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What makes the perfect pub?

Enjoying a pint by the fire

A roaring open fire. The bartender knows your name. Your pint of draught stout comes in a china cup. Did George Orwell have the recipe for the perfect pub?

Though perhaps more famous for novels like 1984 and Animal Farm, Orwell was also a superb essayist and journalist.

Barbara Winsor in a pub in 1963
Who knows who you might bump into in the perfect pub

In an article written for the London Evening Standard in 1946, he produced a detailed description of his ideal watering-hole, The Moon Under Water, which "is only two minutes from a bus stop, but it is on a side-street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights".

One pub chain that literally pins Orwell's advice to its walls is JD Wetherspoons. Fourteen of its establishments are called The Moon Under Water, named after a journalist in 1986 suggested a similarity between the Orwell's ideal drinking establishment and a Wetherspoons pub.

Orwell's essay picks out the essence of what a pub is about, says founder Tim Martin, and is "very similar" to what the chain is trying to create, although he admits that the writer might not have been impressed by some examples.

"He'd probably say we do very well in getting near to his idealised pub in some and we've got some more work to do in others," Martin adds.

ORWELL'S PERFECT PUB FORMULA
Two minutes from a bus stop
China beer mugs
Warm bars with different functions
Quiet enough to talk. No music
Barmaids know you by name
Sells aspirin and stamps

In the heart of Cambridge stands The Cambridge Blue, current holder of the local Campaign for Real Ale's award for branch and county pub of the year.

Its landlord, Jethro Scotcher-Littlechild, believes he has found the ideal formula. "The quality of the ale's got to be right, I think good food and we like people to be talking in the bar. We don't have any music," he says

"The art of conversation's what you need in a good British pub."

Orwell would have concurred with the ban on music. "In the Moon Under Water it is always quiet enough to talk," he wrote. "The house possesses neither a radio nor a piano, and even on Christmas Eve and such occasions the singing that happens is of a decorous kind."

Sometimes the perfect pub is just one that's open.
Author Paul Moody

But, in one respect at least, his outlook was remarkably modern, decrying "the puritanical nonsense of excluding children - and therefore, to some extent, women - from pubs that has turned these places into mere boozing-shops instead of the family gathering-places that they ought to be".

Spit and sawdust

Paul Moody, who with Robin Turner co-authored The Search for the Perfect Pub: Looking for the Moon Under Water, says sometimes, the perfect pub is just one that's open.

But he also believes that the quality of a pub is "all about individuality, character and independence".

"The trouble is these days so many pubs you go into, you go into them and you come away feeling as though it's nothing more than a chain-store effectively.

"It provides a service but you don't get the individuality, which is what Orwell was talking about, really... the atmosphere is key to a great pub."

Save the Vulcan Facebook group
Saved: Cardiff's Vulcan Hotel on a rugby international day

And despite the loss of hundreds of licensed premises every year, passions can run high among some customers when their local is faced with last orders.

Take Cardiff's Vulcan Hotel. Built in 1853, 29 years before the city's renowned Brains Brewery, it is one of the Welsh capital's oldest pubs. When it faced closure in 2008, more than 5,000 people rallied round and signed a petition to save it.

Rachel Thomas, a Save The Vulcan campaigner from Cardiff, is clear about the pub's charm.

"It's one of the last spit and sawdust pubs in Cardiff. It still has a lot of its original features such as the old tiling - it's had a lick of paint over the years but the inside has largely been left alone. It has a real Victorian feel to it.

"There's a real mix of people that go there; you have the old locals drinking alongside students because the pub is opposite the university. And a lot of young professionals have started drinking there having heard about it through the local campaign to save it.

"They also hold music and poetry nights so it's very much a community pub."

Orwell's biographer DJ Taylor says Orwell was writing "at a time when pub culture was changing drastically," adding that The Moon Under Water did not actually exist. "It was entirely phantasmal, made up of various different component parts."

As a mirror image of his ideal hostelry, Orwell's 1984 contains his own vision of public house hell, when an old prole complains about the new beer measures brought in under the new regime.

"'E could 'drawed me off a pint," grumbled the old man as he settled down behind a glass. "A 'alf litre ain't enough. It don't satisfy. And a 'ole litre's too much. It starts my bladder running. Let alone the price."


What makes the perfect pub? Join the debate on Twitter using the #perfectpub hashtag, or leave a comment on Facebook.

#perfectpub needs a real fire, allows muddy walking boots & serves ginger beer, hot toddies & mulled wine in winter.
Lizzy Simpson (@Lizzy24a) via Twitter

Good food, good real ale, good company and a blues band.
Matthew White via Facebook

My five best mates, a dartboard (and darts), warm ale, a cheeky barmaid, cheap pork scratching #perfectpub
Stewart Darkin (@stewartdarkin) via Twitter

The Orwell model of the #perfectpub doesn't add up for me. The modern pub serves multiple needs; food, booze, sport TV, quiz, company...
Michael B. O'Neill (@MichaelsStuff) via Twitter

Music - quiet or none, Drinks - Real Ale, Fire - Open and roaring (seasonal), Food - "home made style" #perfectpub
David Allen (@davidallen83) via Twitter

All of the above, a fire, a dog, leather seats and pickled eggs in a jar behind the bar.
Jane Turner via Facebook




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