20th Century Pub pubs

When did video games appear in pubs – and where did they go?

In the 1970s and 80s pubs added video game arcade machines to their roster of attractions, in pursuit of younger customers and additional revenue.

We sort of knew this but had forgotten it. We both recall seeing arcade machines in unusual places when we were kids – Chase HQ at the swimming pool, Space Invaders at the chip shop.

And, yes, we must have seen them in pubs here and there, perhaps glimpsed through cracks in the door as we sat on steps with Panda Pops, or ran around beer gardens.

What brought this memory back with a rush was this clip from 1983 via the excellent BBC Archive, From 23 seconds.

It shows office worker Chris Carter spending his lunch break playing Mr Do! in a very normal looking Truman’s pub, presumably in London. Next to the arcade game there’s a gambling machine, a cigarette machine, and a payphone – coin-op corner!

One detail we get about the business model is that the machines in this pub were changed once a month so that there would always be a new game, with novelty value, for people to play.

The questions the video prompted in our minds were when did video games first start appearing in pubs – and where did they go? Because you rarely see them these days, except as retro novelties.

Pong, 1972, running in an emulator.

1973: Pong in the pub

It seems to be accepted generally that the first commercially successful video game was Pong, a basic tennis simulator released to the market by Atari in 1972.

It was actually designed with pubs – or, rather, being American, bars – in mind. The first prototype was tested at Andy Capp’s Tavern in Sunnyvale, California, which seems to have been a restaurant-bar with something of an English pub theme. (Further research required.)

It didn’t take long for real British pubs to start installing Pong-style video game cabinets. In August 1973 Ros Dunn reported for the Huddersfield Daily Examiner that Trevor Haigh, manager of The Albion in New Street, wanted to start a ping-pong pub league “using the new computer machines just coming in”:

They look like small television sets. The two small bars on the screen (the bats) are controlled by two knobs below it. A white dot (the ball) is bounced across the set by moving the bar up to meet it… Mr Haigh believes computer ping-pong wil be just as popular as the more traditional pub sports – darts, dominoes and cards.

Haigh reckoned he had about a dozen keen players even though his machine (a Pong knockoff called Space Ball, from Nutting Associates) had only been installed for a couple of weeks. That means we can pinpoint its arrival to around July 1973.

In December 1973 a firm called Dormer Projects Limited was advertising its “TV Tennis Non-Gaming” machines in newspapers and boasting that they were installed in “over 5,000 pub and club sites throughout the UK”. They were supposedly taking up to £80 per week on each site (pinches of salt required) and cost £650 plus VAT – just shy of £7,000 in today’s money.

In April 1974 a promoter called Len Bruce was trying to get a national Pub Olympics off the ground, in collaboration with a firm based in Morecambe that was producing 30 video game machines a week, and had sold about 500 to pubs up and down the UK. (Does anyone know which company this might have been?)

Most histories of video games, however, report a collapse in the market from about 1974 onwards. Once you’d done Pong, then Pong Doubles (1973) with two paddles per side, then Quadra Pong (1974) with a four-sided court, the novelty began to wear off.

Firms continued to advertise video games to pubs throughout the late 1970s but there were also reports that highlighted the extent to which the first wave of the craze was over. Like this from the Southall Gazette from July 1978:

Pub football and tennis machines fluctuate in popularity, enjoying seasonal success rather like rugby and soccer… Although there are no hard and fast seasons, their popularity can be gauged by the takings or rather the lack of them… The prospect of vidfeo machines lying redundant, naturally enough, causes concerns among the owners of these large and costly boxes of electronic tricks…

More from the BBC Archive including a Space Invaders cocktail table.

1979: Invasion of the Space Invaders

Space Invaders was released by Taito in Japan in 1978 and took a while to make it to UK pubs.

In June 1979 the Liverpool Echo reported that it was on its way, accompanying its report with stories of a wave of juvenile delinquency the game had supposedly unleashed in Japan. (More on this shortly.)

