Sunday, 18 July 2010

Q: When is a good pub not a good pub?

When you’re delivering beer in Cumbria there is plenty of time to think, and plenty of time for regrets. Yesterday (a relatively quiet day) we visited around a dozen hostelries, all of them ‘good’ pubs. That’s where the regret comes in – I’d love to stay on at many of them, and roll out into the evening air for a short stroll home rather than a 50 mile drive.

That started me thinking. What makes a good pub, a good pub? I’ll give you two examples to chew over.

One of my clients took over a pub which was always regarded as ‘good’ but which failed to make any money. It kept a good stock of beer and it managed not to provide any of the following …

  • Wide screen TV
  • Screeching children in ‘play areas’
  • Loud music
  • Plastic food

But it was never full. It was never cosy. And no-one seen drinking in there appeared to be having a good time.

Fast-forward 18 months, and it’s a different story. There’s still a goodly range of real ales, but now there is also a roaring fire. A small TV offers the opportunity to catch up on the news but doesn’t attract crowds of soccer fans. Children are evident playing in the garden, but don’t screech. Soft music plays in the background. The food on offer is reasonably priced and attractively presented, and best of all, it’s packed and everyone there seems to be enjoying themselves.

Meanwhile, in another part of the county, a client is trying his best to get into the 2011 Good Beer Guide. Rightly or wrongly, he has decided that this means he should have a constantly changing variety of real ales on his four hand pumps. His pub is also attractively and cosily furnished, after a recent refit, and it’s always busy with people who appear to be enjoying themselves. But after a period of intensive and wholly unscientific study (sitting at the bar for several hours one Saturday), I decided that his could never be considered a ‘good pub’.

For one thing, his wet/dry split is something like 10/90%, with the floor space in the ‘pub’ being allocated accordingly. On entry you’re greeted by a waitress, not a barman, and the massive chalkboards advertise not the brilliant beer but the (admittedly tasty and reasonably priced) meals on offer.

And it gets worse. At least half of the punters were drinking shorts and wine. No bad thing. But of the remainder, most were into fizz, and weren’t drinking a lot, to allow room for their three-course meal. In a three hour session, he must have sold around five pints of real ale, from the four on offer. So instead of having a good range of different beers on tap, he had four slow sellers, tired and unappealing, warm because they had stood in the lines, and altogether not likely to get him into any good beer guide. Yet they were excellent beers! (one of mine, a Hawkshead, a Coniston and a Yates).

Hmm. Not a good pub, then. So how come it’s in the 2010 Good Pub Guide?

Here’s my opinion on what makes a good pub.

  • it’s warm and clean
  • there are plenty of interesting things to drink and reasonably priced nibbles on offer
  • whoever is behind the bar is prepared to converse, not just rant
  • there’s nothing outlandish screaming loudly in my ears (I would also ban all folk music and anything by Morrisey but that’s just personal)
  • the loos are well stocked with soap and toilet paper
  • You don’t feel out of place if you’re not eating, and there’s somewhere to sit at a table without moving the pepper and salt
And, of course, they sell my beer. Or want to.


  1. Spot on definition of a good pub. On the guy with the 10/90 split, if you want to open a restaurant then do so, rather than dashing expectations by calling it a pub.