Bring back proper pubs: Here’s the reasons why
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I am by no means a heavy drinker. In fact, I am a very poor drinker – for a start, I've never had a pint of beer in my life, secondly I prefer my spirits to be cloaked in the kind of mixers that mean you can't taste any alcohol and I can only manage two glasses of wine before I need a lie-down.
I do, however, quite like pubs. By which I mean proper pubs, preferably ones that haven't had a 'makeover' since 1903 and are still delightfully dingy having avoided the hellish gentrification that is afflicting the city centre and neighbouring postcodes. Pubs where you are served by a bar person and not a 'mixologist' and where there are horse brasses on the wall rather than ironic slogans spelled out in neon.
Pubs are important. Two-thirds of us celebrate a friend's birthday in the pub, 48 per cent of us have attended a wake in a pub, 20 per cent of us met our significant other in a boozer and 99 per cent of us lied about our age in order to have a snakebite-and-black that they later disgorged into a gutter on the walk home (just me?).
We all know the figures – nearly 25 pubs a week in Britain are going under because the locals don't use their local. Equally scarily, several hundred pubs a week seem to be closing so that the owners can rip the heart out of them under the guise of 'refurbishment' and create some kind of hideous Hoxton-style bar where everyone has a beard, a pork pie costs £8.50 and there's impenetrable jazz on the gramophone.
I suppose if it keeps a pub open and keeps people in jobs, I shouldn't moan. But if I didn't moan, I'd never write a column, so this is a hugely subjective list – take note, online commentators – of what I don't like seeing in pubs. Other people might like rosemary in their Diet Coke: not me, barman.
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• So here's nine things I don't want to see in pubs:
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1) Food served on anything other than a plate
I don't want my dessert in a miniature Kilner or jam jar, I don't want to chase ice-cream across a slate, I don't want my dinner on a chopping board that is practically teeming with bacteria. In a high-end restaurant, I can just about cope with a bit of what culinary types call 'theatre', but in a pub I want a plate. Please. See also: cocktails served in anything other than glasses, for example test tubes and china teacups.
2) Anything 'mismatched'
Serving food on mismatched plates (only one step up from serving food on roof tiles or germ-harbouring wooden boards), serving drinks in mismatched china teacups, tiling the floor with mismatched tiles – it's not quirky, it's annoying, especially if the mismatched floor tiles are actually from a high-end tile manufacturer who has actually CREATED matching mismatched tiles, which is literally at the uppermost scale of infuriating. See also: a schizophrenic number of different floor coverings in one pub – carpet, tiles, cork, stripped wooden floorboards, artificial grass, rubber (and that's just the gent's).
3) Bare lightbulbs
Why, why, WHY are so many establishments so enamoured with hanging bare lightbulbs from the ceiling on rope flexes? The last time bare lightbulbs were fashionable was shortly after Thomas Edison made them commercially viable – people were so thrilled with the invention of instant light that they put exposed bulbs on display as a sign of wonder. Today, bare lightbulbs are a very visual signpost that you're entering the territory of the hipster. Bare lightbulbs kill ambiance. Pubs were dingy for a reason: if we can all see each other, the human race may well die out. See also: pointless bare wire lampshades.
4) Bar staff that look like the cast of O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Beards/a 'vintage' hairstyle, naval-style tattoos, the kind of utility wear that Lennie from Of Mice and Men wore, a permanent look of disdain – this is the new uniform of the modern bar attendant. It makes you long for the good old days when your landlord was a grizzled barely-functioning alcoholic who would arrange lock-ins on a school night and kept festering saucers of peanuts on the bar. See also: Bar staff who are fearsomely good-looking.
5) Unwelcome visitors in your drinks
I went for a drink in a pub the other night and the soft drink I ordered was served with a sprig of rosemary in it. And it wasn't a lamb-flavoured soft drink. I don't even have ice or lemon in my drinks (I never got over someone telling me about contaminated ice when you're abroad and for some reason continued my paranoia even on home turf and where have those lemon slices BEEN before they end up in my drink?). See also: basil in my orange juice. What?
6) People who go to a pub for a cup of tea
Just stop it. See also: people who go to the pub for a cup of coffee.
7) Jenga chips
If pubs used to serve chips, they would come in a basket with fried chicken or scampi. Now it's all 'hand-cut' and 'thrice-cooked' and 'basted in goose fat' and they're huge, meaning you only get about seven of them, albeit for five times the price of the ones down the road in the chip shop which are 100 times more tasty. Messing with chips is an act of heresy which should attract some kind of custodial sentence. See also: Tiny burgers. – they're not 'sliders', they are just tiny burgers.
8) Artisan crisps
It used to be considered exotic if a pub served more than the three standard flavours of ready salted, cheese and onion and salt and vinegar. Now, you're lucky if you can buy any 'normal' crisps at all because they've been replaced by hand-cut, thrice-cooked artisan crisps in flavours such as Local Squirrel with Wet Walnut and Norfolk Tapeworm with Champagne. See also: 'Artisan' sausage rolls, which is what we used to call 'homemade'.
9) Uncomfortable but fashionable seating
I went to a pub in London the other day where every table was surrounded by mismatching (see (2)) chairs, including (a) a miniature throne (b) a high stool (c) some kind of beanbag (d) a leather cube. Perhaps it was some form of grim pub pilates, perhaps there was a secret camera perched on the picture rail waiting to capture the first slightly-drunken person to fall off their seat, perhaps it was the kind of fiddly nincompoopery that we should be storming Downing Street about. Bring back filthy, knackered velour benches. See also: ridiculously tiny tables.