Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - January 2002

* Going Large *

Serving wine only in large glasses works against customer choice and responsible drinking

Imagine the uproar if pub operators decided that, for presentational reasons, they would only serve beer in pints, claiming that people mincing around with halves in their hands gave beer a poor image. Yet exactly the same is happening with wine, where licensees are being urged to chuck out the standard 125 ml glasses in favour of larger and supposedly better-looking 175 ml glasses.

With a price hike in proportion, this is obviously likely to improve pubsí profitability, particularly given that many customers only drink a single glass anyway. But it could easily lead to people consuming far more alcohol than they intended, as not only are they getting a bigger measure, but the strength of modern wines - on average around 13% ABV - is widely underestimated. How many people realise that a 175 ml glass of Chardonnay contains more alcohol than a typical pint of bitter, and two such glasses could easily put a smallish woman over the drink-drive limit?

Now Iíve nothing against people guzzling large quantities of wine if thatís what takes their fancy. But it does nothing to encourage responsible drinking to deny them the choice of big or small measures that they get with beer.

* Wooden Wombs *

Itís getting more difficult to escape from the cares of the world in the pub

A local pub on a prominent corner site has recently been given a thoroughgoing refurbishment. In general, theyíve done a good job, but one more questionable change is replacing the previous frosted glass windows with clear ones, so if you sit at the front it feels as though youíre in the middle of a traffic island, with 38-tonners coming at you from all directions.

Traditionally, pubs have often been seen as places where you can go to escape the cares and stresses of the outside world, if only for a short time. They have been described as wooden wombs for adults. But the contemporary trends in pub design that have swept away small rooms, bench seats, real fires and etched glass have made this ever harder to achieve. In a modern open-plan drinking barn, with its plate-glass windows and sparse, uncomfortable seating, youíre more likely to feel that all the social problems of today are being forced down your throat.

Fortunately, if you know where to look, itís still possible to find old-fashioned cosy retreats in pubs, often tucked away at the back away from the street. Thereís a prime local example in the marvellous wood-panelled snug at the Swan with Two Necks in Stockport, but other particularly memorable ones Iíve come across include the Berkeley Arms in Tewkesbury, the Dolphin in Derby and the Blue Bell and Royal Oak in York. Spend some time in one of these rooms, with a blazing fire in the grate and a pint or two of robust English ale in front of you, and the world suddenly doesnít seem quite so bad.

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