The Star & Dove
It has to be the easiest bit of selling ever performed - that second pint. You are already through the pub door, you’re already warm, and you’re already made yourself comfortable. More importantly you’ve already got foam on your lip and there is no anecdote and no tale worth the telling that can ever be fully explained in the time it takes to sink a solitary pint.
No act of silver-tongued salesmanship is required. You are a large, mildly intoxicated fish in a particularly beery barrel. Except at the Star & Dove in Bristol has never managed to sell me that second beer - despite two separate visits.
Because twice we’ve visited this recently re-fitted festival of artfully-rickety furniture and pre-scuffed paintwork. We’ve even eaten well there too. And from real plates too, not just licking the cheesy and oniony shards from the shiny side of a packet of Golden Wonder. And twice we have left without having a second pint.
We’ve tried though. Both times we’ve been denied because they’ve run out of beer – all beers. No, it was neither too late nor too early, both times were around eight o’clock on a Monday and a Wednesday respectively.
All Gastro, No Pub
But it isn’t just the three handpumps that seem to regularly run dry in this sizeable but eternally empty gastropub. On our first visit as we finished our well looked after pints of Bath Ale’s Spa, we watched another customer attempt to buy a pint of ale in a scene distressingly reminiscent of Month Python’s Cheese Shop routine.
First he ordered a Tribute, then a BOB and then a Spa. ‘All off’ muttered the starched halibut of a waiter drafted in from the upstairs restaurant. So the customer glanced along the bar and opted for an Amstel. ‘Nope’. Foster's? He asked more in desperation than desire but again an answer was shrugged in his direction – ‘only the Extra Cold’.
It was a moment of pure genius. Well, it would have been except that the Guinness had a glass over the handle too. And it wasn’t even a one off because on the previous visit all three ales, two lagers, both ciders and black stuff had been unavailable.
No beer, not much lager and an intermittent cider? You might wonder what kind of pub this is? The answer can only be that it is a very confused one because seemingly this otherwise promising large local is having a bit of a crisis.
The problem seems to be that as gastro element of the pub has drawn the attention and most of the funds, and so the pub part has suffered. But while running a pub on beer alone must be difficult - except in a few wonderful cases - but running a pub solely on food? Well there is a word for that - it’s a restaurant.
Scrapping The Barrel
The resulting establishment seems to be a bit of a basketcase, attempting to appeal to any demographic that might be wandering past. So on Monday there is Thai food, Tuesday is jazz night and on Wednesday the menu changes again to steaks. Add in the quiz evening, cinema night, and the Sunday roast and it is no wonder that the staff forget about the day to day items such as drink.
So perhaps it is no surprise that the barman seemed confused and twitchy, too distracted to remember any of the items on our three-item-long order. And that ten pounds plus ten pounds does not equal thirty pounds.
The Right Staff
As were waited sipping our sole beer, orders were lost, plates of food were taken from room to room in search of customers in a barely quarter full pub. No one knew if the restaurant upstairs was open or closed leaving the waiters ignoring the customers as they faffed with rotas.
But it doesn’t need to be like this. Beer and food can be fused successfully as The King William in Bath proves both wonderfully. There the drinkers and diners sit happily alongside each other, even though space is far smaller. The outward simplicity of the menu is complimented by the bold choice of local beers. There is no safe selection of goldens there, instead of the five handpumps, one or two are often dedicated to darks or tastebud testers instead of frothy non-entities.
It is a balance that the owners, who have clearly invested a great deal of time and money in the place, need to also understand. Unless that happens the Star And Dove seems little more than a Gordon Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmare’s waiting to happen. At least until it is taken over, and hopefully that is at least one sale that they can manage to make.
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