Whenever one of those news stories appears about how many pubs have been forced to close in the last year, I always think of George Orwell. He would have had the correct reaction: lots of pubs are forced to close because they’re terrible. Yes, the pub is a wonderful British institution, with a long and noble history — but that doesn’t mean that any individual pub has a God-given right to stay open forever. If a landlord waters down his beer and scowls at his customers, as plenty of them do, they’ve only got themselves to blame when the bailiffs come knocking.
We know Orwell had strong opinions on the subject because he wrote an article about it, setting out the qualities of the perfect pub, a sadly mythical place he called the Moon Under Water. He loved open fires and china mugs, and hated barmaids who called you ‘ducky’ rather than ‘dear’. But all this has dated somewhat. In fact, 2016 will mark the essay’s 70th anniversary — so let’s get ready with our list of demands for the perfect modern pub:
Change in your hand, not on a tray. What on earth is this tray thing about? You think I’m going to tip you by leaving some of coins when I pick them up? After I’ve stood at the bar to get served? Sorry, but the only thing I want on a tray is the head of the man who had the idea for giving people their change on a tray.
Staff who know who’s next. It’s a basic requirement of the job that you keep an eye on who arrived at the bar when. A customer who has to say ‘Excuse me, I’m next’ is in the same position as someone needing to tell their electrician which wire to cut next.
Televisions. These should only be used for showing sport. When a pub starts showing quiz programmes and daytime chat shows, it ceases to be a pub: it becomes a house that sells alcohol.
Food. Orwell wanted a ‘good, solid lunch — for example a cut off the joint, two vegetables and boiled jam roll — for about three shillings’. The best grub-pubs now are Wetherspoons. Why is the chain always maligned? Great food and beer at low prices, beautiful old buildings — plus the delight of the name coming from a schoolteacher who told the chain’s founder he would never amount to anything. (The initials, meanwhile, come from J.D. ‘Boss’ Hogg in The Dukes of Hazzard.)
Ice. Since when did it become acceptable to completely fill the glass with ice cubes before pouring the drink? Since pubs wanted to get as stingy as possible with their measures, of course. Sometimes there are so many cubes floating on top you can’t get to the drink itself. Except with a straw. But then who wants one of those?
Wall furniture. Acceptable if there’s a genuine story attached: a football shirt personally signed for the landlord by Bobby Moore, perhaps. But a load of artificially aged street-signs bought at Camden Market? Forget it.
There are other requirements — but avoiding the mistakes above should help a pub escape last orders.