For people who care about their food

What makes the ideal pub?

Tough one to answer, this – there are so many different considerations that go into the ideal pub.

Some might argue that the whole question is flawed, in the same way that choosing a favourite album of all time is – your preferences change according to your mood. But here are a few of the criteria that surely have to form part of the mix.

Drink

What’s your fancy? Many drinkers are fiercely loyal to a particular brew and don’t care what else is on offer as long as their usual is up there at the bar. Others like to have a choice to suit their mood.

Personally, I like brew pubs – where the ale is brewed on the premises, usually in up to half-a-dozen different varieties, often with seasonal variants like a winter warmer or a summer brew. The Greyhound in Streatham used to be a nice one in the early Nineties, as were the Bruce’s Brewery chain of Firkin pubs.

What really puts me off? Pubs where there’s nothing hand-pulled available. (OK, if there’s Guinness or Murphy’s then I’ll drink those, but I’d rather do it out of choice than because there’s nothing else to choose from. John Smith’s Extra Smooth doesn’t do anything for me.)

Food

This is maybe something of an optional extra. You go to a pub to drink, don’t you?

Well, yes and no. It’s nice to have a salty snack or two to encourage your thirst. Tayto crisps are great!

Pub meals can be wonderful if you’re in the mood for them. Some of the nicest meals Not Delia and I have eaten have been in pubs – the Red Lion in Minehead does a great dinner, though as we were at a CAMRA festival at the time we don’t actually remember exactly what it was we ate there…

But if they’re going to do food, they should do it properly. Curly sandwiches are out, as are flabby sausage rolls and pies with boingy steak. Don’t even speak to me about frozen chips.

Ambience and Décor

This is the one which most varies with mood. Sometimes it’s nice to go into a busy place where the chat’s buzzing – though not if it’s so loud that you can’t hear yourself think! Other times you might prefer a quiet lounge in a country pub where you can sit quietly and read your paper over a ploughman’s and a pint.

The only absolute no-nos for me are the sterile places with cheap Formica furniture, bleak lighting and no atmosphere. (Sterile in terms of furniture and architecture, that is. You certainly couldn’t eat your dinner off their floors.)

Music

Tricky one. A juke box can be a great addition, but only if it fits in with the rest of the pub’s ambience. There was a good one in the Hole In The Wall opposite London’s Waterloo Station. But that was a favourite place for a few pints after work but before going home. You wouldn’t want one in a country pub, would you?

Live music is good – if you’re in the mood for it and the performers can really play/sing. I’ve heard some right shockers in my time. And karaoke is right out.

Games/slot machines

Darts, cribbage and dominoes are part of the pub culture for many people. On the other hand, some like pool, quiz machines and fruit machines.

I’m happy enough with the first three. The rest, OK if they’re in another room which I can nip into if the fancy takes me – otherwise, no thanks.

Anything I’ve missed?

4 Responses to “What makes the ideal pub?”

  1. gozomark

    My dream pub

    First of all its got to be a pub, and not a bar. By that I mean its got to be somewhere relaxing, with armchairs and not bar stools, and a big real fire, with a couple of dogs taking the best spot in front of the fire. When you walk in for the first time, it must feel welcoming, and the first thing you see is a range of handpumps. 6 is about ideal – more than that, and maybe they won’t be in perfect condition. 3 of those would be your favourite beers (Fullers ESB, Sarah Hughes dark ruby mild Adnams Broadside seeing as you are asking). No lager, unless its a real lager. No cider, unless its real cider. Behind the bar there should be fridges with about 50 different Belgian and German beers, and each needs its proper glass.

  2. Mr Not Delia

    Love the sound of that, Mark! I’d be a regular for sure.

    As far as the Belgian and German beers go, that reminds me of a place called the Beer Circus in South Croydon that Not Delia and I visited in 2005 – it had something like that number of beers, and with the glasses to match. Much more of a continental bar than a pub, with tables and stools rather than armchairs – but we were enjoying the beer so much we weren’t that bothered. Sadly, I think it’s closed now.

    [PS – it has closed, but apparently reopened as a lounge bar called the Half and Half, according to Beer In The Evening]

  3. tony

    I like pubs that have separate rooms especially when those rooms have a slightly different atmosphere and even a different clientele. I am thinking in particular of the Cemetery Hotel in Rochdale which as well as the green and red rooms has a dedicated games room with darts and pool for those who want it, sandwiches and various Lancashire delicacies available including the famous Lancashire Foot, and, most importantly, at least five excellently kept real ales, two of which are usually locally sourced from the Pictish and Phoenix breweries. In the mid-1980s, when Boddingtons was still a good drink, indeed the best beer in the country at the time, I took Mr ND there for a pint and he looked like all his Christmases had come at once as soon as he tasted it. Fine, well-kept, locally sourced ale, basic and sustaining food, ideally salty, a convivial atmosphere, then off down the road at ten to three to see the Dale continue their quest for league one. What could be better?

  4. Mr Not Delia

    I can think of one thing that could have been better – not having to limit what I was drinking because I was driving us back down to Birmingham…

    Seriously, the Cemetery is great. Tony knows his pubs. Have a look at his personal Top Ten of Dublin’s pubs – it’s a great read.

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