Then, in December 1979, the Liverpool Daily Post published a snarky column by John Williams with the headline “…to boldly bleep where no man can drink in peace any more”:

[The] bar had been equipped with a built-in migraine… This emanated from the lead-booted feet of creatures from outer space and became louder and louder as they neutralised the exploding missiles fired by Earthlings feeding 10p pieces into the Space Invaders machine… The object of the game, apparently, is to save humanity. But it’s too late, at least for our pubs. They have been taken over by the new age of the machine… In [one] pub I counted one video game, two juke boxes, a pin-ball game and two Bandits. Just imagine the whooping, hollering, bleeping, banging, rattling and wheezing when they are all operated simultaneously… At a time when CAMRA is trying to recapture the good old flavour of real ale, everyone else seems hard at work turning pubs into amusement arcades.

As it happens, CAMRA was on the case. An edition of its short-lived print magazine What’s Brewing (not to be confused with the monthly member newspaper) from summer 1980 had a feature by Mike Chapple called ‘Bar Invasion’:

Rick Zaple, CAMRA’s regional organiser for the West Midlands, tabled a motion at the Campaign’s recent Annual General Meeting to place curbs on the offending aliens… “The objection was not against the machines themselves,” says 27-year-old Rick. “It’s just the noise that they create.”… Understandably Rick maintains that Space Invaders, together with other such electronic gadgetry as juke boxes and fruit machines, tend to disturb drinkers out for a quiet pint and a chat… “Rather than banning the machines, there should be more stringent control on the amount of noise they actually make, so that people who do not want to become involved are not being disturbed in the pub,” he said.

In May 1980 the Carmarthen Journal was reporting that…

Public bars in the Carmarthen area which normally echo to the sound of popular pastimes like darts dominoes may soon be buzzing with the strange electronic noises of a new amusement machine which is currently taking the country by storm. The machine, which is called ‘Space Invaders’, has already won the seal of approval from public houses in the large cities and is now being installed in many local pubs, clubs and coffee houses… And master-minding the ‘invasion’ of the machines in West Wales is the Pendine based Arm of Robot Machine Leasing, which has already distributed about 100 ‘Space Invaders’ throughout the area.

By August in the same year, however, a publican in Sevenoaks in Kent was complaining that Space Invaders was old hat and that punters were demanding newer, more sophisticated games:

Mr Gordon Hobson, the landlord of the Camden Arms… said that the craze had died down slightly over the last few weeks but added that manufacturers were constantly thinking up new ideas for video games He said: “At one stage we had a Space Invaders machine in the pub but as the novelty wore off we replaced it with a more advanced game. It is like most things, they tend to wear off after a time.”… Mr Hobson has a wide variety of video machines which budding Luke Skywalkers can pit their wits against and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing your initials proudly displayed on the screen if you manage to achieve one of the highest scores.

1981: Won’t somebody think of the children?

In February 1981 Chief Superintendent David Jones of Gloucestershire Constabulary spoke at an annual licensing session in Cheltenham. He suggested that the presence of video games in pubs had led to a surge in under-age drinking because “Young people are being attracted into bars to play the machines”. Police in nearby Bristol said the same thing.

And in March the same year police in Stockport joined in the chorus, as reported in the Advertiser and Guardian:

Stockport schoolboys would seem to be deserting the playground for the pub in a bid to master the Space Invader craze… Moreover the mania for video games – which have flooded the country – has brought fears from the police that the micro-chip fever could lead to a new generation of teenage tipplers.

There were also stories, echoing those from Japan, of children stealing to pay for their video game addiction, or fiddling the machines to get free plays.

An anti-video-game lobby emerged in the UK, arguing that video games should be treated like films, with venues required to have a licence to ‘exhibit’ them. This debate rumbled on throughout the rest of the decade.

1982: Game over?

If the purpose of putting video games in pubs was to attract younger customers, and authorities were saying, “Oh no you don’t!” then perhaps a crash was inevitable.

In January 1982 the Daily Mirror was convinced the craze was reaching an end:

Space Invaders are being beaten off by the recession… Many pubs and clubs are replacing them with fruit machines because of a big drop in profits… One video games firm, Sabelectro of Cheltenham, has lost £600,000… Broadway coins of London said: “Last year every machine netted £200 a week. Now we’re lucky to get £40.”

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the home computer boom kicked off in earnest at about this. The Sinclair ZX Spectrum was launched in 1982, for example, and a major selling point was that for a relatively small initial outlay, you could save a fortune in 10 pence pieces.

The story of the decline of the British amusement arcade is told in some detail in Arcade Britannia: a social history of the British amusement arcade by Alan Meades published by the MIT Press, and available to read online for free.

