Occasionally, and most often just after I’ve posted one of my more scathing reviews, I am asked ‘what does actually make the perfect pub?’. Sadly I fear that such a place does not exist or if it ever did has long ago closed down and been converted into a Tesco Metro. Many pubs however do come close and even the lowliest dive often exhibits at least one redeeming quality which elevates it slightly above a bus station on a list of preferred drinking venues. So here is what I see as being the crucial set of elements along with the pubs I feel exhibit them best and the ones which are doing them abysmally.
The Recipe for the Perfect Pub
Obviously a pub can’t pick it’s location or move if it’s somewhere horrible. However being in a great spot can be the difference between being an utter hole and being a place you go for the view whilst ignoring the fact you’re in an utter hole. A lot of this is to do with personal preference but I’d regard a pub as being in a great spot if it provides something to gaze at wistfully whilst you sup. For London I think this is easily narrowed down to skyline views, riverside pubs and people watching spots – if you have one of these you’re onto a winner.
Best Example – The Mayflower – Views over the river, sun until late, gaze back towards the city. Best spot in London.
Worst Example – The Cats Back – Wedged in between new build flats this pub might as well be in Mordor for all its location charm.
Whilst it isn’t essential that a pub has all the beer options you could reasonably expect anywhere decent have a choice other than lager beer or John Smiths. It is important that the pub has these guest ales on a rotation for it to edge towards perfect. It also goes without saying that a gentleman likes a well maintained set of pipes behind each pump.
Best Example – The Euston Tap – Mind boggling choice of beers guaranteed to induce awe.
Worst Example – Any Sam Smiths pub – As much as I adore them they fall flat on their well priced faces where choice & variety of beer is concerned.
There are two extremes of seating. ‘Rustic’ seating whereby the decorator has opted to upcycle really old bar stools/bits of wrought iron and thus creating a series of torture implements. Alternatively ‘Extreme Comfort’ seating which is characterised by sofas which are unfeasibly large and suck you into their ample depths to the point you’re about half a kilometre from your chums and require you to lurch forward awkwardly to reclaim a pint you’ve foolishly left on the nearby coffee table. The ideal rests neatly between the two, we don’t want haemorrhoids but nor do we want to have to shout at each other across a chasm.
Best Example – The Crown – Technically not a pub but seating options in abundance.
Worst Example – The George and Dragon – Lacking anywhere to sit that wont end up hurting.
Music should almost be unnoticeable in the right pub. Deathly silence can be awkward and oppressive. However you don’t want to be subjected to loud and/or crap tunes either. Having your ears occasionally pick up on a tune you do like is getting it spot on here. The ultimate nightmatre is a pub with a ‘pick the tune’ modern jukebox which will either be blasting out songs chosen by morons or the least played and probably worst songs in its collection hoping that you cant stand it any longer and feed it a few quid.
Best Example – The Camel – Pitch perfect.
Worst Example – The Porterhouse – ‘It’s a bit loud in here’. ‘WHAT?’. ‘I SAID IT’S A BIT LOUD IN HERE’. ‘OH. LAST TUESDAY’. ‘Nevermind’
Pork scratchings, sausage rolls, scampi fries, Sunday roast, burger, chips, pizza and the humble crisp are all things you can comfortably expect from a decent pub. Forays into Heston Blumenthal style food twattery or obscene over pricing are more offensive than a distinct lack of food and there are so many offenders on that list it almost deserves an article on its own. Keep it simple, homely and classic for a sure fire win. If you price anything purchasable in Greggs at over two pounds then you’re also doing it wrong and need a dry slap.
Best Example – The Crown and Shuttle – Great menu and bloody well priced. It has some competition but this just gets the prize.
Best Example – Newmans Arms – Never seen one in here.
Worst Example – Royal Inn On The Park – Infested with them.
The ultimate tightrope walk. Less is often more but then well picked eclectic clutter can itself be utter pub magic. Many a pub has leant too heavily on a theme like ‘ironic bumper stickers’ or ‘The War’ and ended up looking like a weird museum. Others have committed more serious crimes such as deploying bookcase wallpaper or asking a team from ‘Bargain hunt’ to pick all the ornaments.
Best Example – The Cross Keys – Two pints worth of weird things nailed to the wall.
Worst Example – The Old George – Terrible, dirty and occasionally a bit creepy.
This makes or breaks vast swathes of pubs. A nice pint served up by someone who looks like their kids are being held hostage somewhere can really put a dampener on the whole affair. Likewise a chirpy and upbeat barperson can alter your perspective of a pub entirely (careful not to overdo it though. I want a pint and at most a bit of banter not your opinions on Downton Abbey). Annoy me and I will certainly not return. Charm me and I’ll keep coming back indefinitely.
Best Example – The Star of Bethnal Green – Textbook.
Worst Example – The Exeter Arms – Inexplicable.
You’ve either got it or you ain’t but if you ain’t please don’t try and bodge it. It is deeply satisfying having a pint imagining that Samuel Pepys or Shakespeare or some other dead person may have done the same in centuries past but it’s not exactly something I’d seek out. Some pubs benches just havn’t been graced by any famous posteriors and that’s fine. Shouting loud that Churchills great aunt once stopped in for a quick half is embarrassing so stop it. London is spoilt for pubs with heritage both glittering and murky so I’ve picked my favorite.
Best Example – The Star Tavern – Drenched in history.
Worst Example – The Captain Kidd – Dripping with nonsense.
I honestly beleive that the perfect pub is out there somewhere and is just waiting to be found and it falls to me then to continue looking. Like a 21st century Indiana Jones on a slightly hazy quest to find the Holy Grail of boozers. This is my mission and I shall not falter even if I do fall over a bar stool now and again. I’ll shout it from the rooftops when I find it but for now you’ll have to be content with slightly disgruntled reviews about less perfect pubs.