Lord of the manner

Marco Pierre White owns a pub, called not “The Yew Tree Inn” but “Marco Pierre White’s Yew Tree Inn.” We must be thankful he didn’t call it “The Marco Pierre White at Yew Tree.”

According to a recent interview in Beer magazine, he baulks at defining it as a gastropub—which Wikipedia defines as ‘a public house which specializes in high-quality food a step above the more basic “pub grub”‘—and even as a “pub”, preferring instead “a restaurant which serves a pint”. If you can tell the practical difference between that and a gastropub then do let me know. Certainly he goes and spoils it all by selling something stupid like fake-countryside “specialities”, priced at about four times the £3.50 that a carbohydrate-heavy farmer’s lunch should cost, all because he puts beer in the batter. Beer. In the batter. That’s it. Given how common that gastro-trick is these days, you might as well try to feign astonishment that he’s put flour in it.

So far so boring, then. White’s business is just part of the national trend of gastrating the pub industry, which scarcely warrants a fawning article about what he’s up to. The tone of the article suggests that this is somehow invigorating the industry as it essentially turns it middle-class and car-oriented: repackaging the countryside for people from towns and cities, which excludes through price or culture those who actually live in it, while appropriating their culture as a sort of bucolic kitsch. White wants to call his establishment a restaurant, but is still clearly loving the notion of playing the part of the traditional landlord, whatever that means: calling the pub his “mistress”; snobbishly neglecting lagers, which you’d hope we’d be able to rise above these days; making sure the photo shoot catches him in wellies; and hunting birds for the pot himself, as if that makes it all somehow more authentic rather than merely laughable.

What’s worse, though, is that White sounds like a pub landlord who actually doesn’t particularly want people to use his pub qua pub, that is: simply to drink in. He “charges £4 a pint for all his beers, and has plans to raise it to £5,” and:

… maintains that fine, well-kept, real ale is a craft product and the price should reflect that, though adds: “If I relied on beer drinkers, I’d go out of business.”

This attitude is what made the Perch in Binsey so teeth-grindingly awful, of course: a pub where waiting staff would come and hassle you as soon as you stepped in the door, and frown in confusion and annoyance if all you wanted was a quiet pint. That was certainly the case until it burnt down recently, a development which improved in many ways on the original idea of it being dreadful yet not on fire.

Despite White’s suggestion that his unimaginative business model is what sets his gastropub apart, not just from the thousands of other gastropubs, but from the allegedly loss-making traditional pub, plenty of pubs do still run at a profit: some, like the Rose & Crown in Charlbury, provide the absolute bare minimum of food and base their entire, successful business model on those unreliable beer drinkers.

A lot of it comes down to knowing your beer—which goes beyond merely assuring the press that you do, and showing off your lack of lager—not patronising your clientèle, and not being owned by a short-sighted brewery or chain. But much of it is about not following some weird, sad hybrid of the financial imperative and your own rather pathetic myth-making. White’s welcome to do that if he wants, of course, but he shouldn’t expect every single punter to play along with it, if all they want is a pint of beer. To be honest, they’ll probably go to a proper pub instead.

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