He describes an odd sort of feedback loop where, by the early 1990s, home video game consoles were being installed in pubs in the guise of the PlayChoice-10:

The PlayChoice-10 contained a robustly built [Nintendo Entertainment System] home console in an arcade cabinet, as well as a mechanism for the player to select from up to ten games installed by the operator. The PlayChoice-10 performed well in Britain, especially as an arcade machine for the pub trade, where space was at a premium. Of the estimated 30,000 PlayChoice-10 machines manufactured globally, 6,000 were sited in Britain…

The supply of ‘proper’ video games from Japan, with dedicated circuit boards, began to dry up.

And gambling machines based on recognised licensed properties became more popular, such as a unit based on the board game Monopoly launched in 1992 that we think we remember seeing in pubs when we were students.

So, we reckon it’s fair to say it might have been surprising to see a video game in a pub after about, say, 1995. If you know otherwise, let us know.

20th Century Pub london pubs

London’s best pubs in 1968: mini-skirts and toasties

The January 1968 edition of Town magazine (“For men”) includes a guide to pubs in London and the surrounding area. How many are still there, and still good?

The guide is split into sections starting with pub entertainment. The first entry is a theme pub – one of our pet topics:

The Blue Boar, Leicester Square. Cheerfully, blatant subterranean restaurant and bar devoted to the Robin Hood theme: ‘Kindly deposit ye arrows,’ and ‘Knights’ and ‘Dames’ etc. Sounds awful, but is tremendous fun. Mock torches, waitresses in medieval gear, Maid Marian cocktails, free cheese ‘from the Sheriff’s larder’ and cut as much as you want.

Now, how’s that for a flying start? The London Picture Archive has an image from 1975. The magnificent building is still there but is no longer a pub.

There was modern jazz at The Bull’s Head in Barnes with “American stars”. It’s still there, still a pub, and – amazingly – still hosts a jazz club. There’s a pleasing sense of permanence there. 

Other jazz pubs included The Iron Bridge in Poplar (Marylanders on Sunday, New State Jazzband on Monday, Hugh Rainey All Stars on Tuesday and Alan Elsdon’s Jazz Band on Wednesday; demolished) and The Tally Ho in Kentish Town. (Became a punk pub, then demolished.)

If you wanted protest songs and folk music the anonymous author suggests The Horseshoe Hotel on Tottenham Court Road on Sunday evenings. There was apparently also cheap food to be had in the dive bar. This 1976 photo shows it in Ind Coope livery. It was demolished years ago.

We’ve written before about The Waterman’s Arms on the Isle of Dogs. As the Town pub guide explains:

Where journalist and TV personality Dan Farson inaugurated the now wildly successful Stars and Garter era of modern East End music hall. Few East Enders in sight but packed for the excellent entertainment.

It’s still there as a pub and boutique hotel, without music hall acts.

The Deuragon Arms in Homerton is described as “the best of the untainted and uncommercialised East End fun palaces” where “Marks and Sparks shirts glitter in the ultra-violet lights”. Snooty! It’s long gone, replaced by flats.

Also mentioned in this section are The Lamb & Flag, Covent Garden; The Prospect of Whitby in Wapping; St Stephen’s Tavern in Westminster; The Samuel Whitbread on Leicester Square; and Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street.

LP cover for "The Entertainers" featuring a warm Victorian pub interior.
A 1960s record featuring the interior of the Waterman’s Arms.

City of London pubs in 1968

This section features a lot of wine bars, chophouses, and quasi-pubs. But there is one excellent sounding theme pub:

Square Rigger, King William Street, EC3. A modern pub with a yo-ho-ho theme, as befits a boozer only a stone’s throw from the Pool of London. Canned noise of the sea, ship’s timbers, etc, but none the worse for it considering the large number of dirty and characterless pubs in the City.

From the outside it was a concrete booze bunker and was demolished in the 1980s.

Engraved glass on the door of a pub with Restaurant and Saloon Bar.
The Antelope in 2017.

The pubs of Belgravia

This section has a list of familiar classics, many of which we’ve visited, and some of which we wrote about back in 2017.

