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.
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.)
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.)
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.
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?