In defence of Spoons: a rebuttal to its detractors

Culture Food

Hark! A bad take is on my phone, hiding amongst the inane family photos and endless graduation pictures of my Facebook feed – that can only mean I have read the recent OxStu piece on the Spoons Christmas dinner.

The entire awfulness of the article is exemplified in the claim that ‘everyone can agree that Spoons food is bad’. The notion that this fractured nation can agree that Spoons has bad food is a take so cold I’m frankly surprised that the Physics types haven’t jumped on it as a bold new frontier in thermodynamics. In fact, there is even a helpful Venn diagram to explain the sheer universality of spoons, which we might here ask the reader to examine above.

What the hateful article speaks to, more than anything else, is a fundamental misunderstanding of what Spoons is, and indeed ought to be. I don’t sit down and listen to Morrissey when I’m a bit down and need cheering up. I don’t go into Spoons expecting restaurant-quality food, I go expecting food, and cheap pints. I get both.

I mean, yes, obviously Tim Martin’s got some weird views, and yes, the ceilings are high. With regards to Tim Martin, without meaning to sound like a politics fresher who’s just discovered spliffs and/or Mark Fisher, can you really point me to a successful business that is ran by total altruists with left-liberal socio-economic views? Besides, Will Self hates Wetherspoons. Do you really want to be on the same side as Will fucking Self? Martin might be a weird bloke, but the man runs a good pub. There isn’t loud tinny music. The carpets are weird and fun. A lot of them are good uses of very pretty old buildings that would otherwise be demolished. This is an oft-quoted fact, but bears repeating: Martin actually does care about his pubs. He regularly visits them to see if they’re the kind of place you would want to spend an evening. He read Orwell’s description of the ideal pub and based his concept on that; serving cheap and simple food, draught ales and ensuring friendly service.

“I don’t sit down and listen to Morrissey when I’m a bit down and need cheering up. I don’t go into Spoons expecting restaurant-quality food, I go expecting food, and cheap pints. I get both.”

On the accusation that Spoons is some sort of corporate wasteland, let us be absolutely clear. Local pubs are lovely. I love the King’s Arms’ fireplace as much as the next person. But an awful lot of non-chain pubs are now charging a fiver-plus per pint. Let’s not pretend that state of affairs is conducive to the average student punter frequenting them.

But to get to the specifics: the Spoons festive menu.  The brie, cranberry and bacon burger, with chips, pings in blankets, and a pint, came to just £9.05. And what’s more, it was nice. The biscoff festive desert was really nice. I’d love to pretend that my tastes are exquisite, that I spend all my time eating figs and listening to Handel’s Messiah, but I don’t, because I’m normal. There is a difference, I am aware, between things that are ‘enjoyable’ and things that are ‘good’ – but what’s the problem in relishing the things that are just enjoyable? Ever waded into Spoons with a hangover and sorted yourself a sub-five-quid fry up? Ever submitted a summertime essay and strolled to your table like a champion with a cocktail pitcher in each hand? If you have, then you know why Spoons is good, and if you haven’t, then live a little and give it a try.

A common joke amongst Labour types (which we, for our sins, are) is the notion of nationalising Greggs and/or Wetherspoons. If we look beyond this joke’s hack-y status, however, we might find a kernel of truth: we have very few genuinely public spaces left. Councils stopped providing them a long time ago, and as much as I’d still like them to, I recognise the devastation to local government that austerity has wrought, and I’d much rather they fund social care. So as a result, we’re left with ‘pay-as-you-go’ public spaces. Chain coffee shops, Pret, Itsu, etc. No one is going to convince me that Spoons is worse than these places, and as such genuinely does perform a national service. It is cheap and plentiful. Twenty quid in the average Spoons will allow you to eat a burger, chips, and down about four pints of Kroenbourg 1664. If you don’t think that’s a highly decent night out, I can’t help you.

Stephen Bush has put this more eloquently elsewhere, but it’s true: a sit-down meal with drinks with friends is one of life’s simpler pleasures, and Spoons makes it more accessible than most. Everyone is welcome at Spoons, and most people can have a good time while there. I have had some very good nights in Spoons. I have celebrated life’s highs and commiserated life’s lows in Spoons. When it comes down to it, Spoons is always there, and it’s there for everyone. Even for the writer of the Oxford Student’s food and drink column, who admits it himself: he’ll be back.

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons