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As Russ Abbot once warbled in his 1984 hit song Atmosphere “I love a party with a happy atmosphere, let me take you there…”. The same can be said of pubs, especially when considering the casual visitor. A relaxed welcoming feeling will stop non regulars passing by your pub and putting the money behind the bar of the next establishment along the street. Walking in, being ignored by the bar staff and being stared by the locals is likely to send you scuttling out into the street quickly.
Atmosphere is a hard thing to pin down, it is not down to the amount of customers, decor, price or time of day. One of my local pubs is the Shoulder and Mutton at Southowram. It is the only pub to open through the afternoon during the week in the village and as such it attracts a small but regular crowd certain days of the week. In total there are at most 10 people in the pub for these sessions, but it is not cliquey despite the small numbers. Non regulars are made to feel as welcome as anyone else and although the pub may look empty with the drinkers congregating around the bar, the banter and conversation pads out the positive atmosphere into the rest of the room.
Citing another local pub, the Cock and Bottle, Bank Top, this time at the opposite end of the spectrum. Saturday night at 10pm you are two people deep at the bar at times, lucky to get a seat or table and the loud background hum of the myriad of conversations taking place can overwhelm your own at times. But the welcome is still friendly even if you are a solo drinker popping in for a quick pint. Both pubs are basically of a traditional wood and stone decor, with the Cock and Bottle showing it relatively youth from being totally redeveloped only a few years ago against a more traditional decor exhibited by the Shoulder of Mutton which has been open in its current form for many years.
The Sportsman Inn at Ploughcroft, Works at Sowerby Bridge, Stubbing Wharf at Hebden Bridge and the Red Rooster at Brighouse are among many in the Calderdale area all have that same ability to have an atmosphere which draws you in regardless of how busy it is or when you visit. Some pubs however don’t pull this atmosphere off all the time. I visited Casa near Brighouse last week for a pint of the way home, mainly due to the fact I couldn’t get a parking space anywhere near the Red Rooster on their very popular quiz night, my usual port of call when coming home from that side of the hill.
Casa is clean, modern, has friendly staff, a number of decent lagers and a couple of good well kept ales so for a quick pint it ticks a lot of boxes. The bar had almost every table occupied to some extent with a mix of couples, groups of friends and a number of lads watching the Champions League semi final propping up the bar. The main area was nicely busy whilst still having seating available, but there was no real atmosphere, it was almost as if everyone was inhabiting their own private bubble in which only them and their friends exist. The place seemed a bit soulless, devoid of the personality which the pubs previously mentioned all possess.
The pubs I have mentioned already are mainly long established pubs (if you ignore occasional periods of closure) so time could be a factor in developing an atmosphere, but Casa has been open for significant amount of time so it not as if it hasn’t had time to build up its own personality. Just look at places like The Brewery Tap and Friends of Ham in Leeds, they built up an atmosphere conducive to new and existing customers within a month of opening and have maintained that ever since. I will happily admit that Casa is technically a good bar where I am happy to go for a beer, but it is just missing that “spark” that other pubs have.
That spark can come and go however even in the most established of licensed premises. Recently one of the best known ale houses in the area closed down for a short period suddenly. After it reopened it took 2 or 3 weeks to build back up to its former atmosphere which just shows that even a small time of disruption can affect the public perception of a place for period which can be longer than the disruption itself. However a good pub and good licensee will get it back.