Wednesday, 20 June 2012

A Tweed Wearer's Guide to British Taverns: An Introduction

An enlightening guide to the best (and worst) of the licensed trade from our own correspondent.

“There is nothing which has yet been contrived by man, by which so much happiness is produced as by a good tavern or inn.”
Dr Johnson

~ Introduction

  It is with great pleasure that I humbly present to you, earnest student of Ataraxia, a new and hopefully regular contribution to this august publication; my own small attempt at penning for you, a guide to that singularly varied and fascinating subject, the public houses of Britain.

This disparate collection of buildings both humble and grand forms one of the most defining features of both the social and cultural landscape of this nation, spanning its great divides between class and wealth, urban and rural, modern and historic. 

Any true follower of the Ataraxian club will be all too aware of the importance we attach to the serious business of drinking, conversation and occasionally having a decent plate of something hot to prevent the onset of malnutrition. As a result, I will endeavour over the coming weeks to highlight some of the venues, both in our glorious Capital and around about in the sleepy provinces of our Kingdom, where a noble tweed clad gent can find a warm and understanding welcome. From the soaring majesty of our Victorian gin-palaces to the sleepy village local inhabited by toothless, badger baiting locals, I hope you, dear reader, will follow where I lead, and perhaps you too will discover some of the feeling of sheer contentment and restful satisfaction that can only be brought about while in the confines of a really good pub.

- Where to Avoid

 Before we begin proper on our quest for perfection, perhaps it is prudent to spend a moment discussing places no proud follower of the Ataraxian ideal should ever be seen. Loosely, these places are anywhere which describes themselves as a chain of ‘family eating houses’, ‘pub and country dining’, or anything with the words ‘carvery’, ‘sizzling’, ‘grill’ or ‘OAP discount special’ mentioned on its signage. 

These hideous, mangled attempts at traditional pub hospitality are a concept dreamt up by the fevered imagination of a PR firm in the heat 1979, yet they continue to inflict themselves on the unsuspecting general public. Their vile over lit neon glow, their stained swirly carpets and the ubiquitous presence of horse brasses, faux paintings of rural idylls and corporately ordained ‘quirky’ artefacts clumsily adorning their 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 beer, their mass produced imitation ‘Largurs’ or await the arrival of vast plates of deep fried beige food, presented by disinterested staff dreaming of a better future away from the hot embrace of the ‘pub chain’. 

Never, I repeat never should any like-minded fellow enter these places, there is nothing here for people such as us. A proper pub, befitting the title of a ‘genuine all-rounder’, will be able to cater for the needs of the hungry and the family inclined as well as the thirsty, without allowing either party to encroach upon or undermine the other. A pub can be known for its food, as well as its drink and its welcome for all; no one should have to suffer in a noisy overblown licensed crèche with pretences of adequacy. 

 Equally shunned here at the club are the overweening middle class gasto-pubs that have been inflicted upon countless once perfectly adequate drinking houses. I repeat the mantra that food in pubs, if done correctly and sympathetically, can perfectly complement the wet trade environment and bring those who would not naturally venture into public houses into their welcome arms. What is objectionable to us, is when a pub severs its connections to its own earthly existence; it suddenly considers itself better than the majority of its long standing clientele. Black paint, stripped walls, modern sculpture, Gerbers and an ungainly, off the wall name are the order of the day, as a once welcoming local is painfully augmented to that dreadful highbred somewhere between high end restaurant and clumsy cafe, with a single lonely hand-pull left ironically on the bar. ‘This used to be a right grotty little dive’, you hear their hateful yuppie patronage with bourgeois pretentions, spout from the segregated outdoor seating area. Protected by purple velvet rope interspersed with low box hedging, they consider themselves removed from the prolls walking the streets beyond, ensconced in their little black cave eating platefuls of deliberately incomprehensible food, all reassuringly expensive of course.

 Also included in the category of avoidance, for obvious reasons, are those yobby little hell holes found in the hopelessly deprived parts of our land. These sad taverns once were the mainstay of so many a working class way of life, but many are now often the preserves of the leary unemployable sons of better fathers, drenched in overpriced ‘Largur’ with football played on a continuous loop and at a volume which precludes any level of conversation. That is not to say all working class pubs are included in this category. Far from it, after all it is in the simple working class beer house that all pubs find their common ancestor. Indeed, some of the most enlightening and enjoyable pubs this correspondent has ever had the pleasure of discovering have been in areas wracked with social deprivation, and which sharp intakes of breath and general incredulity are the norm when their names are mentioned among more prurient company; ‘Ooo, you don’t go in there, do you?’. 

Those pubs debarred for our purposes are those where the old guard of real pub people have been driven out by the young and unimaginative who have taken charge of the asylum, enforcing the banishment of decent ale, conversation and social cohesion. These places are the playgrounds of overgrown children with a pint clasped in their hand. Pity them. It is a blameless phenomenon form both those abandoned by government and society, and the businessmen willing to put up with their misdemeanours for the sake of regular trade, but they are like all the other pubs mentioned in this section, too much of one particular thing. Balance between all and for all is the key to running a truly inspirational pub, and in the coming weeks I hope to share a few of these with you. 

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