Passion and pints

Hollie Stephens imagines the perfect pub for romance

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In his famous essay ‘The Moon Under Water’, published in February, 1946 in the Evening Standard, George Orwell describes a pub that is, in his eyes, perfect. Aspects of this welcoming Victorian watering hole do indeed sound as cosy and comforting as a warm blanket on a cold winter night. It’s filled with regulars and friendly staff, who “take a personal interest in everyone,” Orwell says. Patrons can grab some mussels from the snacks counter, and even play darts in the public bar. Oh, and there’s a fire burning.

Overall, it sounds smashing, doesn’t it? It’s exactly the sort of place that I’d love to sink into a seat after a long day, for a solo pint and a few snippets of conversation. But if Orwell were alive today and seeking a romantic connection in the 21st century dating landscape, he might agree with me that The Moon Under Water, while a pleasant pub to visit alone, may not necessarily be quite the right choice for a date night. Those friendly regulars and chatty bar staff? Lovely when nipping in for a quick one alone, but a bit much when you’re trying to have a romantic evening, to be honest. And come to think of it, that darts game sounds a bit too competitive, especially for a first date. 

So, what exactly makes a pub the right choice for a date night? And perhaps more important, which characteristics ought to be avoided at all costs if the evening is to go with a swing? I set to thinking about this for myself and asking others’ input for good measure. Excellent beer is a given, of course. Ideally, a decent selection, but not so large as to be bewildering. A good range of choices on both cask and keg, catering to hopheads, stout fiends, and lager lovers alike. The food menu is also important. I’m a huge fan of sharing plates like charcuterie and cheese boards, though naturally, there needs to be some solid vegan options on the menu too, and a kitchen that is happy to cater to allergies is always a plus.

Next, to ambiance. We all have our foibles, and one of mine is fussiness over lighting. A staunch avoider of the ‘big light’, I prefer soft glows all the way, both at home and when I’m out and about. Bright lights have made me wince and leave a pub on more than one occasion, and especially for amorous evenings, a nice gentle glimmer of small lamps is a must. It needs to be bright enough to read a food menu, but other than that, the dingier the better in my book. I’m also a fan of thoughtful wall décor. This can take many forms, such as old black and white photographs in more traditional pubs, and interesting art pieces by local artists in more modern ones. 

Once the lighting and décor pass muster, I’ll start noticing what the place sounds like. Is there music playing, and if so, what? And how loud is it? When soliciting the opinions of others, I found that many people put ‘quiet enough to talk’ high on their list of must-haves for the perfect date night pub. Indeed, Orwell lists this as a benefit of The Moon Under Water, too. I’m inclined to agree that this is a key concern, but I will add that a noise level too far in the other direction is also bothersome. If you can hear a pin drop, you can also hear exactly who is on a slightly awkward first Tinder date, and anyone who has ever been a bartender knows that the temptation to listen in is hard to resist. With that in mind, the background music ought to be set to a reasonable volume for both privacy and ease of conversation.

The right table choice can make or break the evening in my opinion, and I’m not the only one with strong preferences on this. “Seating that allows you to get the atmosphere of the place but allows a bit of privacy at the same time,” is how one fellow beer drinker, Phil, sums up his perfect evening out, and I’m inclined to agree. I adore comfy corners, but not if my choice leaves me feeling closer to cobwebs than the vibrancy of the bar. The right layout can be difficult to get just right but can transform the experience for guests.

Of course, in the times we currently live in, practical matters are also important. Risk tolerances can be hard to navigate, and it would be a shame for a pleasant evening to come to a premature end because the indoors gets a little too crowded for comfort, with no fresh air to escape into. “In these pandemic-stifled days, a good outdoor space with cover for rain and heaters for winter,” says Steve, when asked what he prioritises. Then, there’s the matter of the toilets – an often disappointing aspect of even some broadly pleasant pub experiences. A bad loo can do much to sour an otherwise magical night. I found that others I quizzed were also picky on this. “The loos are so important to me,” says Sarah. “Not only cleanliness/toilet roll etc. but some attention paid to the décor and also provisions like tampons and things provided.”

Perhaps this list seems even fussier than Orwell’s, but these days, we’re all a little fragile. This Valentine’s Day, we all deserve to find our perfect pubs in which to find or nurture love. Like Orwell, I know of a few pubs that have most of the qualities I’ve listed. Is there really such a thing as ‘the one’ – a pub that would take my breath away like no other? Truthfully, probably not, but the romantic in me wants to believe that it just might be out there, waiting for me to drop in. 

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