CAMRA weeps: The Guardian reports on CAMRA’s report on pub heritage. It’s interesting that this pops up the week after Pete and I found ourselves inveighing against CAMRA’s failure to obsess about the pub environment. I’ve ordered their book and I’ll report back, but my fear is that this is a case study in missing the point. It has already left the door open for reports like the Guardian’s: ‘only 248 good historic pub interiors remain’. That’s so plainly untrue: maybe 248 unaltered interiors remain but there are thousands of good, historic pubs. Preserving examples of architecture and design is a good plan but insisting that a living building be unchanged is something else entirely. I don’t want to drink in some Heritage Centre. I hope I’m being unjustifiably harsh.

I wonder whether The Old Bell on Fleet Street counts as one of CAMRA’s pubs of National Historic Interest? It was apparently built by Sir Christopher Wren to feed and water the chaps working on St Martins Within Ludgate, just up Ludgate Hill there. It’s one of those no-straight-lines buildings which it’s always a pleasure to find in London. It does a very fine pint of Landlord. It’s a comfortable and friendly enough sort of gaff, especially for those of us who work in the area. Maybe CAMRA have found a way to disqualify it on the grounds that it had a refit in 1877 or something. It’s one of dear old Nicholson’s range of tiresomely authentic premium-priced premises (‘Heritage Inns’, I believe).

Anyway, I was in there last night with Jonesy (whose ILE thread on Wimbledon is strongly recommended, my favourite weblog of the year so far) and something happened which may turn out to be momentous. It was simple enough. There were a quiet couple of minutes at the bar, and one of the bar staff came round, apparently collecting glasses. She stopped at our table and she said it: ‘Would you like another drink?’ Our jaws, as you can imagine, dropped.

Shocked and disturbed, we naturally agreed that another drink was definitely in order, at which point she toddled off to the bar, poured our drinks, brought them over to us and happily accepted our money. She came back a couple of minutes later to return a pound which I’d overpaid. Well done her!

My friends, this is waitress service and strikes at the heart of what makes a pub a pub. I’m all for attentive bar staff bringing your pint over if it’s taken a few minutes to pour, or if they’ve had to change the barrel or whatever. But if you are waiting at my table you are turning my lovely pub into a darned dirty restaurant. If the Old Bell made it to the National Historic Pubs list, I move that CAMRA delete it forthwith.