning their backs on the pub if all they ever read about regarding pubs is bad.

So come on, lets tell the world just how good British pubs are. Lets find the positives in every single one. They all have their good points. Lets talk the British pub back into life instead of talking it out of existence.


The Beer Nut said...

woe be tiedBest British pub punnage ever. *Hat tip*

Ed said...

Isn't it a bit like asking people to stop complaning about the weather? Whinging about pubs is a British pass time.

Curmudgeon said...

A problem here is that pubs cover the entire social scale so you will inevitably get the typical British snobbish feelings both upwards and downwards.

The article you link to is certainly distinctly snobbish, although I agree with the author about the prevalence of the undercooked fat chip.

I though this article from The Publican by Mark Daniels was a good antidote about the realities of offering food in mainstream pubs.

Jeff Pickthall said...

The other day a relative informed that it was a scandal that so many pubs were closing.

Requiring great self control, I refrained from telling her that someone who goes to the pub about once a month to do a quiz and drinks 1/2 a coke while she's at it should STFU about the subject.

John West said...

I think you're being a bit unfair to that Guardian journalist.

The headline is indeed crap, but he won't have written it - that'll be the sub.

In fact he does just what you say, celebrating a diverse range of provision and mentioning examples of ones he likes.

He just thinks most pubs serve bad food. And he's right.

Curmudgeon said...

Jesusjohn - but the tone of the article is that "most pubs are crap" which is hardly the most productive stance to take if you want to promote pubs as a species.

Likewise those people who say "most cask beer is crap" put people off drinking it full stop.

I'm not saying that we should have an unrealistic, rose-tinted view of pubs, but they should be celebrated warts and all.

Unknown said...

Good discussion. I'd like to engage more but I'm too busy cutting chunky chips. OK, that's a lie, but the chip is worth a post all by itself.

Thanks Beer Nut, although to be honest it happened by accident. (but takes a bow anyway)

Ed, perhaps you're right, it'a a British pass time to whinge.

Curmudgeon, snobbery is the problem, as you say in both directions.

Thanks for the link, which mentions boil in the bag. Known by proper chefs as Sous-vide it is in no way considered a down market method if used correctly. The article is indeed a very good one. Again, sous-vide might be worth a mention in an other post as I use it extensively. However, I'd have to shoot you all after telling you about my best secret weapon.

Jeff, you seem to be getting very restrained these days. Don't become a lamb now will you.

JJ, being a food snob I really do agree about the quality of pub grub, but most pubs are simply playing to their customer base as best they can.

Paul Garrard said...

First up, pretentions do not a gastro pub-make; if it serves quality food then it’s a gastro-pub if not then it isn’t. In my opinion the art of gastronomy is to reach a certain level of accomplishment and not to wear a label!

I’m all for not doing pubs down although if the quality of service or fare is poor, or the establishment is dirty then I think people have every right to be critical. What is wrong is to criticise the ‘style’ and the market that it caters for. From pleb to toffee-nosed twat the pub going public is a diverse range of individuals and pubs need to reflect and cater for that. The differences should be celebrated.

The British pub is truly an asset and something to shout about, although we should never be afraid to voice constructive criticism on matters of quality.

On a critical note I’ve never had a decent bread and butter pudding in a pub. They are at their worst when separately served with custard. A good B&B pudding should be a standalone moist affair that certainly shouldn’t require the addition of custard or cream (or God forbid ice-cream).

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

Speaking as a Dumb Yank Foreigner, pubs, along with footpaths and real ale, are the principal reasons I visit. I guess if you grow up surrounded by them, it's easy to grow fussy and/or jaded, but you have such a valuable cultural institution that we simply do not have over here. I've been in literally hundreds of pubs, and even in the one's for which I might utter a complaint or two, I always remind myself that the pub simply exists. And that's a good thing.

Unknown said...

Paul, of course it's complaints relating to style and the effects are my gripe. Especially if that style results in some sort of success as is often the case.

BUL180, the key is the fact that a pub exists in whatever form, for which I'm asking for a rejoice.