Pubs in the News

The British pub has been in the news a couple of times lately, once for what it’s not, or at least not anymore, and another time for apparently what it is but shouldn’t be.

On the first front, the word “gastropub” has evidently now been exorcised from the vocabulary of the British Good Food Guide. The Independent on Sunday has the details:

But Elizabeth Carter, consultant editor for the guide, believes that the term had become a byword for an establishment’s ambitions and, at a time when pubs have been hit hard by the recession, this inflexible attitude was becoming a thing of the past. “Our feeling with the gastropub was that it was a bit of a bandwagon that a lot of people have jumped on to. A lot of chains have taken that gastropub style.

As usual, Martyn was on this story straight off, and his commentator Curmudgeon has, to my mind, hit the nail right on the head:

Perhaps it is more a case of “we are all gastropubs now” and so the term is no longer needed to distinguish some pubs from the general herd. I certainly don’t see any sign of a swing back towards a more drink-focused offer. If anything the pendulum is still very much swinging the other way.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, however you may feel about resto-wannabe pubs and places – real or imagined! – where drinkers are pushed to the side in favour of diners, the last two decades of the gastropub in the U.K. has resulted in an immeasurable rise in the quality of food offered at the average pub, and for those who might occasionally want a bite with their pint, that is an unqualified positive.

The second reference I’ve come across lately is in the usually reliable pages of Simon Difford’s Class Magazine. The latest issue features a “Hall of Shame” posting on pub cocktails:

While some have clearly upped their game in wines (including Geronimo), we still wouldn’t go near cocktails in most pubs. With the exception of a handful of venues, most pub staff we encounter wouldn’t know one end of a shaker from the other, let alone be able to differentiate a Martinez from a Martini. Apart from the attraction of higher cash margins and GP (our two highballs were £6 each), why they even bother is a mystery to us. The wider problem is they don’t exactly sell the whole cocktail concept to consumers making their first steps into mixology.

The commentary concludes thusly:

Pubs should stick to what they’re good at and leave cocktails to the experts.

Now, when I’m in a pub, I’m generally drinking ale, or occasionally a single malt. But I’m partial to a good cocktail now and again and I don’t for the life of me see why pubs should forego offering the option. You don’t have to be a cocktail “expert” to mix a decent martini or Manhattan or daiquiri, any more than you must be a beer expert to pull a decent pint.

What’s needed is not the abandonment of cocktails, but rather the training of bartenders so that they can mix their wares with precision. And so, in my estimation, rather than dissing the obviously lacking efforts of pubs like the Builder’s Arms, Difford and co. should be busy selling mixology training programs to the companies which own them. Then we can all be happy, cocktailian and beerophile together.

4 Replies to “Pubs in the News”

  1. On the death of the term “gastropub,” I’d say HOORAH!!!

    On cocktails in pubs, though…training’s okay, but practice is much more important. I don’t really want to get even a Negroni from a guy who makes three cocktails a month…

    1. More to the point, Lew, I don’t want a Negroni from a place that only SELLS three a month. That’s going to be some nasty, oxidized vermouth!

  2. After a visit to the Bell Inn in Aldworth, I became an instant fan of the traditional country pub. This place did not have a bar, only several hand pulls (serving only ales) in a sort of office. Cocktails would have felt a fish out of water there.

    These sorts of places, like many of the beer establishments in Bavaria, have been in existence for many years and changed hardly at all. It is well worth visiting them even if it takes you two trains and a taxi to get there (as it did me).

    A guy named Elliott apparently likes them so much, he made this: http://www.elliotslist.co.uk/index.php

  3. I was surprised at all this, because gastropubs are only just making it to the West Coast. But they appear to be something quite a bit different than what Martyn described. Generally speaking, they’re places where the menu is well-designed and seasonal and where the beers have been selected to complement the food. Given that 90% of American brewpubs have burgers, sandwiches, and fish and chips as their menu, this is a very welcome trend. I consider it part of the joining of good food and beer at the table, something that is still only an incipient concept in dining.

    Wine and cocktails offer a lot at the dinner table as well, and I celebrate any trend that is working to create a fuller experience out of food and beverage.

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