Help us raise a glass to your most cherished pub
As we invite you to vote for your favourite, Keith Miller looks at what really makes a great British boozer
Ever since I stumbled on it around 18 months ago, my favourite pub has not boasted an ever-changing roster of craft beers from innovative local breweries, or offered an ethically sourced small plates menu. It doesn’t have immaculately restored shabby-chic period interiors (though it is done out very skilfully, in a distinctive cyber-rustic style). It doesn’t have a website, or a real fire, or I’ve never noticed one lit, and big-screen sport is seldom absent from the television. It boasts not one, but two dartboards. It attracts a motley crew: Sikhs, posties, plasterers, fans of Southampton FC, tourists (I think there are Airbnb apartments nearby), young Polish women dolled up like R&B stars. It’s not on a National Trail or public footpath; it’s on a gruff stretch of road spanning the two or three miles that separate Southampton General Hospital – where my mother, Wena, was admitted after suffering a stroke in 2017 – from the train station and the city centre.
But if you were to ask me to name my favourite pub in the land, this, the Pig ’N Whistle on Shirley Road, would be it. Others might not think it has award potential, but it gets my vote.
The question is, what gets yours? For the first time, The Telegraph is joining forces with the Sawday’s guides to find the best pub in England, Wales and Scotland, as voted for by the people who eat and drink in them. Sawday’s already awards annual pub prizes in several categories (Best for Food, Authentic Pub, Community Pub, Favourite Newcomer, Best for Rooms and Best for Families) – and 2019 will see the first People’s Choice award, in partnership with this newspaper.
So whether it’s great for thricecooked goose-fat chips or serves excellent local bitter, or stands at the heart of its community, or has a particularly renowned collection of horse brasses – you decide. The pubs that receive the most votes (ask your fellow regulars to vote, too!) will be whittled down by the hardened topers here at The Telegraph to a shortlist from which, after exhaustive field research, we will select the winner. This will take its place among the pantheon of award-winners in the 2019 Sawday’s Great British Pub Guide (published on June 1), a lavish reboot of its long-running “Inns of England and Wales” books.
As an added incentive, four randomly selected submissions will net their senders £250 to spend on a stay at a Sawday’s inn of their choosing.
But what makes a perfect pub? Alastair Sawday reckons it’s “all about atmosphere – and about lovely people who encourage people to feel at home.
“I especially enjoy pubs that are owned by the community; one can almost smell the enthusiasm and human involvement,” he says.
For me, it’s more intangible. What I like about the Pig ’N Whistle is partly practical, even animalistic: it’s there, it keeps its beer well, it’s cheaper than London and better than other bars I’ve found locally. But over the past several months visiting my mother, first in hospital, now in a nursing home nearby, I have noticed how well run it is. The flowers on the tables are never dead. The surfaces are spotless. The staff are kind to the regulars and courteous to the occasional interloper.
What is more, it’s helped me think about what a pub should be like. A small regular pleasure of my job is to edit the Pint to Pint column, a longrunning weekly review of British pubs that appears in our ‘Sunday’ section. I am sure we’ve featured some of the same pubs that have caught the eyes of Sawday and his crack team of “enthusiasts for place” over the past 15 years. Some of our regulars, together with Telegraph food writers and editors, have supplied their nominations (right) to set the ball rolling.
When a new Pint writer comes into the fold, they will often ask about our criteria for inclusion, given that the column is devoted to celebrating good pubs rather than monstering bad ones, and I’ll mumble something about open fires, heritage, quality of beer, atmosphere, community and so forth.
And then I will tell them that they can ignore all of that – even, within reason, the beer – if they have found somewhere that just feels right. And I hope that’s what you’ll do when you send us your nominations for The Telegraph People’s Choice Pub of the Year. Go on, you know you want to.