Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - June 1998
* Waiter, the Beer List, Please! *
Occasionally, I have had the questionable pleasure of staying on business in the kind of hotel that you would never dream of forking out your own money for. Such establishments normally pride themselves on the excellence of their cuisine, and their wine lists boast an impressive selection of vintages. But this attention to quality suddenly stops short when it comes to beer. Real ale is conspicuous by its absence, and all that's on offer is a dreary collection of mass-market kegs and bottles, usually at exorbitant prices.
Given that the turnover may be low and erratic, it's perhaps not reasonable to expect hotels to stock real ale on draught. But surely any hotel that wishes to be taken seriously as a high-quality establishment should make an effort with every aspect of its service, including beer. There's no reason why they can't stock a carefully chosen selection of ten or so good British and imported bottled beers, and publicise the fact by putting a beer menu with tasting notes on every table in the bar. And, I suspect that a lot of hotels that have a captive market of business travellers might be surprised at the result if they chucked out the nitrokeg John Smith's and Caffrey's and put in a single handpumped bitter from a local independent brewer.
* The Goldfish Bowl Inn *
A complaint often heard about pubs from trendy commentators is that frosted glass windows make them old-fashioned, unwelcoming and female-unfriendly, because they stop potential customers looking inside before venturing over the threshold. I can just about see the point in some tourist and city-centre locations where there's a substantial amount of casual foot-borne passing trade. But the number of pubs that come into that category is relatively small, and if you don't like what you find you can always walk straight back out again. Traditional etched glass is one of the great glories of our pub heritage, and its destruction in the name of a fleeting fashion can never be justified. To my mind it's a major plus point, enhancing the appeal of a pub as a cosy refuge from the pressures of the world outside. And if I'm sitting in the front snug of a high street pub, the last thing I want is passers-by gawping in at me.
* Ballykisschelmsford? *
In April, an Essex pub was refused an application for an extension on St George's Day because the licensing bench decided that the occasion wasn't special enough. Yet every fake Irish pub in the vicinity had managed to get a late licence on St Patrick's Day a month before. We certainly seem to have a warped sense of patriotism in this country. But, as G. K. Chesterton wrote,
"St George he was for England,
You can't really imagine the ascetic St Paddy downing a Guinness before casting the snakes out of Ireland.