Wednesday 12 August 2009

We are scum

To the Pilchard Inn on Burgh Island in Devon, overlooking the spit of sand that adjoins it to the mainland when the tide is out. An old inn, full of character I think, white-washed walls with the name standing out, the chance of a couple of pints in between body boarding and rock-pooling. Hello, what’s this, a queue for the bar, which I being essentially polite, join — after all there is South Hams’ XSB on and also something from Exeter Brewery (not world-beaters but at least they’re supporting local brewers, which is good and I don’t really expect this pub to have something from Schonram on tap, mind you they have San Miquel if you want to pretend you are in Spain).

Finally served by an unsmiling woman who presumably doesn’t like all these people from ‘off’ in her pub. There’s another bar at the back and so I go and have a look. A lovely sign says ‘reserved for guests and regulars’. Guests means those who can afford to stay at the Art Deco hotel that dominates one side of the island, while regulars I assume means some old sea salt who is wheeled out for the guests to talk to and make them feel they have had a brush with real life before returning to their Art Deco surroundings to throw peanut shells at the plebs shuffling about on the island.

The pub is a real disappointment, it presumably needs the service of those off the beach who fancy a pint, but it doesn’t want to infect the whole of its premises with them. It’s not a real public house then, it’s a facsimile, a virtual pub — I got more of a welcome in the Edwardian boozer that they transplanted to the Beamish Open-Air Museum in the north-east (barmaid in bustles, old Youngers signs, coal fire in the winter) than I did to this nose-wrinkling, handkerchief waving away, scowling place. Any port in a storm and all that but next time I do some body boarding on Bigbury beach I’ll settle for a bottle of Quercus ale from the excellent Venus Beach Cafe on the unwashed side of the beach.

The pub is lovely, the beer is good, the situation on a hot day heavenly, but this slice of suburban apartheid really sticks in my craw. So there.


  1. San Miguel -- eugh! I try not to be a snob about mass produced beer, but SM is actually nasty. Estrella Damm is boring, but not bad. SM has that chemical thing I so love in Stella Artois.

    This pub sounds bleak. There's a vicious circle you see sometimes: poor trade, leading to depressed staff, leading to poor trade...

  2. Hi Bailey
    the shame about it is that the ale was good and the location divine but the attitude stunk and I am heartily sick of paying for the privilege of being treated like a small piece of shit on someone’s shoe. I used to say only in the UK but having experienced this sort of attitude in France, Ireland and Italy I wonder if it’s the deadly dull, alienating aspect of serving people that produces it — which makes you wonder if this was the engine that drove the whole postwar self-service revolution — page 51 of Beer is Best by John Watney is quite interesting.

  3. Waitering or working behind a bar in a place where you have no stake, and where you're treated badly by the boss, can be pretty soul-destroying. The minute the staff start wearing matching polo shirts, I think you're in trouble.

  4. I'm afraid, where you mesh quality residential trade with potentiality mucky outdoor casual trade there can be a need for segregation.

    See my post

  5. What a shame - if they embraced the ordinary, and catered to what thier guests want, they'd probably be much better off.

  6. Dave
    my Exmoor local has a eating place to the right, the boozers place to the left, it’s all open plan, everyone mixes (apart from a certain Daily Mail journalist who waltzes in, ignores friendly nods and looks as miserable as sin). Having read your post I know what you are saying, I understand it, but the Pilchard’s exclusive bar is not a hotel lounge, the hotel is 200 or so metres away, an art deco monstrosity that prides itself on its website that people still dress up for dinner (what’s the point, you just get soup on your spats) — in the public bar we had to queue for drinks and got a lamentable service (‘here’s £3, can I have an acknowledgement that I am part of the human race as well as a pint?’); also what constitutes regulars? I am a regular in my local but I like the fact I get to talk to drinking pals as well as tourists from away, it all broadens out the pub experience. I still feel that the Pilchard Inn does itself a disservice with its exclusion zone.

  7. I didn't realise the hotel was 200 meters away. That does make a bit of a difference.

    Customer service would help as well.