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A point I’ve made before is that pubs can’t – and aren’t – seen in the same way as other businesses, because they are places in which people choose to spend part of their lives, as opposed to just buying stuff, and they also, by and large, have an enduring character and place in their community that goes beyond whatever retail format they happen to be adopting at the present time.
On one level, pubs may be comparable to Tesco but, unlike shops, on another they are also comparable to your own family, and to Chatsworth House.
You are born into your family, you don’t choose them, and to a large extent you have to learn to live with them and get used to their idiosyncracies and foibles. If it gets really bad, you can wash your hands of them, but most people don’t. You may well go to a particular pub because it’s your local, because your mates go there, because it’s near your workplace or the football ground, because the beer’s good even if nothing else is. It may be far from perfect, but you get used to it and eventually may even grow to love its little quirks and the odd characters who frequent it. It’s come to a desperate pass if you say “well, that’s the last time I ever go there.”
And a pub is something that may have historic and architectural value in its own right, over and above the particular business being carried on at a point in time, and even if it doesn’t, it may well be regarded as a distinctive and valued part of the local landscape and community. You might be made to pay through the nose to visit Chatsworth and have a really poor customer experience, but that doesn’t make it any less of a part of our heritage. And it’s entirely credible that you would say of a pub “it’s a lovely old building with great atmosphere, but the beer was poor and the service was slow.” You would never say that of a branch of Tesco.
Over time I go in a huge variety of pubs, some good, some OK, a few downright poor. But none come anywhere near perfection, and in some of the better ones I can think of smelly toilets, supercilious bar staff, officious notices, unkempt gardens, poorly arranged seating and dull, perfunctory food. Even the very top-end pubs, the ones of which you say “you really must go to the Aardvark & Armpit, it’s an absolutely cracking pub”, will always have at least one thing about them where you say “but the X is crap”. And if they don’t, there’s probably something wrong with them.
When brewers and planners deliberately set out to build “ideal” pubs, in the inter-war period and in the fifties and sixties, for the most part they left out those vital but intangible features known as character and atmosphere. Many of those pubs are now gone, and the vast majority of those that remain have now been altered beyond recognition.