In 2008 my wife and I moved to the historic Yorkshire Dales market town of Skipton. It ticked all the boxes. A plentiful array of reasonably priced but sizeable Yorkshire stone terraced houses, good transport links to my place of work in Leeds and most other amenities you could want in a town within easy reach of most of the residential areas (cinema, leisure centre, supermarkets, restaurants, street market, erm….cattle auction mart).
The other selling point was that at the time it also had over 20 pubs, and most of them were supposedly pretty damn good. Exactly how good though? Well, there really was only one way to find out.
The idea to visit every pub in town and provide a balanced review wasn’t exactly a difficult one to make. The task was first started by myself and a couple of mates shortly after I moved in. The mistake we made though was creating a ‘unique’ scoring system which gave points for each aspect of the pub experience. It became so complicated that even we got confused by it. At one point, doing nothing to blow away the stereotype of lecherous men sat in the corner of the pub, we were even giving scores for ‘eye candy’ and adding bonus points for extra things we liked about each pub – these additional points tended to increase the more we drank...it clearly wasn’t going to work and we just gave up in the end.
Shortly afterwards one of our ‘team’ and the main instigator of the original endeavour sadly passed away. As a tribute to him, it felt right to start again and we decided to post our findings on a blog. Armed with a simplified scoring system to enable us to easily rate each pub, we started to visit them all, one by one. We scored them for beer choice and quality (and when I say beer, I make no apology for stating I mean beer and not that carbonated piss manufactured by the sponsors of football competitions), the décor and atmosphere, the service of the bar staff and whether the toilets smelt of roses or tramps.
These additional points tended to increase the more we drank...it clearly wasn’t going to work and we just gave up in the end.
So what did we find from our quest I hear you ask?
Well, for a start we realised that there are actually several brilliant pubs right on our doorstep. The clear winner was ‘The Narrowboat’. Part of a small Yorkshire based pub chain (Market Town Taverns), this little boozer does everything perfectly. It has an excellent selection of real ale at great prices, good food, no gambling machines or widescreen TVs to distract you from conversation or from the reading material you’ve taken, and it also does a brilliant quiz night every Wednesday (including free chip butties). What’s not to like about any of that?
The process has been both eventful and insightful. We found a pub which had no other customers except ourselves (‘The Albion’). We sat in the corner strumming our fingers on the table in time to the irritating hum of the beer fridges. Then when we left the premises, the barmaid shut up shop and headed to the chippy. We found one place decorated half like a strip club and half like a traditional country pub, with toilets that would make even the most hardened music festival veteran turn a nice shade of green (‘The Fleece’). We encountered a pub which had an atmosphere like a funeral parlour and was decorated like a set from ‘The League of Gentlemen’ (‘The Craven’). We reviewed a pub with a comedy name, prices to make your eyes water and blackboards and chalk above the urinals for the casual mid-piss graffiti session (‘The Cock and Bottle’). We were shocked and surprised when one establishment rated quite highly in the toilet department, when normally you can smell the shitters from the street outside (‘The Railway’) and on one memorable night we unwittingly gate crashed a funeral wake and had to cut our review session short. We realised we were the only people in the pub not dressed in black - I think I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt (‘The Cross Keys’).
Sadly some of the pubs bit the dust before we had a chance to review them. ‘The Commercial’ closed its doors and reopened a few months later as an all you can eat Chinese buffet restaurant, ‘The Royal Oak’ closed down and is set to reopen as a trendy boutique hotel and wine bar, and ‘Breeze Bar’ also closed its doors mysteriously one day, presumably on public safety grounds – that was the one we were least looking forward to, as it looked like the only place in town you’d go to if you wanted glassing by a walking advert for Donnay casual sportswear.
Whilst it may seem like we were just using this as an excuse to go to the pub, we actually might inspire other people to do the same.
The perfect pub almost always feels like your own home – but warmer, cosier and full of beer. Skipton has its fair share of classic pubs with open roaring fires, real ales and quiz nights, but it also has several that flog gallons of fizzy chemicals and technicolour gloop to hammered teenagers. The public house is so quintessentially British. Alcohol has always been part of British culture and despite a recent decline in our average alcohol consumption, it probably always will be. The coalition government have discussed fixing the prices of booze in supermarkets to deter binge drinking, but it’s unlikely to put off the army of people who’ve started drinking at home rather than down their local. So it really is more important than ever for pubs to make sure they offer enticing, comfortable, safe and affordable places for us to enjoy a drink – doing so is the only way most of them can try and recapture the customers they’ve lost to bargain booze.
From the outset we hoped that if the blog became popular and was seen by people in the local area our findings would, in some small way, urge the establishments which left a lot to be desired to make more of an effort. Sadly we haven’t made the impact we rather naively thought we would. Though some things could quite easily be improved upon in some pubs without us needing to tell them about it – good customer service and a general decent level of cleanliness can be achieved quite easily. Though in hindsight there may be nothing more they can do to alter their own fortunes, as landlords often have their hands tied by brewery dictated drinks prices and ridiculously unaffordable rental rates.
We know that some locals, regulars and publicans will not agree with all of our findings. What we do hope is that whilst it may seem like we were just using this as an excuse to go to the pub, we actually might inspire other people to do the same. If you don’t like the thought of your local boozers closing their doors forever, then do the decent thing and start going to them more often, and give the ones you wouldn’t normally visit a try – you never know what you might find.
You know it makes sense, even if by the end of the night you might not.
Click here for more stories about Life
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Twitter
Click here to follow Sabotage Times on Facebook