For the past week I have had no internet access so I've been making careful notes during my forced absence from my blog and I will catch up during the coming week.
Last week I was back in Stratford-on-Avon and on Monday night it was a quiet pint of Holden's Special at the Golden Bee. I mentioned last week that I do have strong views on the proliferation of Wetherspoons that has taken place in virtually every town centre over the past 20 years. In the 1980s I lived in South-East London and I always enjoyed going to my local 'Spoons. The beer selection was good, the prices were good and they were quiet. Has familiarity bred contempt now? You cannot go to any town or city without seeing at least one Wetherspoons pub. Some cities and large towns now have two or more. I am convinced this has put other town centre pubs out of business. The question I always wonder is whether it has put any good pubs out of business though.
Pubs are like all other businesses in that they have to be well managed and offer a good customer experience. I love going to pubs and I have been to a few that were absolutely dreadful, many that have been poor, many that I have enjoyed visiting and finally a few that I actively seek out to go to often. So where do Wetherspoons pubs fit in? I cannot say I have been to any that fit into the very bottom or the very top categories and that is probably my main gripe. If you've been to one Wetherspoons pub you've been to many. That has the advantage of knowing what you will get if you are in a strange town for a night. You know you are unlikely to be stared at by a bunch of locals which can happen in some pubs. You know you will have a reasonable beer selection. You know what food will be on the menu. However, you are inside a Wetherspoons. End of story. No friendly landlord happy to chat while he serves you. No homely feel. Very little character at all really.
I have worked in Stratford-on-Avon on and off for quite a few years now. A couple of years ago I avoided the Golden Bee. It was bordering on dreadful. It summed up everything that was bad about the chain. A large open bar area often with unsavoury characters. Low prices will always attract such types. This year I tried it again and there has been a big improvement. It must have a new management team because the bar staff are generally pleasant and a few of them are even happy to chat about the beers available. The large bar area is obviously the same but the whole atmosphere has improved markedly. Is it my pub of choice in Stratford? Far from it. However, I usually pop in there once or twice a week for a pint and I always get to try something new.
So to sum up in one word my feelings towards what is now a massive chain I'd say acceptance. For better or for worse they are here to stay. If you don't like them go elsewhere and I am sure there are better pubs in every single town and city where they reside. On the flip side you will also find plenty that are worse. I would be depressed if my local was a Wetherspoons but I would miss them if they disappeared for they do run excellent beer festivals and they do serve a good pint. They actively support CAMRA and they do support micro breweries. For that, let's all raise a glass to them.