Before I begin proper, perhaps it is prudent to spend a moment discussing places no proud considered drinker should ever be seen.
First to be debarred for our purposes are those common, almost aggressively average food orientated chain pubs which seem to litter the land. These oft identify themselves for you, and are loosely anywhere which would use a combination of the following words: ‘family eating houses’, ‘2 for 1’, ‘Sunday carvery’, ‘sizzling’, ‘country dining’, ‘grill’ or ‘OAP Menu’. These mangled attempts at traditional pub hospitality are a concept dreamt up by the fevered imagination of a PR firm in the heat of 1979, yet they scandalously continue to inflict themselves on the unsuspecting general public. Their vile over-lit neon glow, their stained swirly carpets and ubiquitous presence of horse brasses, paintings of rural idylls and corporately ordained ‘quirky’ artefacts nailed to the walls, should be enough to bring the bile to the throat of any enlightened individual. If not, then stay awhile to partake in their unkempt tasteless ale, their mass produced imitation lagers and their vast plates of deep fried beige food presented by disinterested staff, who would be better suited to a career in resold debt collection.
Never should any disciple of civility enter these places, there is nothing here for people such as us. A proper pub, befitting the title of an ‘all-rounder’ or even a good gastro-pub, should be able to cater for the needs of the hungry, the family inclined and the thirsty, without allowing either party to encroach upon or undermine the other. Indeed I know of many fine examples of good and imaginative landlords operating within an adaptable and well planned space, catering for all comers; no one should ever again have to suffer in a noisy overblown licensed crèche with pretensions of adequacy.
Also on the black list are the ever growing parade of overweening, second rate, pompous eating houses which have been forcefully imposed upon countless once perfectly adequate pubs. I deliberately avoid the word ‘gastro-pub’ here. A good gastro-pub is a fine thing, defined as somewhere which is primarily known for its excellent food offering, but which is still retains a good, lively wet trade in a decent and well presented bar area. What is objectionable though, is when a pub severs its connections to its own earthly existence, spiralling off into a hateful netherworld of bourgeois mediocrity. Greyscale paintwork, stripped brick walls, stainless steel, Gerbers and a new ‘quirky’ name are the order of the day, as a once welcoming local is painfully augmented into a dreadful highbred somewhere between high-end restaurant and clumsy continental café - a single lonely handpull left ironically on the bar. ‘This used to be a right grotty little dive’, you hear their hateful yuppie patronage spout as they devour mean little platefuls of deliberately incomprehensible food - all reassuringly expensive, of course. These places represent the worst excess of creeping middle-class social cleansing occurring across our land, taking such an inclusive and egalitarian institution as the British pub and usurping it into a restricted and select refectory for the status conscious nouveau-riche. It makes my stomach turn.
Finally on list of avoidance, at the other end of the spectrum, are those yobby little hell holes found in the hopelessly deprived areas of our country. Such taverns were once the mainstay of so many an honest working man’s way of life, but have since become the preserve of the leary unemployable sons of better fathers, drenched in pissy lager, football played on a continuous loop and an ear-splitting jukebox to preclude any attempt conversation. This is, by no means, to say all working class rough pubs are included in this category - far from it. Indeed, some of the very best pubs this correspondent has ever had the pleasure of discovering have been proper ‘spit and sawdust’ affairs in the rough end of town, often causing sharp intakes of breath when their names are mentioned among more prudish company; ‘Oh, you don’t go in there, do you?’ The pubs debarred for our purposes are those where the old guard of real pub people have been driven out by the loutish and idiotic - people uninitiated in correct and traditional pub etiquette - enforcing a banishment of decent ale, good conversation and wider social cohesion. These places are the playgrounds of overgrown children with a pint clasped in their hand, and although the huge discrepancy in mass produced lager prices by supermarkets has done a great deal to whittle their numbers down, they should still be avoided if accidently stumbled upon.
Like all the pubs mentioned in this section though, they are basically too much of one particular thing - too foody, too rich, too yobbish...or just plain crap. Balance between all and for all is the key to running a truly inspirational pub, along with a good landlord and plenty of hard work, and when such a good pub is found it must be supported and cherished by those who understand and appreciate such things.