The Antelope on Eaton Terrace, the guide says, is “a male pub, full of beer swillers and hearties”. The Duke of Wellington, also on Eaton Terrace, is “full of the classier flat dwellers” and “Lots of lovely girls” The Grenadier on Wilton Row has been in every single pub guide for decades, as far as we can tell. Here we’re told it has “the ghost of a grenadier flogged to death” and “classy birds, but usually accompanied”. The Wilton Arms on Kinnerton Street “claims to be the smallest pub in London” where you can “get served by one of the miniest skirts”. All four of these pubs are still there and still trading, in one form or another.

The Red Lion in Pimlico is an unusual entry. It’s described as “a fine modern pub built into a block of GLC flats”. You’re probably wondering about “the birds” aren’t you? This being a less posh neighbourhood at the time the author got in a dig alongside his sexism: “a little more obviously bleached”. This became The Belgravia which, oddly enough, was one of the pubs Jess drank in a lot after work during the noughties. It’s now a restaurant.

An ornate Art Nouveau pub at night.
The Black Friar.

Quirky architecture and vibe

The section called ‘Character pubs’ starts The Black Friar at Blackfriars with its unique Art Nouveau decor which was literally a cause célèbre in the 1960s. It’s still there, still beautiful, but perhaps not a great place to drink these days.

Carrs on the Strand grabbed our interest with mention of its new “German Schloss Keller” with “Lowenbrau and Bavarian snacks served by mini-skirted waitresses”. There was a trend for this back in the 1960s and 70s which we wrote about for CAMRA’s BEER magazine. That piece is collected in our book Balmy Nectar if you want to read it.

The Surrey Tavern on Surrey Street also rang a bell and that’s because it was the Australian pub in London in the 1960s: “If you want to know what Australia’s like skip the pamphlets and come here.” It’s not only gone but doesn’t seem to have left much of a trace on the usual pub history websites.

The others mentioned in this section are The York Minster in Soho (AKA The French House), which is still going, and a bunch of wine bars like El Vino.

An illustration of some pies adapted from an old cook book.

Pub grub

There’s a relatively small list of pubs chiefly known for decent food. Fittingly, one is The Earl of Sandwich in the West End where “they commemorate their namesake by selling at 9d a round some of the cheapest sandwiches in London”. It was apparently opposite The Garrick Theatre. Does anybody know exactly where?

The Museum Tavern in Bloomsbury gets in because it had cheap student meals. It’s still there although we’ve not been for a while and don’t know if it still serves Old Peculier as a regular beer.

The Albion at Ludgate Circus gets a positive rave review for food “deliriously superior to usual pub fare” including toasted sandwiches and home-made pies. Toasties and pies! That’s really all we ask. It’s still there and looks rather handsome. Why have we never noticed it before? Despite this being another part of town where Jess hung out a lot 20 years ago, she doesn’t recall ever drinking there.

Beyond the boozer

For additional context, the same issue also has Cyril Ray’s pick of the wines, including Grande Fine Champagne 1948 at £6 a bottle; a recommendation for the film the Dutchman starring Laurence Harvey; and high praise for Dusty Springfield’s album Where Am I Going.

Why write a post like this?

That’s a good question. It’s mostly so that if someone is researching any of the pubs above they might find a nugget or two of useful information via Google.

Increasingly, we think of this now rather ancient blog as, among other things, a sort of index to our library of books, magazines and cuttings about beer and pubs.

And if nothing else, it was fun to spend an hour or two in 1968, where things were different, but also the same.

20th Century Pub pubs

Pubs versus cafes in 1927 and 2024

What is it about pubs that makes them particularly suitable for socialising and ‘hanging out’, compared to cafes and restaurants?

Earlier this week we wrote about a board game cafe which seemed to have many of the characteristics of a pub.

Most crucially, it was busy (it had atmosphere) and relaxed, with no particular pressure to buy anything once you’d taken a table.

We found an echo of this – including a mention of games – in Ernest Selley’s 1927 book The English Public House As It Is:

The public house is a place where people tarry for social intercourse as well as for refreshment. There are, of course, other shops which sell refreshment, i.e., dairies and tea-shops, but one rarely sees a crowd of people congregate in a dairy or tea-shop in quite the same way as people meet in public houses. It is true that people meet in tea-shops and take refreshment and enjoy social intercourse, and also at times play games such as draughts, and dominoes; but the number of people who, for instance, make a habit of spending a whole evening in a tea-shop is small enough to be left out of account. Besides, tea-shops are not nearly so ubiquitous as public houses, except perhaps in the office areas of some of our larger towns and cities.

