london pubs

Samuel Smith pubs are not cheap

It takes a long time for the reputation of a pub to turn around, and that can work both ways. For example, many people still believe Sam Smith pubs are good places for cheap beer in London.

We’ve been aware of their prices creeping up for years.

As we recall, the posh bottles went first. Oatmeal Stout and Taddy Porter were the choice of those in the know, and always cost a bit more.

But when they went up to £6, £7, £8 per bottle, it was clear things were changing.

The bottles eventually shrank, too, changing from famously fat full pints to 330ml tiddlers.

Then, on a recent trip, we paid around £7 for a pint of Pure Brewed Lager, and almost £6 for a pint of Old Brewery Bitter.

Again, we know, that’s sort of what beer costs in London in 2023. Fair enough.

When people on Trip Advisor are still advising tourists to go to Samuel Smith pubs for good value food and beer, however, there’s clearly a mismatch between reality and reputation.

We might also be more relaxed about these prices if we felt they were covering the costs of a good pub experience but…

Dirty glassware. Glum service. Grim atmosphere.

Evidence of a death spiral, perhaps?

We enjoyed one of our several recent visits to Samuel Smith pubs despite all of the above, because the building and location were somewhat magical.

It felt, though, as if the management were doing everything possible to test our goodwill.

At least the beer was good, though, right? Right? 

Well, no, not really, even allowing for the fact that it’s always had a mixed reputation.

We used to like Pure Brewed Lager. Now, it seems sweet and (ironically) cheap.

And though we’ve never been huge fans of Old Brewery, its limited charms are even harder to discern without the befuddling glamour of a bargain price.

There are, in theory, cheaper beers available, such as Taddy Lager, but they often seem to be unavailable in practice.

Go to the pubs if you like. Enjoy them, and the beer, if you like. But don’t tell anyone they’re great value in 2023.

Because these days, they’re more like Angus Steak Houses than Merry Olde Inns of England.

25 replies on “Samuel Smith pubs are not cheap”

Indeed. I have a group of friends I meet up with for dinner in Soho every couple of months, and we often start by having a pint or two. We have often started at The White Horse, and it’s not appreciably any cheaper than any of the other local pubs. I only know it’s a Samuel Smith’s because I know the beer.

Agreed, although I don’t have that much recent experience of their prices as I actively avoid Sam Smiths pubs in London. This is principally because my preference is to drink cask ale and when the one cask ale that’s sometimes available in London pubs is OBB with its limited charms then it’s hardly a draw. If I end up in one of their pubs I go for their Organic Lager, which I’ve always found decent.

It’s a shame as their pubs are oddly concentrated in tourist areas (like Soho and Fitzrovia) and include some fine examples of pub architecture. However, as a drinking experience, cheap prices were always one of their main strengths.

For genuine cheapness there’s another chain that tourists could be pointed towards, especially now they’re slightly less likely to be subjected to a barrage of xenophobic, self-pitying literature and advertising material.

Excellent read.

Very different pricing in London to the rest of the UK. In Manchester and Chester, even with that 50% rise a few years back the OBB is decent value at £3, and was excellent in the gorgeous Sinclair’s in Manchester’s tourist square.

I recall the shock at being charged £6.55 for a bottle of the (excellent) cherry beer a decade ago in Gloucester.

My main gripe is the number of pubs that remain long closed, in the main because Sam Smiths can’t recruit couples to run pubs according to their model.

As with many other things, London is very different from the rest of the country. Your comparison with Angus Steak Houses seems quite apt.

In the North, they had a “big bath” price increase in 2020 on reopening after the first lockdown, which took OBB from £2 to £3. That put off a lot of the value drinking crowd, who don’t seem to have returned. However, it’s stayed put since then, while the other pub operators have caught up and overtaken them. In Stockport, only Spoons is cheaper now, and the Robinson’s pubs are a pound a pint dearer.

I semi-regularly go in three localish Sam’s pubs, all of which have friendly faces behind the bar and a good crowd of regulars. I doubt whether the London ones have many regulars.

As Martin says, if only they could find new managers for many of their closed pubs, although they did manage to reopen the Swan in Holmes Chapel which had been closed for about four years.

I’m a fan of traditional bitters. They are a dying breed. Holt’s Bitter and Harvey’s Sussex Best are two of my favourites. OBB is another that I like a lot. I agree that Sam Smith’s pubs are light years away from a London Tap Room but that’s part of the charm. The rules may seem anachronistic in 2023, but I don’t mind an hour or so without feeling rhe need to check Twitter every few minutes. The contrast between the London pubs and those elsewhere is significant. Sam’s London pubs were the first to accept Credit and Debit cards, the phone ban is ignored. Some of them even do food. I frequent the Old Boot in Chester, not a cheap beer city, where the OBB is £3.00/pint. Pre-covid, it was still being supplied in wooden Hogsheads. Not sure if thst is still the case. They must be doing something right. I went there two weeks ago on a Sunday afternoon. They didn’t have any OBB on because they’d been hammered over the weekend.

