He marched them up to the top of the hill………

Posted on April 13, 2010


Last year The Pub Curmudgeon posed the question “should children be allowed in all areas of pubs?” and 72% of respondents voted no, all pubs should have a child free area, (with a further poll seeing 83% of people claim noisy children as the most off-putting thing in pubs)  and I was one of them – although strictly I wanted a fifth answer, children should only be in pubs that cater for children. That doesn’t mean offering a range of small, deep fried meals on your menu, it means offering proper activity designed to entertain little people.
There are no such things as bad children, only bad parents and if your next quiet pint is interrupted by a menagerie of screaming brats running amok it’s because their parents have subjected them to spending their day somewhere that’s no place for kids. I can understand why people drag their kids along to their local pub having spent several years subjecting myself to Wacky Warehouse type outlets, drinking warm beer out of plastic glasses where the only thing that makes the food seem not so dreadful is the abysmal level of service illuminated under overly harsh lighting, but in the main pubs are no place for kids.
But finally I have found the perfect pub for parents and children alike and it is brilliant. Amidst all the talk of pubs closing and industry doom and gloom comes the best example of a pub understanding and responding to it’s target market than any I have been lucky enough to stumble across lately, The Duke.
What strikes you first about the Duke is just how stylish it is (I am a bad blogger and didn’t have a camera with me so have borrowed pictures from their website, am sure they won’t mind, I’m going to say very nice things about them) and you would expect it to be so, Leamington Spa is a stylish town and to tap into the weekend circuit crowd they need to be stylish and they’ve made it so with an eclectic mix of modern retro and gothic furnishings and designs. But what they obviously really get is appealing to a weekend crowd gives you a very short trading opportunity – maybe 12 hours a week, so they have really looked at how else they can attract customers.
They open from 10:00am and serve coffee, good coffee, at £1.50 a cup served at the table by friendly staff so they can rival Starbucks and tap into morning shoppers and business meetings (I’ll be knocking the Caramel Macchiatos on the head in future for local meetings). They have a great food menu, it’s not a la carte by any means but a great range of pub food, all locally sourced, prepared fresh and delivered fast with the most expensive item being £10.00, and you can phone ahead and have it ready for when you walk in the door so they can fill their tables again after the coffee morning crowd have left with local business lunches. I had the chicken noodles and at just £6.00 it was fab, loads of fresh veg and plenty of meat, a great size portion and served in one of those fab cardboard noodle boxes like they have in American TV . Jorge opted for a bacon sandwich on doorstep (she could have climbed it) bread with enough bacon to fill the bread to the edges and lashings of ketchup and was a very happy girl indeed.
And here’s the best bit – they get families and they get kids, they don’t just allow them in they positively embrace them and provide all the entertainment they need to really have a great time. They start at a basic level with books and board games displayed on a bookcase that you can help yourself to (remember when Scream used to make you hand in one of your shoes for a game of Jenga, which seemed funny till you needed to go to the toilet……..) everything from Connect 4 to Frustration and in addition they have live sports on 3 huge screens, pool, private booths with PS3 consoles and a Nintendo Wii on a 120” screen – as Jorge said “wow, this is the BEST pub ever”. When we went in it was the Easter holidays and there were a lot of kids in but not a screaming, snotty one climbing the walls in sight – they were all entertained, well fed and well watered (they do fab milkshakes, Jorge tried all 3 and apparently strawberry is the best).
In these tough times for the industry pubs could learn a lot from The Duke, I’ve talked before about some of the changes I’d like to see in pubs and they have them all and then some, they’ve clearly worked out how to extract every ounce of value out of their opening hours and I’d love to see more places do the same.
But, and for me it’s a big but, they do fall short of being perfect because despite everything else they have an appalling beer choice – Stella, Stella 4% and The Duke Lager. My taste buds recoiled at the very idea of own label lager so I opted for a gin & tonic when what I really wanted was a beer. For any pub to get topmarks from me they’d need to put as much thought into their beer menu as they do the rest of their offer, it annoys the hell out of me that it’s often seen as such an after thought, but if I’m out with Jorge looking for somewhere child friendly to stop in town there’s nowhere better.