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Why sneer at Wetherspoons? Society needs sources of cheap comfort

Society needs places like Wetherspoons. (OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

Society needs places like Wetherspoons. (OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)


December 7, 2023   5 mins

Until I walked across England, from Liverpool to Hull, I’d never heard of Wetherspoon. I certainly had no idea that, as a well-educated person, I was supposed to be scornful of the chain of pubs. When I discovered it, I liked it, for the same simple reasons that everyone I met in a Wetherspoon liked it: they are almost always open; have absurdly inexpensive, great beer; and are inviting spaces filled with interesting people who like to talk.

The first Wetherspoon I went into was The Cherry Tree in Huddersfield, to hide from a morning rain shower. Even at 10.30am, it was buzzing. At first glance, it appeared to be filled with more outwardly broken people per square foot than almost anywhere I’ve been in the world: alcoholics (functioning and not), people with disabilities (mental or physical), and the very poor. If I were that way inclined, I could easily paint it as a scene to be gawked at, mocked, pitied, or all three. I could make a clown of the perfectly and precisely dressed bald gentleman who sat four tables down from me, alone, staring straight ahead, sipping his pints and periodically lifting up his tie to lick off the drops that fell on it. Yet as I sheltered in The Cherry Tree, what I saw in him, and beyond him, were hundreds of warm, human and moving scenes of otherwise lonely people not being alone.

The table directly next to mine catered to an evolving mix of mostly elderly people who seemed to all know each other. They would come, hug, sit, sip, gossip, get up, hug again, then move on. It ebbed and flowed like that through lunchtime, until by 2.00pm the table sat only a single couple, across from each other. They eventually invited me to join them. When they introduced themselves, they explained they were not a couple. Not like that, you see. Just friends, drawn a little closer now, because each had recently lost their spouse, and they were more alone than they’d ever been.

She had lost her Oliver eight months before, after 53 years of marriage. He was everything to her, and her to him. Oliver had been a builder, she had been a dinner lady, and after they raised a family, they retired to live their dream of travelling the world. Nashville, Italy, Spain, Vegas. Then he passed away. She tried to tell me more, but kept teetering on the edge of tears.

Her tablemate, a retired military man, had a similar story, although instead of tears there was a measured stoicism. A lost spouse of 22 years, and now confusion. Life wasn’t supposed to be lived without her.

So, they both came to The Cherry Tree daily, to forget and connect. We talked for two beers, and they tried, with all they had left, to keep the conversation positive — even though Huddersfield isn’t what it used to be, the world’s become crueller, and everything is going down the gutter. You have to make the best of the ups, and weather the downs, and focus on the grandkids.

‘They both came to The Cherry Tree daily, to forget and connect.’ (Chris Arnade)

It was an eerily similar conversation to one I’d once had with two widowers in McDonald’s outside of Houston, Texas: a conversation that had helped me to see the fast-food chain not as the soulless corporation to look down on, but as an essential part of local communities, especially “downscale ones”. A welcoming space in a world that’s becoming ever colder and more mechanical. Society needs these inexpensive, judgement-free zones, for people who are used to being judged; places where those of any race, class or age can get together simply to be together; where someone can escape loneliness and the elements, and sit all day in a quiet corner, reading the paper.

After The Cherry Tree, I would go into a Wetherspoon whenever I was near one, and I came to respect them even more than I respect McDonald’s. Partly because they are so pleasant: there is no blasting music or blinding lights. They have comfortable chairs with actual fabric. They are thoughtful, too, with separate spaces for every type of customer, from large families with rambunctious toddlers to sullen singles wanting to bond only with their pint. The employees are polite, which puts the customers on their best behaviour, even those who’ve been drinking for hours straight. I’ve now been to over 40 Wetherspoons, in all parts of the UK, and there are no clunkers.

It is easy to take those things for granted, if you are well-off. But Wetherspoons are also beautiful. Other large chains aim to be dull in their consistency, but every Wetherspoon is unique. With rare exceptions — The Cherry Tree being one of them — each one is in a refurbished historical space, done up in neither a gaudy nor a sterile fashion, honouring the past while keeping it alive in the present. The preservation spirit alone ought to make cultured people gush about Wetherspoons, but, as I quickly learned, when I did gush about them, few gushed back. In fact, they tended to be downright scornful. I learned that I wasn’t supposed to love Wetherspoon, except perhaps ironically, because the chain is “problematic” with an owner “who’s a closed-minded arse”, who supported Brexit and “was wrong about Covid”.

The founder and owner of Wetherspoon, Tim Martin, is not loved by journalists, or others in the credentialed class. When I first picked up the chain’s in-house magazine, I found that the feeling was mutual. The issue in question had a blood red cover blaring, “Does Truth Matter?” with the subheading: “Many untrue statements were made about Wetherspoon during the pandemic. Wetherspoon News sets the record straight.”

The case he makes — about a snobby media class twisting his words to make him sound like an Evil Boss — might have merit, but it really doesn’t matter. The snobs can adjudicate over the finer details of the morality of going to a ’Spoons for breakfast when they’re hungover; meanwhile, the regulars’ loyalty has never wavered.

