I hate to say this, but I think I was probably under-age when I first crossed the threshold of one of your pubs. Don’t worry though! I didn’t have anything to drink, aside from your overpriced and watery Pepsi (it doesn’t need ice, Tim! It’s already really cold! And while we’re on the soft drinks front, why can’t you make the deal with Coca-Cola? It’s out there, Tim. You just have to really want it). I was there in your charming family area for a burger, on the recommendations of my burger-enjoying friends.
You see, for me, the taste of a Wetherspoon’s beer and burger deal is the taste of teenage freedom. The muddled tang of your tomato relish (how many people actually eat that, Tim? Because I pretty much only resort to it when I’ve run out of any other sauce sachet, and am too lazy to waddle off for more) sends me off in a Proustian-rush of heady memory. It’s overly-sweet syntheticness still launches me swimming through a fog of senses to a more innocent time, where everything was possible, and I weighed less.
I remember when I first went to Spoon’s. I lived outside Cardiff in a small town, worked hard at school, was respectful to my parents. As I got older and craved independence, my friends and I began catching the X2 bus into the big city, spending the money we earned from paper rounds and dish-washing jobs on cinema tickets, nu-metal CDs, and McDonald’s value meals. One day, Geoffrey suggested we didn’t go to McDonald’s (he always insisted, wrongly I’m sure, that they funded the IRA) and try another place instead, a place, he reckoned, you could get a burger and chips and drink for a fiver, AND it was a pub which was sort of cool. So we tried it, the Central Bar, in Cardiff, just around the corner from the now defunct Virgin Megastore (where I once bought so many great posters). And you know what, Geoffrey was right. It was sort of cool. Even though we couldn’t get the beer (burger’s natural partner), it was still pretty cool. And I’ve been thinking it’s kind of cool ever since.
Although I do weigh more now, and I do sort of hold you responsible.
For my first two years in England I associated Wetherspoon’s with the underbelly of British society. Wetherspoon’s were visited solely by benefits frauds and yobs. Nice girls like me did not go to Wetherspoon’s. I’m not sure why I felt this way. I also didn’t understand what Wetherspoon’s was. The fact is, we don’t have anything like Wetherspoon’s in my native land. The closest I can identify is TGI Fridays or Applebees, but they’re still worlds apart.
I’m sorry Tim. Sorry that I went through two years of myself vowing to never set foot in a Wetherspoon pub. Sorry that I thought your pubs weren’t good enough for people like me. I was wrong Tim. Wrong and naive.
My perceptions began to shift on a trip to Glasgow. My friend Patrick took me there for dinner. I looked at the menu in shock. A full curry meal PLUS a drink for £6.50?! A beer and a burger for £5?! And it was nice! It didn’t smell, it was filled with respectable looking people. And I was in Glasgow! Of all places, a Glasgow Wetherspoon’s should surely have been a cesspool of all that is wrong in the world. I began to feel I had misjudged spoons.
I can’t say that I immediately integrated your fine pubs into my life upon returning to London. It took some time and visits to convince me that the Glasgow pub was not an anomaly. But slowly your wine, delightful when even from a tap, and cheap/not repulsive food fully won me over. What really sealed the deal was the lovely Knights Templar, which not only has an expansive setup, but also holds the nicest pub, if not restaurant, bathrooms I HAVE EVER SEEN. Good work Tim! Anyways, by the time I met Josh I could safely say - I love Wetherspoon’s.
So Tim, thank you. Thank you for your wonderful pubs.
The Knights Templar, Chancery Lane, London
First of all, I just want to say what a big fan of your pubs I am. Cheap drinks, friendly staff, architectural salvation - truly you are a winning example of a great British business. Thanks to your nationwide branches, all of which support small breweries, I have sampled many a fine ale, often accompanied by a frighteningly cheap burger. How do you do it, Tim? How? You know what, don’t tell me. I’m not sure I want to know.
I can never quite silence this doubt when I cross the threshold onto your conspicuously naff carpets. For all the comforting homogeneity of your establishments, there’s something a tad worrying hidden among the friendly blackboard announcements and numbered tables. Where did all the real pubs go? Those dodgy boozers, filled with characters, where all the drinks come in chipped pint glasses and everything smells faintly of wee? I’m not saying they were better - but isn’t part of the fun taking that risk? Variety is the spice of life, after all. The only spice in a Wetherspoon’s pub - your ersatz, made-up name - is in the Thursday night curry club deals (I’m quite partial to the beef madras).
It’s this dichotomy - between anticipation and disappointment, love and hate, good-value and soul-crushing blandness - that Hayley and I want to explore. We’ve drunk in dozens of your establishments, sampled many of your menu staples, and loved reading your frank, generally right-wing responses to the letter writers in your in-house magazine. So we are going to review as many of your pubs as we can, and tell you what we think of them in letter form.
You will be hearing from us soon.
All the best,
Josh & Hayley
You will be hearing more from us, Mr Martin.