Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - April 2003

* The Not So Good Pub Guide *

The alternative guides that would lead you to some truly memorable drinking experiences

I was leafing through a new pub guide that, while very good in its way, struck me by its remorselessly positive nature. All those wide ranges of guest beers, varied menus of imaginative home-made food, cosy and comfortable interiors that have been opened out a little and warm welcomes for children if dining became a touch cloying after a while. But often the pub visits that stick in the mind do so for completely different reasons. So here are a few ideas for alternative pub guides that might lead you to somewhere a little less predictable.

  1. The Quiet Pint - pubs with no piped music. Hang on, that’s been done already in real life. Only problem is, if you’re not careful it ends up as a long list of Wetherspoons. But a total absence of piped music is often a sign of quality in independently run pubs.
  2. Grown-Up Pubs - where an over-18s only rule is strictly enforced, and screaming babies and toddlers running around in circles won’t get in the way of adults having a quiet drink and possibly a relaxing meal. There might be some serious possibilities in this one too.
  3. Pubs for Drinkers - there’s nothing to eat apart from crisps and nuts, so you can enjoy a few pints and a chat in an environment free of the rattle of cutlery and the smell of chip-fat. The country pubs section contains some especially interesting establishments
  4. Pub Pets of Character - here you can find the pubs that still have a goldfish tank in the corner of the lounge. Special sections for elderly, obese, asthmatic labradors and bad-tempered cats that park themselves on the best seat near the fire, give you a vicious scratch if you come anywhere near and promptly go back to sleep again
  5. The Grumpy Landlord Guide - modern customer care skills can go hang - here are the people who still treat pubs as their own private fiefdom where customers are at best grudgingly tolerated and choice insults abound
  6. Classic Pubs of the 50s and 60s - modernist architecture is now at the nadir of its popularity, and these highly distinctive designs are deeply unfashionable and an endangered species. Enjoy them now before they’re swept away by fake Victorian tat or turned into drive-thru McDonalds
  7. Pubs for Collectors - the prized displays of foreign bank notes, matchbox labels and porcelain figurines assembled by old-school landlords have largely disappeared in favour of “books by the yard”, but they can still be found it you know where to look
  8. Britain’s Best Outside Toilets - once a classic feature of the pub experience, especially in midwinter, but now increasingly falling victim to the nesh modern trend for warmth and comfort
  9. Pubs for Pensioners - where nobody is ever seen drinking straight from the bottle or wearing a baseball cap the wrong way round, and you’ll feel at home if you want to discuss how you never had to lock your door back in the 1950s and why they ought to bring back National Service
  10. Real Pub Snacks - forget your Walkers crisps and KP nuts, here you can get such traditional delicacies as pickled eggs, three-day old meat pies in a glass case at the end of the bar, and genuine pork scratchings with hairs still attached
Somehow I can’t see many of these ideas getting to the publishing stage - but they certainly might lead you to some fascinating drinking experiences.

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