I find it particularly odd that people object to Wetherspoon because the owner supported Brexit. Because the other reason the chain gets judged is because it’s killing off smaller, family-owned pubs: undercutting them in price, due to its size and scale. I won’t deny that, after a week of going to such pubs, I was shocked at their prices. Was I really getting my favourite locally-made cask ale — the work of a craftsman, from an American perspective — for around £2? The same one for which I’d paid over double a few nights before? In short, Wetherspoon is doing exactly what the EU was doing.

One of the main reasons for voting against Brexit was for more open markets: for the cross-border, neoliberal agenda that encourages global uniformity, and consequently larger corporations offering lower prices — like Wetherspoon. Those well-travelled, well-educated Londoners, with careers in big global corporations and enough money to pay the £7 for a pint in their uptight South Kensington local, sneer at the poor for drinking in a big corporate chain run by a bad man. But if they were consistent, they’d cheer it on, as one of the more pleasant and socially useful manifestations of corporatisation.

Because ultimately, what matters is this: that Wetherspoon is good for people. Politics has absolutely no bearing on whether that couple will keep meeting to share their sorrow over a drink, or whether that solitary man with the 1,000-yard stare will find shelter in a well-upholstered corner. It does not explain why I will continue to tour the Wetherspoons of England. All of us will keep going simply because we take ’Spoons at face value, and like them without irony. They are simply great establishments to have a pint in — which is how a pub is generally judged.

I now tune out when people start telling me the political reasons they don’t like a Wetherspoon. But I also skip over the editorial at the front of Wetherspoon News, before I read the rest of the magazine, which tells the stories of regular customers and long-time employees, such as shift leader Carol, who skipped 100 times a day for a month to raise money for cancer research, in honour of her late grandmother. 

Not surprisingly, my favourite profile to date is of a former medic, Steve Jones, who’s halfway to his retirement goal of visiting every Wetherspoon in the UK — using only trains and his feet. Wetherspoon is not its owner’s politics or even its owner. It is this: human stories, told simply.


Chris Arnade is an American photographer. He is currently walking round the world.

Chris_arnade

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Nell Clover
Nell Clover
5 months ago

You can guarantee that someone who sneers at Wetherspoons either doesn’t drink in pubs or viscerally hates Brexit voters for simply existing or reads the Guardian or works for the BBC. And that suits me because nothing ruins a pint more than a Remainer still banging on about 2016 or the daily hate from Monbiot and Toynbee or being lectured on the climate changing carbon footprint of my drink.

The deep truth is they sneer because they fear. Hating Wetherspoons is a manifestation of class-based anxiety. In their heads, Wetherspoons is the epitome of common people and their sometimes different, anti-establishment views.

If George Orwell was still around he’d no doubt have something acerbic to write about those who sneer. In his absence, I’ll paraphrase for him. It is a strange fact, but it is unquestionably true, that almost any English intellectual would feel more ashamed of walking into a ‘Spoons than emitting 10 tonnes of carbon on a private flight to have dinner with Donald Trump.

Last edited 5 months ago by Nell Clover
Chris Amies
Chris Amies
5 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Orwell is a neat fit for this – the “Moon Under Water” (this or variants thereof are popular Wetherspoon names) was his fictional ideal pub, and didn’t he have a line about ‘England is the only country whose intellectuals hate it’?

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
5 months ago
Reply to  Chris Amies

There is a real Moon Under Water in Manchester, Wetherspoons naturally. Named so due to George Orwell’s connections to Manchester. Orwell cut his journalistic teeth writing for the Manchester Evening News. By coincidence, about 400 yards from the Moon Under Water is the Guardian’s original HQ. And of course Orwell’s study of poverty and criticism of middle class socialists was written in Wigan Pier, a place in Greater Manchester.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
5 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Indeed, there are five Spoons within walking distance in Manchester city centre, each with its own character. The Paramount on Oxford Rd is a meeting place for students but in each there’s usually a wide range of people, whilst new bars are popping up every week and the older haunts such as Peveril of the Peak continue to flourish.

Long live the Great British Pub, and all who wassail in her!

Last edited 5 months ago by Steve Murray
54321
54321
5 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

These days the Guardian is the living embodiment of another aphorism often attributed to Orwell (though its exact provenance is uncertain):
“There are some ides so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.”

John Galt Was Correct
John Galt Was Correct
5 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

There is another Moon Under Water in Hounslow, which when it opened in the early 1990’s was so nicely appointed and furnished that it made everywhere else look shabby, and it was cheaper to boot. The Manchester Moon Under Water is epic for its sheet scale, being an ex cinema and now that I have thought about I am going to have to pop in at the weekend…

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
5 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Always enjoyed Moon Under Water as a student. Curry and pint for about a fiver at the turn of the Millenium – what’s not to like?

Andrew S
Andrew S
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

And a refillable coffee for under two quid. The Spoons in Kingsway London is a place I go for coffee because it is half the price of specialist coffee shops and they offer a chair and good surroundings. The staff also speak English – staff of whatever colour happens to be on duty.

