How do the ‘modern’ and ‘Orwellian’ pub ideals compare?

The ideal UK pub should serve food, have a beer garden and real ale and allow dogs according to a recent survey but how does it stack up with George Orwell’s definition of “what a pub should be”?

Conducted by YouGov, the survey took its inspiration form the British author’s famous dissertation on the ‘ideal’ London public house (“the qualities one expects of a country pub are slightly different”), written in 1946.

Creating a fictitious pub he christened, ‘Moon Under Water’, Orwell gave it various ideal characteristics such as serving food, having a beer garden, staff that knew the regulars, “is obliging about letting you use the telephone” and served beer from “strawberry pink china mugs” and stout in pewter pots.

Some of Orwell’s preferred pub features are no longer of much or any importance to modern British pub-goers.

Strawberry-pink china mugs are no longer ‘a thing’ although in this day and age it might not be long before someone tries to bring them back.

Only 6% of those surveyed wanted their ideal pub to sell cigarettes or tobacco – not much use anyway now since the smoking ban which Orwell would have abhorred – and only 16% agreed with him that the architecture and fittings should be “uncompromisingly Victorian… the solid, comfortable ugliness of the nineteenth century”.

On the other hand, 67% agreed pubs should serve meals (though only lunch and never dinner was Orwell’s suggestion) and 63% wanted their pub to have a beer garden, which the writer approved of – for reasons at odds with a response we shall deal with later.

YouGov said that 52% of people believed the ideal pub should have a fireplace and that this was not part of Orwell’s Moon Under Water, though in fact he wrote that in winter a good fire should be burning in “at least two of the bars”.

Modern Britons also agreed – to the tune of over 50% – that a good pub should have friendly staff that know the regulars and serve snacks (though one wonders if Orwell’s liver-sausage sandwiches would be as popular now).

The serving of real ale was important to 37% of those surveyed as were the hosting of live music and pub quizzes, while 35% wanted to have background music, which Orwell would have banned without question.

Twenty-seven percent of those surveyed said they would not want children to be allowed in and this is very much against how Orwell envisioned his Moon Under Water. The garden, he said, should have a swing and a chute for children and he called the exclusion of children from pubs as “puritanical nonsense” as it also meant, “to some extent [the exclusion of] women” and, as a result, “has turned these places into mere boozing-shops instead of the family gathering-places that they ought to be.”

Less important to the modern British drinker it seems are leather seats (14% – though no doubt “comfortably ugly” enough for Orwell’s liking), televisions and sport (17%), tankards (13%) and fruit machines (5%).

The ‘ideal’ pub of course, like Moon Under Water, does not exist but we might all agree with Orwell’s final sentence that at the very least one might hope to find: “A pub that has draught stout, open fires, cheap meals, a garden, motherly barmaids and no radio.”

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