Look at the head on that! (this is not our usual Guinness)
The lads and I (collectively known, except to them, as the Big Nose Club) decided, at my instigation, to break away from tradition and venture to the UK for a couple of hours.
Yes, we paid a visit to Satan’s den and checked one of the links in the chain that is rumoured to have tied the pub industry to the ground before kicking it in the face. We… ahem… drank in a Wetherspoon pub.
Let me put the record straight. It was obviously more of a sociological study then an implicit endorsement of the small publicans slayer.
We did fit in a half dozen pints each though (but Chica, it was SO cheap) and some delicious food (more on that later).
I must admit to having been in the 40 Foot once before, and having really enjoyed the selection of beers. This is the reason why I was curious to see the lads’ reaction.
We have over the years done enough for the shareholders of Diageo, and their marketing people can work their wonders and turn an alcoholic beverage into a national icon (a black and white creamy pint is a lot more photogenic than an enlarged cirrhosed liver), at the end of the day Guinness is a beer. Among hundreds of very drinkable beers.
We agreed on our first impression of the place: it is bright. Way too bright. Somehow brightness does not suit pubs.
The 2 fundamental rules of the Irish pub are: it has to dimly lit and you cannot be seen from the outside. How else could it be a semi-illicit pleasure? It has to have the taste of the forbidden fruit (or cheap apple pulp if you are a cider drinker).
But the 40 Foot is not quite a pub. It is more of an eat-and-drink cheap cheap cheap place (even if your intention was not to eat in the first place).
The price list is the number one pulling factor, just like people do not fly Ryanair because of their love for the yellow/blue colour scheme.
I mean, getting EUR2.50 change from a tenner for a round of three drinks is unheard of. Each time we went to the bar we just couldn’t believe how cheap a round was (even when we tried the more expensive pints, at an eye-watering EUR2.95)
The selection is good (although 3 of the beers that we had intended to try were not available last night). And the beers were closely scrutinised.
All in all, we had a good time, sampled quite a lot of beers that we wouldn’t normally have access to and talked shite as we usually do. It felt a little bit as if we were abroad. Except that everybody spoke with an Irish accent. A bit like in Molly Malone’s pub in Lanzarote.
The place is too bright and the table are too high. As if the place was designed more for eating than having a conspirational conversation on low stools at a low table with a bag of Taytos and dry roasted peanuts.
And the thing is, it was. Designed as a place for the munchies. For this is the genius bit in the Wetherspoon business model: you will inevitably end up eating mass produced shite that you would not touch with a barge pole while sober, but that tastes absolutely delicious after four pints. And so packed full of salt and spices that you will feel compelled to drink at least another 4 pints to quench the gargantuan thirst. And then you’ll get the munchies again. And on and on until you succumb from a coronary disease, aged 47.
The food isn’t great. But it is cheap. Well, EUR12 for 3 starters seems like a decent price after ingesting a few thousand millilitres of water turned into something delicious thanks to hops and fermentation. And it keeps the business model ticking along (a bag of Taytos cannot be procured for love nor money)
To be fair, we had a great evening (but then again the company is great – wherever we decide to take it) in a place with no TV or music (a refreshing change for those of us who still practice the ancient, slightly old-fashioned art of oral communication).
We had our six pints each (and food, well… 2 prawns each encrusted in a crusty thirst-inducing substance, 2 chicken strips each soaked in Drink-a-Lot sauce, and 3 spicy wings each that explain the pungent smells that one has to battle with in communal toilets in the Mistake Factory – I know now which of my colleagues eat and drink in the 40 Foot) for just a little over EUR20.
You’d have to get in touch with the IMF before hoping to do the same in a city centre pub, or sell one of your kids’ kidney on eBay.
We will go back again.
BUT, we’ve made the solemn promise that:
– at least one full year shall have elapsed before we go back, and our next meetings will be in locally owned, locally operated pubs
– we will smuggle in our own Taytos and peanuts (Scampi fries if we are feeling extravagant), as I do not wish to inflict on my work colleagues’ nostrils the Morning-After-Spicy-Wings-and-Revisionist-Craft-Stout biological bomb
We are only too aware that the attraction for the cheap drink is going to mean in the not-so-distant future the death of several local public houses.
What shite satellite TV and comparatively cheaper off licence drinks have started will be reinforced by mega pub chains: the death of the Irish pub, as a social space, dim lit, away from prying eyes, with a sense of convivial conspiracy.
As we were hoovering the last drops of our chilled Russian Baltika, we were pondering the inevitability of standardisation, and the reduction in variety, and the darwinian nature of life.
Wetherspoon is without doubt going to kill off many a small establishment.
Their decline is partly their fault. The omnipresence of shite, loud TV in pubs has been a problem for many years.
The publicans’ reaction to seeing their custom base shrink has been to increase prices in order to try and maintain revenue, making a night on the tiles quite literally beyond the reach of most, in a society riddled with debt (both national and personal.
A touristy excursion to the 40 Foot was both fun and educational. And cheap.
But a pub scene with no alternatives is a scary thought. A scary thought indeed.
You have no idea how asphyxiatingly awful those spicy wings are on the way out, when you are hungover and feeling sorry for yourself in the Cubicle of Doom.