Pub of the Year competition gets under wayBy Amy Taylor
February 12, 2013
IN towns and villages across Hampshire and Surrey, the pub is the cornerstone of the community. It should not however be taken for granted - we regularly report on public houses in peril.
To celebrate and support our pubs and showcase what makes each one great, we are launching the News & Mail Pub of the Year 2013 competition. Each week, readers can get involved by using the form in the paper to vote for who they think deserves the title. Every vote counts.
The La Fontaine pub in Aldershot, described as a meeting place where you can get a good welcome and a listening ear, is the first venue to line up for the Pub of the Year competition. Landlord Bruce Thomas says The Windmill Road drinking hole offers something special as a ‘community pub’.
“It’s got an atmosphere that’s very welcoming,” he said. “I would say that 90% of the people who walk in here, we already know.
“We have families who come in with their children, and we have single ladies who come in because they don't feel intimidated.”
It was a tough time to be a pub landlord, he added, but La Fontaine’s selling point of being a meeting place where you ‘come and complain’ and relax.
“One of the nicest parts of my job is the Monday evening ‘5’o’clock club’, where we all catch up on each others' weekends.
“Things aren’t like they used to be, it’s been tough, but it’s generally the same faces and when we have new customers we hope we can encourage them back. We’re presented well, and we look after them.”
He said it was impossible to compete with the price of town centre venues or supermarkets, but that they wanted to offer something different.
“I think there will come a point where we will become a specialist type of pub from the good old days, where you come because you are coming to a traditional place,” he said.
Bruce and his wife Tracey took over the pub in 1997, after a few different owners and a name change. Originally taking its name from the adjoining road, Mount Pleasant, the road boundaries were changed in the mid-1980s and the owner at the time decided to name it after a favourite hotel of his.
“He spent about £80,000 doing it up and then it won the first national Pub of the Year competition with it, so it stayed as the La Fontaine,” said Bruce, who with Tracey employs a few extra members of staff to cover busy shifts, but works 365 days a year himself.
“It’s hard work, but it’s brilliant on Christmas, when all the customers come up with their families for a couple hours. What I do is all my regulars get a Christmas drink from me if they come by.”
Weekday lunches are cooked and served by Tracey and her mother, rustling up omelettes, gammon and chips, jacket potatoes, sausage and mash, burgers and a variety of baguettes and sandwiches.
Entertainment includes a Tuesday night game of darts featuring the successful La Fontaine team, currently second in the local league.
“We play at home and away, and have end-of-season competitions,” said Bruce. “We go around other pubs in Camberley, Farnborough, and Aldershot and it's nice to meet other people.”
To vote for your favourite pub, pick up a voting form in the News & Mail, out now.