Last edited 5 months ago by Andrew S
R S Foster
R S Foster
5 months ago
Reply to  Chris Amies

…not a line, but an Essay, “The Lion and the Unicorn”, published by Penguin Classics at (I think)…ÂŁ6.99. An excellent read, and possibly the finest short exposition of the hatred in which English Leftist “Intellectuals” hold their Country, its Culture and History, and the overwhelming majority of their fellow countrymen.
Anybody who reads Unherd and hasn’t read this…should… although my guess is that many of us started our journey towards the Unherd Club (The cocktails are good, btw…and the ambiance better!) by doing so…

Gerry Quinn
Gerry Quinn
5 months ago
Reply to  Chris Amies

When the writer mentioned a pub called The Cherry Tree I thought of Orwell’s 1984 – though in fact I was mistaking the name slightly; the pub in that was called The Chestnut Tree.

Tony Price
Tony Price
5 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

It sounds to me as though you are both sneering and fearing this mythical class who ‘hate’ Wetherspoons. I know a lot of people, with a variety of both age and income, and have never met anyone who hates ‘Spoons – and I both read the Guardian and watch (or actually rather listen to) the BBC. ‘Daily hate’ in the Guardian? Try reading the Telegraph or the Mail if you really want that!

Nell Clover
Nell Clover
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

It isn’t hard to find derogatory Guardian articles about Spoons. Here’s a few quotes from an article published in September 2020:
“bootlicking politics of Wetherspoons” “rightwing ideology of Wetherspoon’s management” “Wetherspoon’s Janus face” and “rightwing Euroscepticism and poor worker relations”. On that last point, the Guardian (as you’d expect from a bunch of nepo humanities graduates) had got its maths wrong and Spoons was in fact paying sigificantly more than the national living wage. Click on The Canary, Vox, etc and there’s unbridled hate for Tim Martin, Spoons, and the people who drink there.

There’d be more but the Guardian has had its ar*e handed to it so many times by Tim Martin they’ve given up giving him the free advertising.

Last edited 5 months ago by Nell Clover
Tony Price
Tony Price
5 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Please note what I actually said before engaging your keyboard. Firstly I was talking about people to whom I have spoken, not journalism. Secondly those pieces from the Guardian are talking about the politics of Mr Martin etc, they are NOT sneering at the pubs or their patrons, and indeed very recently had a piece extolling the virtues of the pubs! Re ‘The Canary, Vox, etc’ I have absolutely no idea as I have never visited them, unlike Spoons which I very much enjoy!

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

….which scarcely amounts to much of a defence. The Guardian may not peddle outright hate, but it is the epitome of small minded supposedly “progressive” sanctimoniousness.

The concept that all true businesses should sign up to a woke agenda, oppose Brexit, and approve of only a tiny range of approved opinions (however hypocritically held), is absolutely nauseating…

And there have indeed been outright lies about how Wetherspoons treats its staff.

Last edited 5 months ago by Andrew Fisher
Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Really?

Tony Price
Tony Price
5 months ago

Yes, really!

Benedict Waterson
Benedict Waterson
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Are you very familiar with content in the telegraph and Mail then? You need a subscription to read the telegraph I believe

Tony Price
Tony Price
5 months ago

One of my friends gave me a 6 month sub to the DT so that I could see the ‘other side’, so yes I have read it recently and comprehensively. I quite enjoyed it, especially the Sport pages, but the level of hate in the opinion pieces struck me as rather above anything from the G, and the level of hate in the comments was astonishingly prevalent. Of course there is some of that in the G’s comments, but primarily a lot of good-natured humour, and erudition, almost absent from the DT btl – a bit like in Unheard really (actually to be fair there is a decent amount of informed comment btl here)! Try reading the G’s btl with an open mind and see what you think.
I am also, unfortunately, exposed to a couple of FB groups from what you might reasonably call the ‘far left’, and there is plenty of unpleasantness there, but that is not the Guardian!

Pamela Booker
Pamela Booker
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Define “hate”.

Stephen Kristan
Stephen Kristan
5 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

Dude, you dropped the wrong name. Your “almost any intellectual” would be taking his private flight to dinner with John Kerry (“Old Lantern Jaw”) to discuss the horrors of fossil fuels.

John Riordan
John Riordan
5 months ago
Reply to  Nell Clover

You should be writing articles for Unherd, not commenting upon them.

Absolutely brilliant.

54321
54321
5 months ago

I use Wetherspoons a lot when I’m away with work on my own. They are quick, cheap and you can generally get a decent couple of pints of Doom Bar as a baseline and often something more interesting. I’m generally short on time and energy and just want somewhere familiar and reliable.
I’m not going to pretend the food is great, because it isn’t. But it is priced accordingly and I’m really not looking for haute cuisine on these trips. What I don’t appreciate is other pubs which charge restaurant prices for basically the same pub food dressed up as something superior.
On Brexit, I disagree with Tim Martin, but I think those people who supposedly refuse to use Wetherspoons because of this issue are pathetic. People are entitled to hold and peacefully express political views I disagree with. I’m not so fragile that I can’t bear to patronise their business. And I will say that Wetherspoon’s in-house magazine was one of the few places where I read both sides of the Brexit argument put with civility as Martin invited Remainers to contribute pieces to put their side across.
Much of the coverage he receives in the progressive wing of the media is misrepresentation to the point outright deceit, such as when he told his furloughed staff that he understood if they wanted to take supermarket jobs during lockdown and would give them first refusal to come back when pubs re-opened. This was misrepresented as him telling them to “go work at Tesco if they don’t like it”.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
5 months ago

Over the last couple of decades (perhaps), we’ve seen the emergence of an unashamed class snobbery, at least from the (supposedly) educated middle class. The disdain for Wetherspoons is one particular example of this.

