With regular ale connoisseur Mark Briggs otherwise engaged this week, Matt Donlan stepped into the breach and headed off to Darwen for this week’s pub review

LOVE it or hate it JD Wetherspoon has changed the face of Britain’s high streets.

With hundreds of pubs across the UK and with at least one in most towns, the chain is now the major presence in the industry.

I know some people who wouldn’t been seen dead in a Wetherspoons, I know others who try to visit every one of their establishments in the land...and tick them off in a book tucked into their arorak pocket as they count them down.

Horses for courses, as they saying goes. If everyone was the same life would be pretty boring.

I fit in neither of those categories - but I do like what Tim Martin has done to the face of drinking.

And I do like their latest addition to East Lancashire, the Old Chapel in Darwen.

The town was crying out for somewhere different and when it opened back in January there was real excitement among local drinkers. I liked the pub when I called in a couple of days after it opened and I liked it when I went in the other day, after it has had plenty of time to ‘bed in’.

The Old Chapel was an ambitious conversion from a redundant old Methodist chapel and a splendid job they did too.

You can’t miss the spectacular open staircase as you walk through the doors and that is a feature I am glad they kept.

The stairs lead to a balcony seating area and, as this is Wetherspoon’s the toilets, but they also create the impression of a divide in the pub with one side of the open plan room pretty much turning into the dining area and quieter zone with the bar dominating the other half of the room.

It’s the bar that most people go into a pub for and you are always well catered for in a Wetherspoon’s with a guaranteed selection of real ales as well as the other standards.

The price is right and the food is right and while the service can sometimes be more comparable to a supermarket than your friendly local boozer, that’s what you always get.

The staff are all very efficient and pleasant but on my visit seemed to be in a hurry to get away whoever they had been serving to disappear off the bar to do something else.

Of course, if they see a regular face that may well be different and they may actually interact with people – and to be fair some of the characters who can get into a Wetherspoons during the day would turn someone who had just got back from a trip to kiss the Blarney Stone silent.

But as I said earlier it takes all sorts – and that’s what is done so well in the Old Chapel.