I have long been an advocate of trying new pubs, but what encourages me to make a return visit? Just after Christmas we made the long journey up to Carlisle for the football.
After the game, we went for an excellent meal which went some way to easing the disappointment of another unlucky defeat for Bury, and then, as the time was only 9.30, we decided to try a Good Beer Guide pub around the corner from where we were staying. At first sight, the Crown and Thistle was not the obvious choice for a night out with the bar wife, as it is a locals’ pub, amongst terraced streets and described as being popular with Carlisle football fans.
When we arrived the place was packed with people of all ages.
One room had music on, so we crammed ourselves into the corner of the bar until a couple of guys made room for us around a table.
As we chatted, it turned out that one of them was a driving instructor, and he entertained us with stories such as the time he took a nervous beginner with limited English onto the dual carriageway up to Gretna.
The pupil repeatedly asked if he was in the right lane and had to be constantly reassured, “Stay on the inside”, every few seconds.
Then, rather carelessly, the instructor said “Stop where you are”, at which point the pupil slammed all the brakes on in an emergency stop, narrowly avoiding being the cause of a major accident.
Inevitably the talk turned to football and it turned out that he was formerly with Carlisle and Annan and was now part of the management of the new Gretna club, so we had another beer and time flew by until we all went off to watch Match of the Day.
On the way home we stopped at a pub in a Nottinghamshire village which is the only tied house for a local microbrewery.
Once again the beer was great, but to reach the bar I had to stretch over the shoulders of a row of people sitting on stools blocking all access to the counter.
They must have been interesting guys, as the barmaid did not break off her conversation with them whilst she attempted to serve me.
As I asked for a still water, no ice (for the bar wife), she repeated the words back to me as she put ice in the glass.
Neither of these things are a really big deal, but it did make me feel that my custom was less welcome than some of the regulars.
So to which of these pubs will I make a return visit?
In the increasing unlikely event that Bury are in the same league as Carlisle next season, the Crown and Thistle will be on my list, but although the second pub was fine, there are a whole bunch of villages near the A1 which need to be explored.
From these experiences I have formulated my two rules of retail. First, sell a great product and second, make the customer feel welcome.
But which is more important? I was intending to go along to some evening classes on philosophy, but it looks as though they may have fallen victim to the weather.
This is a shame, as they may have helped me to solve one of life’s greatest puzzles.
Is it better to drink great beer in a poor pub or poor beer in a great pub?