J Bryant
J Bryant
5 months ago

Nice article, and now I’m in the mood for a pint.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
5 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I hope you’re now in a ‘Spoon with one in front of you.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
5 months ago

I’ve had a pint in over 100 Spoons, and the reason is very simple. You know what you’re getting and that it’ll be well-kept and inexpensive.

It’s also mistaken to believe that Spoons is driving other pubs out of the market. Whilst old, traditional back-street boozers might be struggling, many vacant former retail spaces are being opened as micro-pubs or cocktail bars, catering for different punters perhaps but nevertheless contradicting the belief that Spoons is killing off the competition.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

There’s a definite change in drinking habits. The younger generations don’t go out till later in the evening, preferring to drink cheaper supermarket booze before going to clubs and late opening venues.
The craft beer selling micro pub is definitely on the rise, catering to an older generation with a bit more cash who like drinking in the afternoons/early evenings.
Entertainment is offered from an ever widening range of sources. Money aside, one thing all of us only have a limited resource of is time and I think this is the central problem faced by the traditional pub.

If there was a heat map of pubs where I live, you’d see the edge of town/suburbs cooling off with the town centre getting a lot hotter.

Chris Amies
Chris Amies
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Dalton

True. There are entire suburbs of this town that have only one pub each (which can be very good or can be unpleasant – it varies). Whereas the centre has lots of them.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I didn’t know what Wetherspoons were till I read this story. They sound delightful and I wish we had them in America. Of course, it wouldn’t be the same and probably wouldn’t work. I suspect it’s the culture of the Brits (of which I am one) that makes them work. There is no equivalent to the pub in the US there are instead bars which lack the ingredient that makes pubs and Wetherspoons what they are, a community.

Last edited 5 months ago by Clare Knight
Martin Rossol
Martin Rossol
5 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

When I finally get to England (for some reason the 2020 trip didn’t happen) I will definitely look up a ‘Spoon or two. Great article. By the distain they had for Jesus, I would expect him to be found at a Wetherspoons- or dinner with Trump?! -before some more ‘respectful establishment’. And I am also inclined to frequent those lessor establishments. While I am not aware of any similar chain in the US, there are many micro-breweries that sound much like Wetherspoons. Our favorite- my wife and I -is Earnest Brew Works in the old “dying??” city of South Toledo, OH.

Eriol 0
Eriol 0
5 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Exactly what I was thinking and feeling. I live in the US (LA) and just cannot find anything that has community. I used to live in HK so have some experience of British pubs. What would you say is that ingredient that is lacking in US bars?

Chris Amies
Chris Amies
5 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

I suspect Wetherspoons in particular has more in common with a diner than a bar. Just, a diner that sells alcohol.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
5 months ago

Lovely article. Sure, there are no doubt nicer pubs and restaurants than Wetherspoons, but what you see is what you get. They won’t pretend otherwise, and for that, they’re great. Pretty much everyone in my middle class family (of suburban England, not snobby metro land) will happily pop in for a pint or a bite to eat if there’s one available. Long may they continue.

R Wright
R Wright
5 months ago

The people that sneer at Wetherspoons are tribal in nature and therefore worth ignoring. Champagne socialists can enjoy their ÂŁ8 craft beer in Quislington.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
5 months ago
Reply to  R Wright

I do wonder where the Champagne Socialist ‘of this Parish’ is today and why he hasn’t come on here to give us deplorable ‘Spoon-frequenting ‘gammons’ a good dose of his personal truth. If not out quaffing Champers (which I suspect he can ill afford) perhaps he’s too busy with his overpriced craft pint and savouring the flavour profile of Toilet Duck and daffodils.

Last edited 5 months ago by Alphonse Pfarti
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
5 months ago

He ?

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
5 months ago
Reply to  Ian Barton

Ah, my mistake it seems.

Steven Carr
Steven Carr
5 months ago

Wetherspoons = no music.
What more do you want?

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
5 months ago
Reply to  Steven Carr

An app that allows you to order a Viennese finger from your table and have it arrive in 5 minutes just because you can

Last edited 5 months ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
5 months ago

I was rather late to the party with the app; but now I have it, there’s no way back!

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
5 months ago
Reply to  Steven Carr

No tele would be my other preference. At least they turn the sound off.

Brendan O'Leary
Brendan O'Leary
5 months ago

I don’t sneer at Wetherspoons, nor do my kids who frequented them as students and still do occasionally. The upper credentialed class might sneer, but the lower middle of that portion have a sentimental regard for these places that lighted their young lives,

David L
David L
5 months ago

Of course Guardian reading bigots will sneer.

