Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Gray Lady goes on a pub crawl

Phone call from Number One daughter in the former Colony: had Malcolm seen today's New York Times? Yes, he had (on line, anyway), and he knew what had caught her attention.

A was a piece by Henry Shukman on the pubs of:
a corner of the northeast Cotswolds where I misspent my youth, an area littered with picturesque towns and villages, and studded — as I remembered it — with lovely pubs.
He then rattles off a sequence of pubs, mainly tied houses of the Hook Norton Brewery. They are (with Malcolm's passing thoughts):
  • the Chequers in Chipping Norton (that's a Fuller's house, so expect London Pride and ESB);
  • the Red Lion, also in Chipping Norton (it's in Albion Street, and a decent local);
  • the Sun (about which there are, ahem, mixed reports) and the Pear Tree (effectively, the brewery tap: good beer, good place) in Hook Norton itself;
  • the Plough in Kingham (a pretentious gastro-pub, boasting its Michelin star)
  • the Falkland Arms in Great Tew (thatched and be-creepered exterior; oak beams, flagstones and inglenook fireplace within -- a place that makes the effort, and is worth finding); and
  • the King's Head in Bledington (set back from the village green, another of those picture-postcard pubs).
Malcolm defers to nobody in his liking for Old Hooky (4.6% ABV), but he finds that choice of hostelries partly perverse. His would add alternatives:
  • in Chipping Norton, the Bell in West Street, and Stones in the Market Place;
  • the Masons Arms in Swerford (between Chipping Norton and Great Tew), a gastro-pub of distinction, and in glorious countryside;
  • the Red Lion in Bloxham, on the road to Banbury; another Fuller's house: in good weather, watch the stream run through the garden, else a two-bar interior;
  • the Tite Inn at Chadlington, another one with superb views and a decent restaurant, just a couple of miles out of Chipping Norton;
  • and so on.
Fortunately, in the Cotswolds there's enough back-roads, villages and pubs to allow one to avoid the sweltering hordes.

There is more than a grain of truth in Shukman's gloom:
Closing at something like a rate of more than three a day, pubs have become scarce enough that for the first time since the Domesday Book, more than half the villages in England no longer have one. It’s a rare pub that still thrives, or even limps on, by being what it was meant to be: a drinking establishment.
Well, we cannot be sure about the pub-density in 1086, but change is happening. We can blame that on cheap alcohol at the supermarket, on the changing social habits, or whatever we like. Many pubs are adapting (they always have): either by becoming "sports bars" (Murdoch's monopoly of big sporting events, especially football, being the main accelerator there) or by becoming much more family-friendly and food-orientated. The developments, then, may not be entirely negative.

One can still locate what is purely "a drinking establishment", if one must. That's one of those grim establishments where a handful of old sods, dog at feet, each sat in his own corner, chewing a pipe, silent and morose: only the death-watch beetle broke the silence. Malcolm's experience is that such places always were the exception rather than the rule. Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

Brian said...

Bars are definitely changing faces just like society. The good pubs and sports bars will always be around though.

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