University students are broke; it’s woven into the fabric of our being. Without proper jobs and proper funding, what binds us together is our complete lack of money. Second on that list of common experiences, I’d hazard a guess, is drinking. The majority of students' ability to consume alcohol baffles those who don’t embrace British drinking culture. Combining these two fundamental tenets of university life, you’ll quickly reach the desire for cheap alcohol. I’m convinced that connoisseurs of Lidl’s Rachmaninoff, or Blossom Hill, have run into this dilemma – and they won’t be the first. In need of a pub, therefore, it seems only natural that students should turn to JD Wetherspoon. Their prices are at their lowest, and there’s some god-forsaken concoction for everyone. Almost each and every UoY student will, at some point, pass through The Postern Gate. It gets us ready for our drunken travels, sending us merrily into the night, slightly more half-cut than when we entered. What’s not to love, you ask?
“Spoons is love, spoons is life” or so has been unfortunately declared to me by one of my less reputable friends in one of their less than reputable states. They clearly love it. Wetherspoons:, for all kinds of occasions, for all kinds of university students. Those who drink, those who don’t, and those who drink drink. I’ll leave it up to you what category you’re in. The Postern Gate has everything a student could possibly want from a Wetherspoons – cheap pints, almost infinite tables, toilets which aren’t quite a marathon away, and a decent atmosphere. It also comes with its own quirks, as any pub should. There’s the waiter whose name I always ask, and just as quickly forget. His inescapable charisma makes everyone smile, he’s known as ‘The Waiter’ in my flat. There’s the ongoing saga in the men’s cubicle on the right; sometimes the toilet roll dispenser is on the floor, sometimes it’s on the physical toilet, sometimes not even there, but it’s never just on its hinges. I swear it’s a complete lottery. Ok, ok, I concede, maybe the Wetherspoons has its good bits.
Recently, however, I've had my eyes opened. An old school mate said he’ll be passing through York for a couple of days, wanting to meet up and go out. Happily, those of us who go to the uni suggested a pub crawl, and so in an attempt to seem more sophisticated I planned the route, stopping off at the usual uni student hangouts. Stone Roses, Lowthers, Dusk, these types of places, and of course the Spoons. As soon as we set off, the plan was abandoned in favour of seeing the real city, and the suggestion of Spoons admonished. Fair enough, it’s your night, I said and left it up to chance. In hindsight, that’s probably one of the best decisions I've made this term.
First we go into the Masons Arms, a stone’s throw from the Postern Gate. You’re brought into this old style traditional pub with fires burning, Victorian beams and cosy corners; it feels homely, like a real pub should, where pints are actually enjoyed. We go to more pubs and places just like that, with the same atmosphere, places which are loved. There’s pint names you can’t pronounce and landlords you can get to know over time. Checking my online banking tells me they’ve got names like The Hole in the Wall, Ye Old Starre Inn, and the quintessential Red Lion. Heaven knows by the time we got there I wasn’t looking at names, I was just enjoying York for the first time, the actual city, with actual people. There isn’t a stream of drunken rushes to the bathroom, no sticky carpets or loud university students. It’s the type of place where you can talk about everything and nothing, engage in the most important and the most pointless conversations possible and have the best of times doing it. They’re real pubs. They aren't filled with crowded tables and monotonous similar food. With less people somehow there’s more life and stories waiting, wanting to be discovered. It’s the one thing missing from great and mighty Wetherspoons pubs. Character.
Maybe I’m the architect of my own downfall, I think. Of course the small pub will be sacrificed on the altar of liberal capitalism when places like The Postern Gate showcase economies of scale and receive infinitely more business. The political philosophy I espouse during the day will tear down what I now enjoy during the night. The cheaper pints and greater exposure will purge that small little hole in the wall which brought more joy than any table in Wetherspoons ever did. Sure, their pints all cost over £3.50. Sure, there’s nobody there within our age for 20 years. But, I’ve come to the conclusion I don’t care and I doubt you will either once you try it.
Some of the best advice I’ve ever heard was that laughing with friends over dinner is not life’s sideshow. It is the whole point. We’re university students, most of us can’t, or at least shouldn’t, eat out on a regular basis. Instead take the much smaller financial hit and buy a pint somewhere new, somewhere different. Maybe it’s slightly more expensive but at least it has personality. Somewhere outside of the fast-paced consumerism. Take a chance to slow down, enjoy it. York exists beyond the Postern Gate. There is life beyond the sticky carpets, I promise.