In the last 20 years, Britain has lost one-in-four of its pubs. The Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) claim that on average, pubs are closing in Britain at the rate of one every 12 hours, which is frankly staggering if you think about it. The recent pandemic will have hit the industry hard, and at the time of writing, it’s still not clear how they pub industry will fare coming out the other side – mass vaccinations or not. Many places that closed during the pandemic may never reopen and many that do, may have to change the way they do business just to survive. And that often means losing elements that give them their individual charm and kowtowing to the broader appeal just to remain competitive.
The last two decades have been tough on the pub trade right across Britain. When I lived in Newham in the East End of London back in 2001, the borough had 105 pubs, but by 2018 that number had fallen to just 45. And it was not all just down to the fact I’d moved away. My old local – The Railway Tavern – is now a convenience store. Down south at the bottom of the Northern Line when I moved there, my local The Morden Tavern is now a Sainsbury Local. It seems that people like to buy their drink (and other bits) then take them home to consume there rather than sit in a pub and drink.
Aside from the harsh macro economics, we should remember that these pubs we are losing aren’t just shops that serve drinks, they’re so much more. They’re social hubs with history. Jersey has long has a tradition of good pubs and in the last few decades while they have also been susceptible to the same problems that those on the mainland are facing, we’ve also seen many of them up their game with better food (rather than just crisps or a cardboard sheet of nuts that reveal of topless woman the more packets are sold) and have embraced the gastropub movement. That’s great, but that’s something else. That’s restaurants by another name.
The finest pubs are about the setting, drinks and – this one’s more personal – somewhere that shows the football. And at the top of the list is the Lamplighter. It’s the best pub in Jersey.
The football thing will turn off many and I get that. But here, there’s a discrete TV in the corner by the door that shows the game but it doesn’t become of a feature of the room. It’s an addendum, an extra social service to the patrons who want to watch that match while having a drink rather than a blaring centerpiece that dominates the atmosphere.
With eight ales and four ciders the drinks are covered in a far more interesting way than the usual Fosters/Carling/bottles-of-Bud drudgery of most pubs and bars, and they have home-infused vodkas and rum-punches if you’re looking for something a bit different. Things like this matter. Things like this create a place that has a personality.
Despite some food and drink proclivities that may suggest the contrary, I’m not a snob when it comes to things like this. But having spent a fair bit of time in grim, flat-roofed pubs on the fringes of London estates I know what I don’t like as much as what I do like in a place to have a drink.
The Lamplighter is the antithesis of those places and a world away from the Wetherspoon chain that has an overbearing presence in the UK. A pub chain that’s recently had more negative press largely because it’s owned by Tim Martin, a bellowing man who looks like a homeless Thundercat, and made the front pages for his pro-Brexit views. While there’s a place for the cheap curry-and-pint nights at a ‘Spoons it’s a soulless experience.
And The Lamplighter is the place to drink whisky.
It’s always nice to try out something new before buying a bottle and the range here is – unless something magical is being hidden from me – the best on the island with around 300 different whiskies in stock. A table in the corner, a glass of Lagavulin 16 and the world seems like a better place.
They don’t serve full meals here – there’s no needs and frankly it’s too small for that – but you can get @brooklandsfarmjersey pork pies and scotch eggs and help to support local genuine Jersey products.
George Orwell wrote in 1946 about his idea of a perfect pub and suggests it needs to fulfill criteria including “The pub is quiet enough to talk, with the house possessing neither a radio nor a piano” and other rules that made sense in that era but ultimately concluded that it didn’t exist. There’s a lot of sense to that conclusion as the pub is only perfect if it gives you what you want at that exact time. I love to sit on a stool at a bar in New York with pints of Blue Moon and baseball on the telly as much as I like to hunker down in an armchair next to a fire in some Yorkshire bolthole miles from the big city. And yes, the gastropub movement has been a overwhelmingly good thing for Britain and opened up a whole new facet of dining in the UK as well as helping to save some pubs in the process.
In Jersey though, on a night when you want to go to the pub to have a few pints, perhaps a whisky, watch the game if there’s one on and talk to the people you are with then The Lamplighter is still the real deal.
Then come out the door, turn left and it’s a 20 yard gentle stumble to the taxi rank. Or, if the mood hits you, the Royal Yacht bar where you can sit outside and have a nightcap, but really it’s all about the pub. And this pub is one that needs to be supported.