Gatwick Airport is in the process of extending the passenger area in the South terminal, and not before time. This should double the amount of seating for passengers, and as part of the refurbishment they are adding a new set of food and drink outlets.
One of these (opened on 19 May 2008) is a J D Wetherspoon bar, unusually given the name ‘The Flying Horse’ (as if we wouldn’t notice the fact that it was in an airport terminal). To be fair, they have clearly spent a lot of money and effort on the décor, although the design seems rather muddled, as if they couldn’t quite decide what period to aim for: Old aviation prints, traditional pub furniture and areas of patterned carpet try to give it the feel of a ‘real’ pub; but the frontage has a wild art-nouveau screen, and the central section a sleeker modern look (leather-clad pillars, anyone?). Still, the finishes all look high quality, and it has a very long serving counter. The whole place is a also bit Tardis-like, as it goes back a long way.
The plus points are the things that Wetherspoons does well: four real ales on hand-pump, including Marston’s Empire; a fairly long menu of good-value, modern pub-type grub (lots of chips but curries, paninis and wraps, too); and the drink prices are a marvel for an airport – the beers are around £2.50 a pint, which is less than most London venues these days. Service was patchy as, despite large numbers of bar staff, the even larger number of customers arriving in groups occasionally overwhelmed them. But at least there were plenty of bar staff around.
The negative points are largely to do with the British capacity to immediately reduce the nicest of new venues to tawdriness. The key here is not having enough staff to clear/wipe tables and generally clean up, coupled with customers’ propensity to drop cups, serviettes, food and just about everything else on the floor. It was looking distinctly messy despite having been open only a few months. I hope they tackle this aspect quickly, in which case it will be a tolerably good venue.