In Defence of Wetherspoons (Again)
Jay Rayner’s Observer column on 7th February notes an FT survey that shows that Wetherspoons are now the largest purveyors of curries in the UK (on Thursdays, a tenner for a curry, side & drink). He points out that this is not a recommendation.
Indeed, here I am with the great beard wearer (former Beard of the Year). If I plan to go out for a curry, Wetherspoons will not be on my list of potential places.
Even so there are as I noted as long ago as 2012 things to be said in defence of Wetherspoons.
You can argue with some justification that they squeeze profit margins of smaller breweries (quid pro quo the beers get a wider market) by selling beers cheaply and they do the same to other pubs.
In attempting to say anything in defence of Wetherspoons and Tim Martin (he of the mullet hair style and UKIP-ish views on some things such as the EU) of course I am biased.
Along with Spurs and BBC television, Wetherspoons is one of Haringey’s greatest exports to the world. The original pub in conjunction with the long written out of history Andrew Marler opened in the late 1970s in Colney Hatch Lane in Muswell Hill. I was an early customer drinking beers such as Sam Smiths, Arkells and Greene King that had never made it to North London before.
Wetherspoons expanded and Haringey is littered with ex-Wetherspoons pubs, most not now actually pubs.
They have recently sold several other of their outlets in the Borough including the Gatehouse in Highgate, (where I doubt they could compete with other pubs) the Devonshire in Crouch End and the very long standing White Lion of Mortimer in Stroud Green
Even so the formula as it has evolved over several years is a successful one and the new Spoons at the top of Muswell Hill is proof of the point. It is a well situated and well-designed pub and yes I have both had a beer and eaten in there.
Cask beer is invariably sold- initially in a period when it was not so common as the force of the [old] keg tide was still something to be reckoned with and avoided. Food was also sold- all day [or initially in the period before pubs were open all day, during opening hours]. It may seem odd to younger readers but this was revolutionary.
Of course as Jay Rayner suggests the food is not great but it is usually perfectly edible and reasonably priced. More-over Spoons goes out of its way to publicise things like salt and fat content in its food and encourage, for those so minded, some effort at healthier eating.
More revolutionary aspects included historically no music, no TVs and no games machines. On the last two Wetherspoons has since relented to a degree.
The result however was that the pubs were and mostly still are welcoming to those who did not really feel that the traditional boozer was for them. That is to say [it’s a long list] women, ethnic minorities, lesbians and gays, lefties. At their best Wetherspoons felt like real and well-populated community pubs
Prices are invariably cheap, cheap enough for most [not all] of the most hard up in society to afford at least the occasional pint. That presents some issues of course (see above)
As I travel the country I occasionally find that the Wetherspoons is the best pub in a particular location and it is a genuinely good pub. But actually I don’t drink in Wetherspoons a great deal anymore, festivals aside.
The beer quality, while usually OK, very rarely matches the excellence one can find in the best of the new independent free houses. I don’t drink a great deal (usually a couple of pints on a weekday night, often in halves) so I endeavour to make sure that what I do drink is worth drinking.
The beer range in Spoons can be disappointing, though to be fair Wetherspoons still making a point of selling local beers and in some locations has started selling some local craft keg beers as well.
The big issue with Wetherspoons continues to be I think the failure to move on.
Capitalism- market society- is a dynamic system that continually changes. Yet Wetherspoons have a very similar model to the one they had 10 or 20 years ago. Yes it works and it gets customers.
But while a visit to a Wetherspoons in many areas would have been a must now there are often better pubs that Tim Martin is not even trying to compete with.
Much more could be said but a summary continues to be that there are worse things than Wetherspoons. There are also better things.