It’s what they do

Dominic A
Dominic A
5 months ago
Reply to  David L

Telegraph readers would of course never sneer at ‘Spoons.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
5 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

No, they wouldn’t. That kind of snobbery invariably comes with a Guardian subscription, a lot of unearned property wealth and an unfunded pension.

Dominic A
Dominic A
5 months ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

I do hope you have your tongue firmly planted in your cheek.

Dominic A
Dominic A
5 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Oh you don’t; how depressing.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
5 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Why would Telegraph readers sneer at Spoons?

Dominic A
Dominic A
5 months ago
Reply to  David L

“Of course Guardian reading bigots will sneer. It’s what they do”, hissed David – doh!

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
5 months ago
Reply to  Dominic A

Well it is.

Dominic A
Dominic A
5 months ago
Reply to  Richard Craven

whoosh….

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
5 months ago

There is a class of people who would describe themselves as educated. The author describes them as the “credentialed class”, and I agree. Because credentials do not equal education or sophistication or humanity, they merely allow people to presume to these things.

With every single sneer, those very people demean themselves further and further; their claim to be educated becomes more and more dubious, and the value of their “credentials” sinks lower.

These wretched people infest most of our monolithic governmental classes and so they think they are not only invincible, but also entitled to sneer at the population over which they believe they hold sway. They live a largely non-productive or counterproductive, parasitical existence, twittering away to each other about their superiority and the distasteful necessity of the existence of the rest of us.

I believe they are soon going to have a very difficult reckoning with a very different truth, to that which they misguidedly believe.

Last edited 5 months ago by Albireo Double
Tony Price
Tony Price
5 months ago
Reply to  Albireo Double

And you are not sneering here?

Andrew R
Andrew R
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Probably but that class of people are actually worthy of it.

Tony Price
Tony Price
5 months ago
Reply to  Andrew R

Of course – ‘that class of people’ – how very dare they think that they are educated – they think differently to me so they must be awful!

Tony Price
Tony Price
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Indeed, they are ‘vermin’, as Trump would have them be.

Andrew R
Andrew R
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Deplorables, trailer trash, hillbillies…

Andrew R
Andrew R
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

The “Be Kind” Left.

Andrew R
Andrew R
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Well it’s perfectly acceptable for the Patrician class to sneer at the Plebs and their poor taste, well that intellectual colussus James O’Brien seems to think so.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

At least it’s ‘sneering upwards’ and that’s ok, isn’t it?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago

No.

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

I’m “bravely calling them out”. Isn’t that how it goes?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Tony Price

Well said!!!

JR Hartley
JR Hartley
5 months ago
Reply to  Albireo Double

The credentialed classes rule over us.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
5 months ago

The ‘Spoon is nothing more than a mirror to the town in which it resides. From all levels on which a ‘Spoon may be measured; from the dingiest Netherspoon to the most glorious Ultraspoon, a town will always have the ‘Spoon which it deserves.

And the ‘Spoon in Telford (the amusingly named ‘Botfield’) served me a decent pint of Ruddles for under two quid when I visited.

Jonathan Andrews
Jonathan Andrews
5 months ago

The Sir Edmund Halley in Lee Green, which closed a year ago (weeps) was a lovely place. The Spoons in Lewisham in as upmarket as the district itself.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
5 months ago

The Orangery in Exeter is well worth a visit. I am not sure what would have happened to the historic building but for Spoons

Alison Wren
Alison Wren
5 months ago

Beautiful space isn’t it!! So many lovely historic buildings there’s a great one in Epsom too, sampled when I went to see Emily Davison’s statue!!

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
5 months ago

Likewise, while having a coffee, in the ‘Spoon in my hometown, I observed a gentleman in full replica football kit filling out his dole form at the bar while sinking a pint of lager. At 9:15 am. Later in the day, local office workers came in for lunch.

Where I currently live, we have five very decent ones within a short walk or bus journey. One is in the Good Beer Guide. My cup runneth over!

Edward Seymour
Edward Seymour
5 months ago

My wife and I visited our first Wetherspoon’s (a Holborn branch) on the day of the huge march in London against antisemitism and in support of Israel. Two firsts for us in one day and both were brilliant! The ‘Spoons breakfast was lovely, the pub was warm, the seats comfortable. Loved it.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Edward Seymour

Good for you. I live in the US but I’m a Brit. There were no Wetherspoons when I lived in the UK. They sound delightful, I’m jealous! We need something like that.

Deborah Dawkin
Deborah Dawkin
5 months ago

Thank you for this sensitive and deeply human article. They closed all the pubs or made them into expensive eateries, so that only the wealthiest can afford to visit them (not that the professionals among them would ever admit to being wealthy!). Pubs were/are essential to the fabric of British life, as evidenced in Shakespeare’s plays or in Thomas Hardy. A place where people of all walks of life, from kings to paupers, rubbed shoulders. Despite the oppressions of the British class system, the public house (where the word came from) was an unofficial community centre where people mixed. Now in our so-called classless society, the haves never see the have-nots (or have-lesses) and certainly never share a table with them!

