It’s always depressing when a pub closes.
It doesn’t matter whether it is a pub that I particularly like or not: pubs serve many purposes and, by and large, I believe that they provide a valuable service to the community in some way.
If, however, I was to make an exception to that belief, it would be for Zest.
Last week the citizen reported that Zest Bar in Eastgate Street is closing this summer ‘ahead of a major revamp’. I did not find myself shedding a tear.
The reason for my lack of sympathy can be traced to two reasons:
- I don’t like the pub. I know; it is not aimed at me; I am not its target demographic. This doesn’t necessarily stop me liking pubs though – I was quite happy with Bar H2O and TNT.
- They barred me.
This probably requires a little more explanation.
Firstly, it is questionable whether Zest is a pub. In Eastgate Street the line between pub, bar and nightclub is somewhat blurred.
When I came to write my book, The Story of Gloucester’s Pubs, I wrestled with this question and, in the end, decided to count them as pubs, using a broad definition of the term.
And so it was that in the name of research I visited Zest, along with the other Eastgate pubs, in March 2009. Following a bad experience next door in Butlers, I was not in the best of moods. This probably didn’t help with my assessment of Zest, but I really didn’t like it. This was probably clear from my description in the book:
“From the outside Zest looked very tatty… Inside was no better; it was dark and dingy with a carpet that stuck to your feet and cloudy plastic glasses. It didn’t seem to know what it was, being part pub but with the ubiquitous DJ booth in the back and day-glo drinks behind the bar.”
Not complimentary, maybe, but I would argue fair comment.
There are three ways they could have taken this feedback:
- take a good long look at themselves, realise the comment was valid and resolve to do something about it;
- conclude that I am a miserable old git and neither I nor any likely purchaser of my book is likely to be part of their target demographic, shrug and get on with their lives; or
- what they actually did, which was hold a grudge and somehow recognise me so that when I next visited, more than 4 years later in November 2013, tell me I’m not welcome and throw me out.
To be honest, when this happened I was a bit conflicted. I couldn’t decide whether to be annoyed that I had been thrown out, or chuffed that my opinion apparently held such weight. I confess that the latter view tended to win out.
So it is not really the fact that I am barred, but their attitude to a critical review that means I lack sympathy with Zest. It is like those establishments on Trip Adviser that rail against the reviews rather than fixing the problems. It tends to be self defeating.
But having said all of that, I am sad to see Zest close for two reasons.
Firstly, somewhere between Zest and Butlers is the building that used to house a pub called the Crown and Thistle, and I used to like the Crown and Thistle.
The pub dated back to at least the early eighteenth century and possibly longer. There is a suggestion that, being outside the city’s East Gate, it catered for travellers arriving too late to get into the city. That would take it back to the seventeenth century, which would fit with the name, which is a reference to when James VI of Scotland became James I of England in 1603.
The Crown and Thistle, as I remember it in the mid’ to late-1980s, was a proper pub. It sold decent real ale. The 1984 CAMRA guide described it as an ‘up market real ale house with adjoining wine bar’, although I don’t remember it being that posh.
It became Zest in June 2001.
Secondly, no matter how bad the pub, even if it has barred me, whilst it remains a pub there is a chance, no matter how small, that one day some enterprising yet traditional soul will emerge and return it back to a decent pub.
But when it’s gone, it’s gone.
Maybe that sounds far-fetched, but 5 years ago I would have said the same of the Pelican in St Mary’s Street, and that is now one of the best pubs in the city.
Of course, Zest may re-open as a pub.
The story in the Citizen says that it is to shut ‘ahead of a major revamp’ which, on the face of it, I would take to mean a revamp into a better pub (or more likely bar/ nightclub)
However, the new owner, Charles Perkins, has taken over a number of other buildings in Eastgate Street and none of them are even remotely associated with pubs: Hijinx soft play, Paint Pot Pottery Painting (try saying that after a few pints!) and The Secret Garden Nursery.
It therefore seems unlikely that it will emerge again as a pub, and even more unlikely that if it did it would be one that I would want to frequent.
So, on balance, I think I’m going to shed half a tear.