What Makes a Successful Pub?

It's not exactly clear what doomed the Green Dragon. Perhaps the complex truth will only be told on barstools, between friends. But it has been open for over a year--enough time for something of an experiment--and I know a great deal of thought and planning went into it before that. Among its several virtues are ambiance (the space is perfect), a fantastic beer list, good food, and a central location. Depending on where you're sitting in the place, it can feel like a speakeasy, a European-style cafe, an English pub, or a music venue about a half-hour before a show. When I first started hearing about the troubles it was facing, I wasn't sure how to process it. I mean, it's pretty close to the exact kind of place I would have designed.

Constrast that with the Double Mountain, which I visited on Friday on my way down the Gorge. We arrived at 4:37, and there was one table available. By the time we left at six, tables were a distant memory and bodies were three deep to get to the bar. I understand why people clamor for Double Mountain's beer--I'm a fellow-clamorer. I even get why locals might clamor for the pizza there; it is a near-perfect facsimile of the amazingly popular pizza at Ken's Artisan just around the corner from my house. But the little cafe the brewery runs is a nondescript, bare-bones affair. It looks a lot more like an espresso shop than a pub.

Is it just the food and beer that draws people?

These two examples by no means offer any kind of counterpoint. One's in a densely-pubbed region of an urban area, the other in a small town with few beer choices. As we sat and ate our fine pizza and drank our fine beer, I watched as the people poured in. They seemed almost exclusively to be locals--guys coming in after work, young families with babies, retirees. It had that lovely feel of a neighborhood pub where people know each other and call them by name. When Sally was ordering, a small child let out a wail from across the room and she commented, "he's not a happy boy!" The bartender said, "he's my nephew." Since the Dragon is bounded by an industrial zone on two sides, it's not in walking distance from too many people's homes. So there are definitely differences.

Still, it's an odd thing. Pubs are by design unique; sometimes the vibe works, sometimes it doesn't. I'm not really going anywhere here, just noting that it's not always so obvious which pubs are going to succeed or not when they open. Maybe some of you have seen a pattern?