Christopher Peter
Christopher Peter
5 months ago

Great article. Spoons will never be to everyone’s tastes – what is? But it does what it does well. And every one I’ve been into is pretty much always bustling, people voting with their feet.
Belittling it because you don’t agree with the views of its owner is just a bit silly; and anyway Tim Martin has never said anything especially horrible as far as I’m aware. Someone once told me they wouldn’t go to Spoons because Martin had supposedly said that people who don’t like working there could always work at Tesco’s – but (a) he was misquoted (sadly a common occurrence it seems) and (b) even if not misquoted it was hardly a controversial or outrageous comment. It would be a work of 30 seconds to find far nastier comments from #bekind “progressives” on social media.
Also I don’t believe Spoons is a major factor in driving smaller independent pubs out of business. There are many other factors at play there, and you only find Spoons in towns or cities big enough to support multiple pubs – they aren’t in very small towns or villages with one or two locals.

54321
54321
5 months ago

What he actually told his staff was that if during lockdown they wanted to get supermarket jobs rather than sit on furlough, he would give them first refusal on their old jobs when the pubs re-opened.
You have to be some sort of sick arse to twist this round to him telling his staff to go and work at Tesco if they don’t like working for him. But unfortunately this is where we are. Even supposedly respectable journalistic outlets misreporting for political ends.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
5 months ago
Reply to  54321

‘some sort of sick arse’

You’re being much too kind.

Rachel Chandler
Rachel Chandler
5 months ago

I suspect the main reason people sneer at the Spoons phenomenon is that it makes them feel uncomfortable. They don’t like Tim Martin for his outspoken opinions and despise his success in providing the British people a service most (if only begrudgingly) enjoy, whatever age they are or abilities they have. Where else can a single person sit down to a pleasant breakfast, mothers enjoy teas and coffees with their young kids, workers enjoy a celebratory pint at the end of the day, families have a supper night out and revellers party into the early hours at reasonable prices? I visit quite a few and though I’m not a particularly gregarious person, I enjoy the sense of being in the local community.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
5 months ago

Spoons is successful. Hugely so. And for a certain type of metropolitan that is something that will always be highly suspect.

Andrew Thompson
Andrew Thompson
5 months ago

And where else sells you a coffee for just over a quid that you can keep refilling all day and night should you desire? I’d wager there are many a few pensioners up and down the country NOT freezing to death at home because of that wicked, evil Brexiteer cad Tim Martin

Alistair Jeffcoat
Alistair Jeffcoat
5 months ago

What a brilliant piece, I couldn’t agree more… ‘Spoons are exactly how a pub should be, cheap, welcoming and utterly unpretentious. Many long gone pubs were the same. Everyone talks to everyone and nobody judges. Top marks to Tim

Charles Stanhope
Charles Stanhope
5 months ago

The ‘Fox on the Hill’*in darkest Denmark Hill is normally packed with disgruntled ‘brains surgeons’ from nearby King’s College Hospital, bemoaning the horrors of working for the dreaded NHS.

(* One of Wetherspoons grander edifices.)

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
5 months ago

At least they’re not drowning their sorrows in surgical spirits or embalming fluid.

Tyler Durden
Tyler Durden
5 months ago

Well, for international readers who want to convert into their currency Wetherspoons goes to show that you can go out and spend around ÂŁ2 for a beer with friends and family rather than ÂŁ5-6 for the same in an independent pub.
In that vein it is a populist chain facing up to a certain class-based left-liberal hegemony, no accident that the owner pursued Brexit as a cause, even if his pubs were happy to specialise in Polish beers when Britain was receiving that great wave of European migrant workers in the 00s!

Milton Gibbon
Milton Gibbon
5 months ago

Made me pine for my old local (a Weatherspoons) which closed about 10 years ago. Now a tapas-inspired gastro-pub which I would rather burn down than sit in. The article misses two crucial points (although alludes to one). Firstly, that many Weatherspoons pubs are located in places where there aren’t any other pubs as they have all closed down, the “independents” abandoning their communities when the going gets tough. This has happened in two locations near me (one a Harvester, one a Weatherspoons). Independent owners can bang on about serving the local community all they want but at the end of the day they want well-to-do customers and would rather not cater for those people they see as beneath them. The second which was mentioned but not really analysed was the ridiculous increase in prices that non-Weatherspoons pubs charge. He mentions ÂŁ7 a pint, in central London he would be lucky to find that – and the selection is often terrible. The problem is also that this pricing is creeping upwards outside the capital now and people wonder why pubs are closing at such a rate. Flash gitz or tourists might be able to afford it – as do I once or twice a year – but things are different in the provinces.
Another aspect for the writer is pub culture which has really declined (some would say for the better) over the past 20 years. Friendly rivalry and camaraderie between different pubs who often had sports teams, clubs or events (bonfire night being a prime example) which competed against each other was part of growing up in a village or town. The village we moved to (of less than a thousand people) had sixteen pubs. Now one. When I was younger we used to ridicule “old man pubs” but now I am heading that way myself I sort of think they might have had a point.
Great article. More please Unherd.

Last edited 5 months ago by Milton Gibbon
Kevin R
Kevin R
5 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

On recent visits to the UK I’ve been horrified by drinks prices in pubs. Back in the early 2000s people in the north would roll their eyes when I told them the ÂŁ2 pint had arrived in London.
Now it’s ÂŁ8??
What on earth has happened?

