Beer Blog

Boak and Bailey on Lists; why you should make up your own mind and not rely on The Guardian 50 Best Pubs in the UK list.

Boak and Bailey’s latest post nicely sums up what a list means to them and in many ways their personal thoughts seem contrary to the The Guardian 50 Best Pubs in the UK list they helped to prepare. To be fair, I’ve been into some of the pubs on the list, a couple would go straight onto my own.

The most notable thing I noticed was the inclusion of a beer and a food item in the ‘House favourites’ for each boozer. It says so much about what the intended audience believe are the most important features of a public house, food clearly being an equal factor. And looking at the many impressive rural and semi-remote pubs on the list then isn’t that entirely what they have to do to make money.

Personally, the presence of food items in a pub would not be a basis for it’s selection onto a  50 Best Pubs list and shouldn’t even get a mention. A ‘50 Best Pubs for Food in the UK’ compilation, I can live with, but I would clearly separate Food Pubs from Proper pubs, whilst accepting they can be both. 

Boak and Bailey mention the Guardian list isn’t aimed at beer geeks. Clearly not, it’s targeted at Guardian readers and people they want to become Guardian readers/financial contributors to their website. I’ve no problem with this, but realise it says, I prefer to call myself a pub and beer enthusiast, people like me won’t necessarily shape what pubs will look like in the future.

My future prediction? Seemingly chocolate box pubs in pleasant locations serving food and some beer, supplemented by large chain pubs serving cheap eats with a serving of quality independent niche pubs on the side.

I could start criticising the Guardian list myself. The Lord Nelson, Southwold is far better than the nearby Harbour Inn on the Blackshore, which unless you’re seated in the inner sanctum by the bar, out of season, can resemble a screaming kids chain pub. I could go on, but instead I’m going to take Ray and Jessica’s advice, not to take this, or any other, particular curation too seriously. Although I will say that for many, the list will provide a nice starting point for exploration and pleasant days out.

I made my own list recently at a presentation I gave to Halifax and Calderdale beer festival when I talked about how I reached my own top ten pubs. Essentially using what I call the Pub Pyramid. Something which developed from discussions with Katie Etheridge and Simon Persighetti, performance artists from Cornwall.

I take no credit for the original idea, just a hand in developing it a bit. Basically the Pyramid works by extending the triangle of People, Place and Beer into a pyramid using Time as the third dimension. It’s not hard to work out and simply visualises the essential elements of a pub, acknowledging that pubs can change over time.

Public House

Image courtesy of Etheridge & Persighetti

Simon and Katie have taken this further and are exploring visions of future social landscapes by focusing on the enduring role of pubs as important places of social gathering, exchange, entertainment, (hi)story telling, and activism as part of Compass Festival 2018 in Leeds .

They’ve managed to convince me to become involved on Friday 16th November at Crowd of Favours, on Harper Street, LS2, where in a participatory launch performance of their Public House project, Katie and Simon along with 500 specially commissioned pint glasses will initiate a series of live conversations inspired by the inscriptions on the glasses, bringing to the table special guests with a range of interests in the relationships between people, place and beer in Leeds. 

Why not come along and start to compile your own list of pubs which mean something to you, and more importantly why?

9 replies »

  1. Ciao Richard! Greetings from rainy, thundery Tuscany! I agree with almost everything you have written about the Guardian Top 50 UK Pubs List, but I have to say that I am dead chuffed that my local – which I suspect is one of the couple with which you would concur – has made the list, especially as my wife and I are cooperative shareholders in the pub, as well as regular customers. I am also rather proud of the fact that Boak & Bailey list the food offering, without any tongues in cheeks, as “Pork pies and vegan pasties”. (What about the two varieties of peanuts, seven flavours of crisps and Bombay mix then?….not to mention the cheese, pâté and crackers on the bar on Sunday evenings or the slices of Battenburg and fruit cake). By the way, the latter does not refer to the regulars, although there are one or two who could possibly be considered as borderline cases, I suppose!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You can probably guess my views on the Guardian, Richard. I’d sooner take advice from Russia Today. Actually I thought B&B produced a great list to order.

    You make some insightful points about people and place. I’ve been to two pubs this year (Dead Poets, Holbrook, Derbyshire and Halcyon Quest, Prestatyn) that I can’t bring myself to write up for my Top 100 series, so hard is it to capture their sheer joy. A bit like describing music that makes you cry but your wife always talks over.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I must admit my first reaction to the list and when I saw the Harbour Inn was included was how can anyone pick that over the Lord Nelson in Southwold, the Nelson was in my top 10 list of Suffolk pubs btw:) But then I read the article & list more closely, its not a top 50 pubs at all, its 5 lists of top 10, each with a different tailored theme & authors with best pubs for sunday lunch, best community run pubs, best historic pubs,best craft beer pubs, B&B only wrote the 10 best pubs with a view.

    and that changes the selection criteria abit, maybe even alot, as for instance the Lord Nelson may serve great beer and does a good fish & chips for what its worth, but the view is abit rubbish to put it politely

    whilst down at the Harbour, yeah Ive sat there with a pint of Adnams in the garden and just stared back across the mile or so of uncluttered grazing land upto Southwold and the lighthouse, with the big Suffolk skies and blocked out the screaming kids and can only hear the sounds of the godwits/avocets and murmurs of the harbour, and thought yeah actually the pubs abit quirky, the beer is not as good as it could be, but actually that view is worth the visit alone, its a good pub to have a drink in and that for me is good enough to make it on a list. and Ive been wracking my brains to think of another pub in Suffolk that has a view/scene like that, and I genuinely dont think there is

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Lovely walk across the marshes from the town to the Blackshore and the Harbour is better out of season (isn’t the whole of Southwold!). Personally I prefer the walk and then to sit in the inner sanctum of the Harbour. I guess the list is what it is and I’m not complaining. The salient point for me is what the list says about pubs in general, and the Guardian experts and editors view: it is of course tailored to their readers. Essentially they are saying that food is an essential part of their best 50 UK pubs. Although the excellent Fox & Goose in Hebden Bridge only merits a Pork Pie, which might say to some – don’t go there they don’t do food?

    Anyhow, the Nelson at Southwold is still the better pub than the Harbour, which I would rate as the second equal best pub in Southwold.


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