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20-09-2015, 20:00
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When he’s not engaging in juvenile rants against the Ebil Toriez, or claiming that a big brewery merger spells apocalyptic disaster, leftie beer writer Pete Brown can actually come up with some sensible stuff when he sticks to the knitting of beer and pubs*. Recently, he’s written an excellent piece for the Morning Advertiser about how atmosphere in pubs (http://www.morningadvertiser.co.uk/Drinks/Beer/Is-atmosphere-in-a-pub-more-important-than-beer-or-food) is arguably more important than either beer or food.
And he’s quite right, of course. No matter how good the beer or food, if you don’t feel at home in a pub you may not be inclined to linger, or to visit again. It can be very small or subtle things that deter people, or indeed make them feel welcome. He gives a couple of examples – 80s power ballads being played, and a massive plasma screen showing daytime TV. Now personally I’m more than happy for Ann Wilson to sing to me “how do I get you alone?” but I fully recognise that music needs to be tailored to the clientele. Indeed, I’ve often come across contemporary R&B/hip-hop music being played to customers with an average age well north of 50.
Clearly, “atmosphere” doesn’t just mean things I might personally like. A pub crammed with football or rugby fans watching the match will undoubtedly have atmosphere, as may one with a stand-up throng playing kickin’ music at top volume. It’s also generally the case that, regardless of the style of pub, more customers generate more atmosphere.
A while back, I tried to define Pubbiness (http://curmudgeoncolumns.blogspot.co.uk/2013_08_01_archive.html), but it’s always something that is very difficult to nail. We all know when a pub has atmosphere, but it’s something that simply cannot be bottled. You certainly can’t easily transfer the winning formula of one pub to another, although pub operators often try. I could try to attempt a definition based on factors such as landlord involvement and interaction between customers, but that would probably fall flat on its face. It’s often the case that there’s a close correlation between atmosphere and popularity, but it doesn’t always follow. I’ve also noticed how some CAMRA members seem completely impervious to any question of pub atmosphere so long as they like the beer. I don’t think pubbiness is quite the same as atmosphere, although there is a substantial overlap.
I regularly visit a handful of Sam Smith’s pubs, mainly because they have an atmosphere that suits me. I know I can get a wider choice elsewhere, and maybe better beer too (albeit at a price), but the alternatives just don’t seem so congenial. If those pubs dropped cask OBB in favour of keg, which many Sam’s pubs have done, then, probably I’d keep going there. Because of the atmosphere.
And it can’t be a coincidence that Tim Martin has included “Moon” in so many of his Wetherspoon pub names, given that particular celestial body’s well-known lack of atmosphere.
* I created a second Twitter account (https://twitter.com/cheshiretoad) to express my more general political views, recognising that introducing too much of a political element might alienate many of my beery followers. If you support climate realism, roadbuilding, free speech, free markets, Brexit and strong national defence, you might like to follow it. Perhaps Pete Brown would help his cause by doing the same.

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