My grandmother used to tell me that pleasures are often greatest in anticipation.
Take the welcoming sign of a country pub as you walk towards it on a cold winter’s day after a long muddy walk.
You close your eyes and can almost taste that first sip of bitter sweet ale as you settle in beside a warm, crackling open fire. Then you walk inside to an empty, soulless pub, hear Phil Collins playing on the radio, see a bar heater sitting in the fireplace and are offered Fosters and Becks on tap.
Anticipation > Pleasure.
On rare occasions, however, you walk through the door of the pub and the fire is blazing, you are met by a wall of laughter and lively conversation, offered a choice of local ales and are allowed, even encouraged, to order pudding and another bottle of wine long after the kitchen has closed and last orders have been called.
Anticipation ≤ Pleasure.
That is a very great thing indeed and was how I spent new year's day 2009; tucked inside the Compasses Inn at Lower Chicksgrove, Wiltshire .
According to the Good Pub Guide 2008 the acid test for a good pub is that it has some special quality that would make strangers enjoy visiting it. That might be “good value food”, “out of the ordinary drinks”, “lovely surroundings” or “extraordinary collections of bric-a-brac”. Above all, the Guide informs:
What makes the good pub is its atmosphere. You should be able to feel at home there, and feel not just that you’re glad you’ve come but they’re glad you’ve come. It follows from this that a great many ordinary locals, perfectly good in their own right, don’t earn a place in the Guide. What makes them attractive to their regular customers (an almost clubby chumminess) may even make strangers feel rather out of place.I'm after something better than just good. I want to discover those rare pubs that provide greater pleasure than I could possibly anticipate.
After a week of field research I have begun devising an acid test for the Greater Pub Guide 2009. I would be very interested to learn about any pubs that have all of the following indicators of greatness:
Local ales on tap
A characterful publican
A local permanently perched at the bar
A varied clientele covering a range of social demographics and ages
Good, hearty food inspired by the local produce
...preferably including some intriguing British pub classics eg. steak and kidney stew in Yorkshire pudding
And most importantly, a passion or theme of some sort displayed in the furnishings and décorations.
Farming tools at The Horseshoe Inn, Ebbesbourne Wake, Salisbury, Wiltshire
Photographs of transport at the Three Horseshoes, Burbage, Marlborough, Wiltshire
Hunting at The Museum Inn, in Farnham, Dorset.
Here’s to 2009 being the year of discovering greatness in all its pleasurable forms.