Daily Moan #16: noisy and uncomfortable cafes and bars

I was amused by the review in the Independent of Bill's new Produce Store in London's Covent Garden. The former fruit and veg market sounds like an appropriate place for a pretend farm shop, but apparently it's been faked up inside a new development. Now, I confess I haven't been there, but I have been to the original one in Lewes, and the more recent Brighton branch, housed in a former garage. And I just don't get it. Maybe a few years ago the Lewes branch was a pleasant place to eat, but not any more. Not only do you have to queue for a table, but it's cramped, uncomfortable and very very noisy. The same goes for the Brighton cafe. The food is nice enough, but it's not a place you feel you can linger, what with the eyes of the queuing punters drilling holes in the back of your neck.

I remember when The Volunteer, by the Corn Exchange, was an old geezers' pub. Usually empty, except after a performance in the Dome complex, it had plush velvet seating, real ale pumps, and a sticky carpet. It was quiet. Then Zel took it over, stripped it back to wood and brick, put in old domestic furniture, replaced the beer with foreign-sounding lager at twice the price - and the youngsters flooded into The Mash Tun, as it was renamed. Their original inn sign is on display in the Waggon and Horses opposite, where you can still get a nice pint of Harvey's. This was before seating was allowed outside, and there was always a halo of customers round the door jostling to get in. What was going on? The formula was repeated around town. Bars with hard acoustically reflective wooden floors and walls naked of absorbent flock wallpaper assaulted the eardrums - even without the throbbing disco beats. The Tin Drum at Seven Dials, where a dear friend always insists we go for his birthday drink, is extremely noisy, even without muzak. I don't think anywhere has gone the whole hog like in some Northern towns yet however, where they have even removed the seating, but there again I haven't been down West Street lately!

The craze for discomfort has now spread to cafes, as in Bill's mentioned above. Nia in the North Laine was one of the first to introduce a mish-mash of mismatched junk shop chairs and tiny tables made from old school desks. At the brand new Carluccio's, seating is on long wooden benches and the noise level is at the road-drill level of decibels. Call me old-fashioned, but I like quiet comfortable cafes where I can chat without getting a sore throat, and pubs with comfy seats and proper beer - is that too much to ask?

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