Thursday, 27 October 2016
Finding the Perfect British Pub
The Moon Under Water - An Update
I don't cover pubs enough on The Tweed Pig. I love a good pub. If the balance of offerings and ambience is right, what finer way is there to spend time with friends? Coffee shops and tea rooms are fine, but a good pub is best.
George Orwell considered the perfect pub in The Moon under Water, a 1946 essay published in the Evening Standard. In his essay (full deets here) he lays out his criteria for an ideal public house.
Let's consider his thoughts and see if they still represent the ideal pub.
George thought that the interior of the ideal pub should be Victorian, though he was specifically referring to London pubs.
My interpretation would be that the interior of the pub should have some grounding in the history of the building, which may be multi-layered, and its time as a public house. You should get a sense of place.
George wanted games such as darts and skittles restricted to the public bar. I would say that it's a pity we don't see enough dartboards in pubs nowadays, and the tendency to make pubs more open plan may have played a part. Where's the next Phil Taylor going to come from?
George didn't like added noise, so no piano or radio. Personally, I think a well edited playlist of music at a subtle volume can add to the ambience of a place, though we shouldn't have to talk over it.
The bar-staff should make an effort to get to know your name and your preferences, and make you feel at home. Essential, and I think this kind of personal service has fallen by the wayside a bit now that pubs are less family-run and more likely to be staffed by students working a few hours a week.
George believed that the pub should have a ready supply of those essentials you tend to run out of: tobacco, aspirins and stamps. Now we can't smoke in British pubs (the cafés of Vienna are still holding out on a ban), tobacco is fairly moot; but it's a great idea for pubs to stock stamps and the like so you don't need to seek out a corner shop after a sociable half (dozen).
George wanted a snack counter in his perfect pub where snacks such as sandwiches, mussels and cheese and pickle were available; and an upstairs room for roast lunch and good stodgy puddings.
Bar snacks are still important, but I don't think enough consideration is given over to them. Pubs should have wonderfully presented snack options sitting on the counter like the tapas bars in Spain or the wonderful bàcari in Venice — serving delicious hot and cold snacks to soak up the booze throughout the day.
Having a dining room set away from the serious drinkers is a good idea, and it's always good to have the option in a pub to have a proper sit down meal in a less formal setting than a restaurant. The balance is fine: concentrate too heavily on the food and do you cease to become a pub? One for the philosophers.
George enjoyed a pewter pot for his stout, but recommended china for beer. I'd like to try a china beer mug, though I'm a big fan of the dimpled glass mug. Neither of us are keen on the straight glass. Orwell: '[Never] make the mistake of serving a pint of beer in a handleless glass.'
George might get into trouble now by suggesting that beer gardens were good for families, because 'it allows whole families to go [to the pub] instead of Mum having to stay at home and mind the baby while Dad goes out alone.'
I think a well-tended and nicely planted beer garden, somewhere to stir a jug of Pimms, can really be a draw in summer. A tarmac yard with a couple of benches does not make a beer garden.
How does your own local fare? Does it fulfil your own criteria? Do you feel comfortable and welcomed? If you think we would too, let us know.
The Lord Poulett Arms — Perfect?
I was reminded of George Orwell's criteria on a visit to The Lord Poulett Arms in the delightful village of Hinton St George in God's own Somerset. They'll be celebrating Punkie Night in the village this Thursday.
Serving the village since 1680, it has been described as 'a pub that dreams are made of', and I really do think it might have it all.
It is a beautifully preserved building inside and out — no hideous 'improvements' like uPVC windows and the like (Why aren't councils tougher on this kind of thing?) — and has a lovely enclosed beer garden with a space to play boules. You can play skittles near the bar, but there are also rooms away from the bar if you wish to be more private. You can enjoy ale poured straight from the barrel and good wine. The pub is well lit, with candles in the evening, and there are open fires in winter. You can order bar snacks and reserve a table for lunch or dinner. You can even book a room if you've overindulged somewhat —and there's a defibrillator in the phone box on the other side of the street if you really have overdone it.
You should wear your best tweeds to this venue to complete the picture.
Everything about the pub feels right. If George Orwell were alive today, I'd invite him for a drink, fully expecting him to agree — though he would have to bring his own china mug for the beer.