Dominic A
Dominic A
5 months ago
Reply to  Kevin R

It may be even worse – the last three times I’ve been to pubs (pricey ones all – no other choice in SW London), the kitchen and/or pub closed early ‘for special cleaning’, which I believe may be code for, ‘we can’t be bothered working the full shift, particularly when no-ones buying cos the pints are ÂŁ8’.

Meanwhile, in the shops, I’ve switched to polish beer, tasty, robust and half the price of the InBev offerings (which no matter the brand, seem to all be brewed in the same Newcastle mega-brewery), which are nevertheless, half of the price of fake hipster IPAs. I remember the British jokes about American beer – not funny anymore.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Milton Gibbon

Sixteen pubs, yikes!!

Mark Gourley
Mark Gourley
5 months ago

Top marks to Spoons and Tim Martin.

The pubs vary but there are many wonderful conversions of old buildings. In particular the Opera house in Tunbridge Wells.

David Ginsberg
David Ginsberg
5 months ago

I remember some of the characters you’d get in the Square Peg in central Brum back in 90’s, Spoons really is a melting pot

Helen Nevitt
Helen Nevitt
5 months ago

Wetherspoons used to do a really good fish chips and peas reasonably priced. They might still for all I know it’s been a while. But the stories in this article have the makings of a film. I was actually genuinely touched reading this.

Last edited 5 months ago by Helen Nevitt
James Kirk
James Kirk
5 months ago

Our well to do town used to have loads of pubs. There has always been a divide between the ‘us and them’ those born here vs the newcomers, old working class pubs where the ‘piano would stop playing’ if a stranger entered. The other side pricing things to keep a certain type out like soldiers and airmen other ranks from nearby camps or greasy or paint streaked overalls. No actual ‘no white vans’ signs but implicit. Then there’s Wetherspoons where you’re as likely to bump into a British Airways captain, a Wing Commander or the town alkie along with the church mice students.

Nikki Hayes
Nikki Hayes
5 months ago

I like Wetherspoons, they have a great selection of drinks at reasonable prices – particularly if you happen to be a fan of real ale. We have several in the city, and they are all different. There is one I tend to avoid, purely because its incredibly popular and a little noisy for my tastes. One attracts a student crowd, and the one by the harbourside is a bit more upmarket.
Their food is reasonable for the money, and their ÂŁ1.50 unlimited refill hot drinks really cannot be beaten. If I want good food, I go somewhere else and pay more. I’ve always thought they could improve their food offering by trimming the menu, they do a huge variety of dishes – none of them to a particularly great standard. Another favourite pub of mine does a pretty limited menu, but what they do is done very well – and not a lot more expensive than Spoons.
We need places for those who can’t afford to pay ÂŁ7 for a pint of beer, just recalling actually paying ÂŁ9 once in South Kensington – and that was a few years ago!

Last edited 5 months ago by Nikki Hayes
Dumetrius
Dumetrius
5 months ago

Have always liked Spoons. Not being middle class, nor English, I wasn’t aware that I wasn’t supposed to.

The Wiltshire ham egg & chip is as good as you can get anywhere.

Last edited 5 months ago by Dumetrius
Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
5 months ago

I remember my very first Wetherspoons. It was St. Matthews Hall in Walsall town centre.

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
5 months ago

Neither the neo-liberals nor the neo-cons nor yet the neo-Marxists have any time for the working class, but it is the latter who care for them the least: once the vanguard at the very centre of history they are now just a withering remnant, displaced by the new agents of history from the near and far east and Africa, notwithstanding of course the ultra bourgouise alphabet folk from Uni.

Last edited 5 months ago by Martin Smith
j watson
j watson
5 months ago

Enjoyed that read and he’s right.
Now fascinatingly it’s ÂŁ6.50 for a pint at the Unherd Club. And slap bang in the heartland of ‘metro’ (err ‘elite’?) land to boot. What market are they catering for?

Last edited 5 months ago by j watson
Graeme Archer
Graeme Archer
5 months ago

This is a beautiful article – as everyone else says, the author is right about Weatherspoons. I wanted to thank him for the dignity with which he affords the “couple/not-a-couple”, who kindly allowed him to use their photograph. Theirs is a beautiful and universal story, which deserves to be told; not the least reason to thank this writer and be grateful for UnHerd (because such people would not feature in any other publication in the United Kingdom.)

Ana Cronin
Ana Cronin
5 months ago

As a divorced mum of one, a post grad, who worked long hours in the city mainly to pay for my child’s private school in Wimbledon I adored Spoons. I would meet my son in the Edward Rayne, he’d have his homework finished & I didn’t have to cook so I could concentrate on chatting with him, watching footie, meeting friends or just relaxing etc. I no longer live in London and the last time I was in Raynes Park I stood outside the now closed ER and remembered with joy so many great evenings we had there. My son now in his 20s and already out-earning me in the City regularly frequents Spoon on Tottenham Court Rd n Leicester Sq. He has a equally successful girlfriend who also loves Spoons. To hell with the snobs they are missing out, to me it was a community, fun, a place to breathe after a long week, a place to make memories with my son.

