The perfect pub

George Orwell wrote an essay in which he describes the merits of his favourite pub, the Moon Under Water. As you might expect from Orwell, these are very particular, so particular in fact that he had to invent a fictional venue; the Moon Under Water did not exist. It does now of course. It’s in Soho and looks like the sort of place to avoid. I am far less choosy when it comes to having a drink.  This is what I look for in the perfect pub:

1) Real ale. The main reason I go to a pub is for proper English beer. I don’t mind if they only have one beer on as long as it is in good condition. I’d prefer a well-kept pint of London Pride to an exciting selection of badly-kept beers. Keeping real ale is a skill which takes time and care to master. It is not something that musicians ‘resting’ between gigs should entrusted with. This is the main reason why it is difficult to find good beer in Camden town.

2) A proper landlord/lady. This follows on from my first point; it’s good to know that someone is in charge who cares about the beer and knows the customers.

3) A mix of people. When I go to the pub, I don’t want to be surrounded by people like me. I want to see grizzled old geezers, overweight skinheads who love their mums and a betting shop lothario giving racing tips to a barmaid with the slutty laugh. Any potential trouble will be swiftly dealt with by the landlord.

4) Food is not a priority. I think it’s a shame when an old boozer closes down and turns into a restaurant but without table clothes. I’d like some nice sandwiches and maybe a pie but nothing lavish.

5) Drinks other than beer. I never drink wine in pubs. I do, however, like to see some decent ciders, Aspall’s or Addlestone’s, on draught and some malt whiskies for when I’m feeling expansive.

That is it. I’m not very keen on sport but I can normally blot it out. Same with loud music. It would be nice if the interior was a perfectly-preserved Victorian gin palace but I’m happy in a pub where the seats have been repaired with gaffer tape.

Here are a few places that I like:

The Red Lion – Little Missenden, Bucks. A proper country pub that has not been tarted-up and does simple home-cooked food. Mainly frequented by dog walkers and my father but there is also a lively clique of gangster builders who turn up in 4x4s resplendent in their plus fours.

The Hare – Bethnal Green, London. The landlord is ex-Young’s brewery in Wandsworth so the beer, Landlord, Green King IPA and one guest, is always tip top. A bit too much football to be perfect but a great atmosphere. They closed a few years ago for refurbishment and put a sign up saying ‘don’t worry, we haven’t gone bistro.’ When the place reopened, the only discernible change was that they had moved the bar back a couple of feet.

The King and Queen – Fitzrovia, London. Well-kept Cornish beers, Doom Bar and Tribute, and lethally strong salt and vinegar crisps. The interior looks like it has not been touched since the early 60s.

The Marble Arch – Manchester. Not only a  haven for real ale bores, a group to which I am proud to be a member, but also a lively place for a night out. Good food too.

and an example of how to ruin a good pub:

The King’s Arms – Amersham. It makes me furious what they did to this place. It’s a 16th century coaching inn with lots of low interior beams. It used to have an uneven tiled floor, dark worn-in furniture and barrels of beer in cooler jackets behind the bar. It was one of the busiest places in town. In 2007 it closed for refurbishment. I remember the shock when  it reopened: the floor had been replaced with what looked like laminate, chairs and curtains from a chain hotel had been installed, and the dark beams had been coloured/ cleaned so that they were beige. The beer barrels were gone replaced with gaudy lager displays and the one ale on tap, the ubiquitous London Pride, was awful. The place was deserted.


About Henry

Henry Jeffreys was born in London. He has worked in the wine trade, publishing and is now a freelance journalist. He specialises in drink and his work has appeared in the Spectator, the Guardian, the Economist, the Financial Times, the Oldie and Food & Wine magazine. He was a contributor to the Breakfast Bible (Bloomsbury 2013) and his book Empire of Booze: British History through the Bottom of a Glass was published in November 2016.
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6 Responses to The perfect pub

  1. winstonsdad says:

    Perfect pub oh when lived in north east there was tanners arms didn’t serve food but wonderful ever changing selection of real ales a friendly landlord and a good set of customers ,we have couple good real ale pubs in Chesterfield, one has good menu one that has won a number of pub of years with regional camra ,hope you find a good bolt hole ,all the best stu

  2. Alison Finch says:

    The Yew Tree in All Stretton, Shropshire is one of my favourite pubs where you can get really well kept real ale, mine host is just the right side of irritable alcoholic and very very funny, three regular old boys who I believe possibly sleep behind the bar as I’ve never seen them either arrive or leave and also you (or your sister) can take your dogs there.
    Finest chips in England too, served in a basket like in the 1970s. With Heinz ketchup.

  3. Timetogetboozeoninberkoinstead says:

    The landlord of the Kings Head probably decided that the large number of rural teenagers drinking in there did so despite, rather than because of, the old world atmosphere, and thus passed up an opportunity to mould another generation of tiny cider-addled minds.

  4. Timetogetboozeoninberkoinstead says:

    That should have read Kings Arms. A former rural teenager from a town not on the underground.

  5. Spearmint Wino says:

    Used to be a pub in Amersham, a place of mythical status, a place where young people, old people, people who could stand, people who couldn’t stand, would gather and drink beer. That place was called the Iron Horse and it was ruined by being knocked down and turned into flats. It was a shit-hole and the beer was awful.

  6. Profesor says:

    There’s something quite exciting about finding a pub with seats that have been repaired with gaffer tape. You’re drinking in a time capsule and you know it might be your last chance!

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