OBB is still exclusively supplied in wood, but in barrels and kilderkins. I’d be surprised if hogsheads have been used since the 70s. I’ve certainly never seen any on their drays and on my last visit to the brewery there were none in the cooperage.

I noticed a bottle of Stingo in the fridge at the Lyceum when we were in London a few years back (pre-pandemic), and incautiously ordered it without first checking the price. Twelve. Twelve of your Earth ‘pounds’. Admittedly, they’ve always taken the p. a bit on bottle pricing. Pushing up the prices of draught beers to match the local norm may be a step too far, though.

But the cask Yorkshire Stingo in half a dozen of their London pubs was a quite reasonable £7.40 a pint during December 2019 (pre-pandemic).

Yes, but draught beers of about double the normal strength are usually well short of double the price, such as in January 2020 Unicorn at £3.40 and Old Tom at £6. That sort of a ‘mark up’, with OBB at £3.50 in London during December 2019, would I think have had Yorkshire Stingo at £6.18, Humphrey maybe adding an extra £1.22 because of its remarkable quality or its rarity.

I don’t think Sam Smith’s are anywhere near the worst for price gauging. I was in pub in Liverpool on Friday and was shocked to be charged £5.10 for a 3.4% beer.

Yes I found last year the olde Boot, Chester was nearly empty. I ordered a pint of bitter and found why it was near empty. It was so much more expensive than my last visit. I’ve used this pub for years while visiting Chester and also the Falcon which has unfortunately been closed for a couple of years. Sadly, like others have mentioned, the quality of the beer has dropped because it’s not selling quick enough and the price has shot up.

I avoid Smith’s pubs like the plague. OBB was okay when it was on form but it often wasn’t on form and, even when it was totally shot the managers were told to sell it anyway and that they couldn’t return it.

Museum Ale was the best thing they brewed and so nutcase Humphrey stopped brewing it.

I’m interested in quality, not quantity. Now that Smith’s prices have increased considerably I’m less interested than I ever was….if that’s possible. I don’t wish to line the pockets of a man who has treated his staff so appallingly.

Humphrey Smith has taken cask OBB out of many pubs simply because they weren’t selling enough. If you can find bottles of their Strong Pale Ale, that is what was put into casks as Museum Ale. He’s certainly got quite the reputation for having the employee relations attitude of an 18th Century mill owner, but in these times of connectivity, no one can claim they didn’t know what he was like before they go to work for him.

My father had a Smiths pub for over 25 years. The whole buisness is a shambles. The man in charge is out of touch with reality. As for the pubs being closed this is because if the brewery owner turns up and you are not following all his out dated rules he closes them there and then and sacks the landlord.

Humphrey Smith’s eccentricities, are well documented. I’ve often wondered why Sam Smith’s never advertise their pubs. There’s no sign outside their pubs to indicate it’s a Sam Smith pub. Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout is a cracking drink but it’s expensive and it’s not easy to get. They seem to export a lot of their beer to the USA. People have told me they’ve drank Sam Smith’s beer in Florida and seen Sam Smith’s Oatmeal Stout in a supermarket in San Francisco. I’ve never seen it on sale in any English supermarket.

Spot on comments,see my trip advisor recent reviews of The Angel,bermondsey and the Capkin kid,wapping.
What’s happening at samual smiths ??
Management needs a shake up

I’ll be drinking in a Sam Smith’s pub tonight. It has it’s regulars and keeps the OBB in top notch condition – one of my favourite real ales for many years. The couple who run it have managed pubs for Sam’s all over the country and are friendly and likeable. I can do without my mobile phone for a couple of hours anyway and if I really need to use it, l can nip outside. There’ll be plenty of good conversation at the bar, anyway.

Meanwhile, in the rest of the country, where the majority of Sam Smiths pubs are located, the beer is still cheap, and OBB in cask remains the last commercially produced cask beer delivered entirely in wooden casks.

My local in Doncaster is not serving the old B B as it is not selling enough due to the xxxx bitter at £2.20 a pint 3.4 abv, but this is not in the same league as the Old Brewery Bitter..

Your lucky if you can find a Samuel Smiths pub open!

They have some fabulous buildings as pubs but?
Most in and around their base, Tadcaster in Yorkshire are closed.

It seems the issue is finding pub managers who are prepared to work for them.

Speaking as a life long customer of their beers and largers and in the past dined at many of pubs on some of the best food served in any establishment.

What has gone wrong?

No entertainment
No mobile phones
No fruit machines
No pool tables
No music
No live entertainment
No Chiefs cooking good fresh food

What Good?

If you can find a Samuel Smiths pub open,
Your guaranteed to find a seat and no que at the bar.

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