At the risk of sounding like the old, gammon-faced codger my mother often accuses me of being, I preferred the old Whey Pat. For me, there was something comfortingly familiar about the torn leather seating, the broken board games, and dog-eared quiz books (that probably hadn’t even seen the collapse of the Berlin Wall). I liked the battered dart board, the dangerous allure of the grubby fruit machines and, of course, the most reasonably priced pint of Guinness in town.
These, I think, are the trappings of a proper pub — not the polished, sanitised, immaculate and all-round monstrosity that the Whey Pat has now become. More fancy drinking establishment than traditional British boozer, the Whey Pat has become another victim to the latest round of gentrification for our small university town.
Drouthy Neebors, erstwhile sanctuary for the St Andrean drunkard is, alas, no more; replaced by a sparkling new restaurant which I’m sure is absolutely lovely, but surely no place for the debt-laden student. Beer Kitchen is another fallen comrade, with its tall and delicious beer towers (that were, again, entirely reasonable for the impoverished student) also consigned to the history books.
We seem to have forgotten the qualities that make a good pub, not that this is a particularly new problem; even George Orwell lamented the dearth of what he saw as “proper” public houses, and this was all the way back in the London of the 1940s. Whilst “to be fair,” Orwell recognised that few pubs could ever live up to the lofty standards he set for his fictional The Moon Under Water, there are surely some uncontroversial standards that we should hold all of our locals to, if only to expose the depth of the St Andrews bubble.
Having televisions at the pub, for example, represents a great drinking heresy. There is something about the aura of the television that draws everyone’s gaze and murders all conversation, qualities that I consider hostile to the pub experience. The idea of going down the local with your friends only to sit there in silence as you gawp at a flat screen with pretty colours on it is downright stupid. Have a pint and talk. Gossip together, comfort each other, set the world to rights: don’t just sit there and stare at the goggle-box. With screens now on every wall, the Whey Pat has chosen this wayward path, taking drunken conversation with it.
Also, strange as it may seem, I am immediately suspicious of any pub that has the ability to produce anything approaching “good” food. Crisps and nuts are fine, but pubs are not restaurants. I’m not after a dining experience when I’m at the boozer, I want something to line my stomach and keep my pints down. In this manner I hereby declare the cheese and veggies now available at my dear old Pat to be blasphemous. Brie does not belong at the pub. And this is to say nothing of the Whey Pat Nachos of old, as they seem to me diminished and, dare I say, of better quality. To compound all this, the new Whey Pat now seems suspiciously clean; not necessarily a bad thing, but it does mean that the Pat seems a little less homely. Whilst this is probably unavoidable in refurbishing a pub, it nevertheless makes the Pat feel more clinical, almost like a hospital was just around the corner. It now lacks that almost ineffable quality of being lived in; the wood’s no longer faded or chipped, the leather seats are all flawless, and the paintwork is perfect.
Again, not necessarily a bad thing, but for me it means that the Whey Pat almost seems a little less genuine. However, like Orwell, I’m probably being too harsh. Whilst I may crave the grubby, cheap pubs I remember from home (with barmen who only respond to “pint of lager please, mate”), I imagine many probably find this anathema. Even if they’re wrong, many probably like having the telly on, clean surfaces, paying for an expensive drink, and maybe even having a nice meal. The Whey Pat is probably doing a roaring trade now. As much as I like to sail against the wind, I think I’ll just have to accept that most people don’t care and are just happy that the Whey Pat is back in business. Soon, what the Whey Pat was will be forgotten (if it hasn’t been already), and we’ll all quietly acquiesce to the latest addition to the St Andrean collection of fancy pubs, whilst simultaneously being deprived of good, proper boozers. Oh well, c’est la vie, I suppose. At least my Guinness is still £3.50.