And The Winner Is
Of course, having dismissed the Rough Pub Guide, we’re left with the question that I recently had emailed to me. If you’re a stranger in a strange land (strange how “strange” always make me think of London), which guidebook will prove most useful in finding a good boozer?
Now there are a myriad of titles to choose from. However, most are very specific-dining, country pubs etc. And even when they’re not immediately obvious -the AA Pub Guide, for example, a quick flick will reveal their preference. Mostly, as with the AA Pub Guide, they concentrate on food-led pubs. But where to go for a broad selection of pubs?
Now, at first glance, it would appear to be a straight contest between The Good Beer Guide and The Good Pub Guide. And the GPG should, in theory, be on a winner as the GBG may, in some eyes, be too restrictive. Personally, I think a pub needs good beer to be a good pub. And, unlike some bloggers, that doesn’t mean Carling and Guinness. I’ve been to a lot of pubs-an awful lot (shocking I know), over the years and I’ve never found a good pub that doesn’t sell decent beer. There may be one, but I haven’t come across it yet. Some have been decent, but it seems that if they’re not bothered about what they’re serving, they’re not going to bother about the pub generally. And therefore, they’re never going to get into the top flight.
However, it’s not the broad aspect of the GPG that is the problem. No, it’ simply that it’s unreliable and out of date. So is the GBG I hear some smart arse say. Yes, the GBG has faults, but it’s a question of which is the best of the two. The GPG simply hasn’t got the resources to do a decent job. I should know-I used to review for it. Doing it on the cheap, it mainly relies on public input, which goes unchecked, leading to some widely inaccurate entries.
Of course I can only speak for those areas I know well-the North West, but it surely is indicative of the GPG as a whole. Take Manchester, for example. Of the main entries, you’ve got the obvious-the Marble Arch. Fine. But then you’ve got Dukes 92 sat beside it. I helped to get this in some 16 years ago and it’s amazing that it’s still in. What was a cutting edge bar back then is very run of the mill these days. I don’t think you’d find many (anyone?) who’d rate that as one of Manc’s finest these days.
But that’s not the worst of it. The “Lucky Dip” section is exactly that. Under “Manchester” you’ve got pubs that are actually in Whitefield and, worse still, the Crescent and New Oxford that are proudly in the city of Salford. And some of the information is pure fantasy. The Crown & Kettle has “up to eight real ales on.” It certainly hasn’t and never did have. And it’s so dour. Page after page of small, dull type. Not a splash of colour anywhere. The only use for the GPG I can find is as doorstop.
Which leaves us with the GBG. Yes, CAMRA do get it wrong and there are, not always obvious, problems. Such as Manchester City Centre not coming under one central branch. But what they do have is (sometimes) enthusiastic volunteers with local knowledge. Which is priceless. And so, in the absence of a reliable online guide, the GBG wins by a knockout.