Barry Messenger
Barry Messenger
5 months ago

What nice, positive article. It sounds like a place for good and reasonable people.
Not having been in the UK for far too long I have never visited a Wetherspoons, but I will make a point of doing so when I’m next there.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
5 months ago

Last Sunday with my girlfriend I ran almost a half marathon from home in Bristol to Portishead, where we found the Possett Cup Spoons, had a pie and a pint and got warm and dry, following which the staff very kindly sorted us out a taxi back to Bristol.

John Riordan
John Riordan
5 months ago

“One of the main reasons for voting against Brexit was for more open markets: for the cross-border, neoliberal agenda that encourages global uniformity, and consequently larger corporations offering lower prices — like Wetherspoon.”

What a lovely article. I’ve often wondered at the fact that my local Wetherspoons is half full even on a wet Wednesday morning, and now I have a better idea why.

As to the above text I’ve quoted though, I’ll – perhaps a little tediously – defend Brexit as the positive side of exactly the open trade borders described, by pointing out that whether it produces corporatist uniformity or not isn’t the fault of the principle itself, but its implementation. Brexit still possesses the power to craft both trade and social policy in any way we choose to vote for, should there emerge any party with the brains and vision to realise a future of political self-determination.

We do not become victims of faceless impersonal market forces just because we allow them to do the work of providing more competition, lower prices and more choice. We still have – in name at least – the Competition and Markets Authority, because nothing about Brexit has changed the fact that we don’t want monopolies: the laws permitting the state to prevent them emerging are still there, for all the fact that they aren’t applied particularly consistently.

I’ll be the first to admit that Brexit hasn’t been enacted well, and that even the smaller collection of freedoms won have not, as yet, been harnessed to any particular effect (we’re still having to confirm the cookie popup on every damn website we visit, let alone seeing anything of substance). But the mechanics of global trade have not changed: tariffs and regulatory barriers always and everywhere act to raise prices and reduce choice. Brexit is still a tool for improving that particular problem facing the UK.

Susan Lundie
Susan Lundie
5 months ago

There’s nothing wrong with Wetherspoons that attention to staff training could not improve.
We stopped off in Wetherspoons on a chilly, damp morning for a coffee around 11.30 am not long ago, in our East Midlands city centre.There were less than a dozen customers scattered around the large converted banking hall. The two sides of the large counters were staffed. My husband went up to order, the only person requiring service. Two young attendants did not bother to interrupt their absorbed conversation, so he walked around to the other side where a lone loafing attendant informed him coffees weren’t served on his side of the counter. We left.

Peter Johnson
Peter Johnson
5 months ago

I am from Canada and have never been to Wetherspoons – although it is now on my bucket list. When I saw the title I knew I was going to make a comment about McDonalds – but was delighted the author beat me to it. I live in a city with a lot of homeless people. They are often mentally Ill, difficult, and smelly. The McDonalds in my neighbourhood is a bit of a magnet for them in part because of the covered outdoor seating area where some of them sleep at night. I remember going there one morning and listening as the cheerful Philipino lady explained to one of them “Doug – I don’t know what you did yesterday – but we both know management has banned you for 24 hours.” Note that – 24 hours. Not banned for life. Not homeless people aren’t allowed here. Not – we called the police. McDonalds may be a big US corporation but there is literally no business I have ever witnessed that treats everyone as equals who deserve respect. That McDonalds has everyone – elderly people down on their luck – crazy people – homeless people – and upper middle class professionals like me. It is possibly one of the only places we all mix – particularly in an atmosphere of equality and general goodwill.

Jonathan Nash
Jonathan Nash
5 months ago

Great piece, but at those prices what is he doing to his suppliers? Does anybody know?

Andy Iddon
Andy Iddon
5 months ago
Reply to  Jonathan Nash

Does he set the price? That’s usually the sellers job – beer isn’t green veg being bought for peanuts by abusive supermarkets

Carmel Shortall
Carmel Shortall
5 months ago

Yayyy!

Peter Lucey
Peter Lucey
5 months ago

Not much to add to a lovely piece, and sympathetic comments. JDW deserves huge credit fur restoring old buildings – a shout-out to The Royal Victoria Pavilion in Ramsgate, decrepit and almost derelict, they have beautifully restored the lovely Edwardian listed building on Ramsgate beach. Worth visiting – or googling!

Angelique Todesco
Angelique Todesco
5 months ago

Just a rather lovely article, thank you. Sometimes it is nice to read something gentle and thoughtful.

Andy Iddon
Andy Iddon
5 months ago

Fair point – I love wetherspoons and rate the food n’all

Jane Davis
Jane Davis
5 months ago

Wetherspoons is fine. I read the Guardian. People who describe disabled people as ‘broken’ irritate me.

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
5 months ago

I could make a clown of the perfectly and precisely dressed bald gentleman who sat four tables down from me, alone, staring straight ahead, sipping his pints and periodically lifting up his tie to lick off the drops that fell on it.

I think you already did. But you think you can have it both ways.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
5 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

Nasty comment.

John Riordan
John Riordan
5 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

A bit harsh. The author did need to exemplify the pretext upon which the metrollectual snobbery about Wetherspoons and its customers is based.

Last edited 5 months ago by John Riordan