Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - November 1998

* The Hogshead & Haemorrhoid *

In the Seventies, lovers of traditional pubs were often critical of refurbishments that replaced wooden settles and tiled floors with red dralon benches and thick carpeting. These features may have lacked character, but at least they had the benefit of being comfortable, unlike the current trend which seems to be intent on making pubs as unwelcoming as possible to anyone who wants to sit down. I was struck by this recently in what must have once been a magnificent high-ceilinged pub room, where the floor had been stripped back to the bare wood, and the wall benches ripped out. In their place were just a handful of hard chairs and some of those stupid high-level posing tables. It had no character, and it wasn't even a pleasant place to be.

Now, I'm still (just about) nearer school age than pensionable age, but I do like a certain standard of creature comfort in pubs, rather than drinking in an environment that's about as accommodating as a sawmill. With the average age of the population steadily increasing, pub operators are being very short-sighted if they turn their outlets into young people's ghettos. One of the keys to success in the future will be to tempt the over-35s into the pub, and they won't do that unless there's plenty of seating room. Even Wetherspoon's don't seem to have fully realised this - many of their pubs still seem half-empty when all the seats are taken, and would benefit from much more extensive fixed benches. Their new Cheadle Hulme branch even has a rash of the dreaded posing tables!

* Something for the Weekend, Sir? *

You walk into a pub, go up to the bar, and give a clear order of "Two pints of bitter, please." The barperson pulls the pints, puts them on the bar in front of you, gives you a quizzical look and asks "Is there anything else?" You bite your lip and reply "No, thank you," but inwardly you're thinking, "If I'd wanted anything else I'd have asked you for it, you fool!" This seems to happen to me more and more often nowadays

Presumably this is something that comes out of a customer care manual, but it's distinctly irritating, particularly when it's blindingly obvious that you don't want anything else. Sometimes it almost seems to come across as a reproach that you don't want to order food or a gin and tonic. Bar staff should think carefully about the circumstances before asking these questions, rather than just repeating them parrot fashion.

* Not The Beer Talking *

The BBC are currently running a ten-part series called "Vintners' Tales", presented by wine expert Jancis Robinson, featuring people from the world of wine, and the stories they have to tell. It's encouraging to see alcoholic drinks of any kind being portrayed in a positive way on TV, but it's hard to imagine a similar series of "Brewers' Tales" being broadcast, despite all the unique and fascinating characters in the brewing trade, and the fact that we spend as a nation more than twice as much on beer as wine. It's clear that our media still suffer from the ludicrous cultural cringe which considers imported wine a fit subject for serious appreciation, while our native beer is only good for lager louts and unsophisticated fuddy-duddies.

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