On that point of ubiquity, things have changed, at least if we substitute ‘coffee’ for ‘tea’.

In 20th Century Pub we wrote in passing about the arrival of the espresso machine in Britain in the 1950s and the threat it was seen to pose to the traditional pub.

Zooming forward half a century, and just picking one chain, there were 41 branches of Costa Coffee in 1995. Now there are more than 2,000.

And the number of pubs has, of course, severely declined since 1927.

But, still, if you wanted to meet a friend, hang out for a couple of hours, without eating a full meal, wouldn’t you still default to a pub?

Well, of course you would – but would a majority of people?

We think the answer is still “Yes” but with a shift definitely underway.

As well as the aforementioned board game cafes, we’ve also noticed in Bristol a growing number of (a) video game bars or grown-up amusement arcades and (b) dessert cafes.

The video game places are interesting. In both of those we’ve visited there was draught beer but you were absolutely free to ignore it. You were paying your way by paying to play games with drinks as an additional amenity.

And the desert cafes will sell you a disgustingly huge plate of ice cream and waffles, or whatever, and then let you and several friends spend hours picking at it. In Bristol, they’re notably popular with young Asian people, who perhaps feel less comfortable hanging out around booze.

Much as we love pubs and enjoy drinking beer, the prospect of a hospitality landscape that includes hangover-free options doesn’t displease us.

As we hinted in our previous post, perhaps what pub operators need to focus on is how they can make people who don’t want to drink feel welcome, and welcome to stay. And think about what they can sell them other than alcoholic drinks.

Of course, you can file that under “Oh, yeah, I hadn’t thought of that”.

From pub grub to coffee to cinemas to ballrooms, pubs have been trying to diversify for more than a century. Why doesn’t it ever quite seem to take?

20th Century Pub pubs

Is there a Wetherspoon effect?

Are the pubs dead because there’s a Wetherspoon nearby? Or is the Wetherspoon busy because the pubs nearby are dead?

A few weeks ago we got into a conversation about pub closures with Ray’s brother who is a data scientist.

As tends to happen, he started firing off suggestions for factors that might be measured to help us understand why more pubs close in some neighbourhoods than others.

One suggestion was proximity to a branch of Wetherspoon, the budget pub chain that dominates Britain’s high streets.

We’d considered this before, thinking specifically about how big these ‘superpubs’ tend to be. 

What is reportedly the biggest ’Spoons in the country has 551 tables, with seating for about 2,000 people.

Down in Penzance, where we lived for six years, the Wetherspoon pub was three or four times bigger than most others in town.

If there are only a limited number of people to serve, and pints to sell, the opening of Wetherspoon is like several new pubs competitors opening at once.

Anecdotal evidence from the Bristol suburbs

On Saturday, we went for a wander aiming to advance our mission to visit every pub in Bristol. As part of that, one three-pub run seemed especially interesting:

  1. a recently refurbished Victorian pub
  2. an average-sized Wetherspoon
  3. another Victorian pub

The first and third were, frankly, desolate. In each we counted three customers other than ourselves.

The first was completely, eerily silent, except when the jukebox fired up every now and then with a promotional free play.

The drinkers, all older men, were sat as far apart from each other as possible, on their own, staring into space.

The third was notably cold and damp, with slug trails on the bench seating.

The atmosphere was more lively, thanks to a chatty chap at the bar, but it still felt as if it was in a state of decay.

Both looked, from the outside, like the kind of pubs less intrepid pubgoers might read as ‘rough’, though they didn’t feel it once the threshold had been crossed.

By comparison, the Wetherspoon felt like the Rio Carnival. There were hardly any free seats and a crowd standing around the bar. And the bar staff were rushing to serve a never-ending queue of drinkers.

From our corner, we watched meals, desserts, cocktails, shots and pints being ferried back and forth.

There was a warm pub hubbub, too, with drinkers of all ages, couples, groups of women, children, students, dogs…

We drank Thornbridge Jaipur (5.9%) and Oakham Winter Wisp (4.2%), both at £2.55 a pint. If we’d been on a tighter budget, we could have had Greene King IPA at £1.77.

The two more traditional pubs nearby were serving pints at around the £4 mark which is competitive for 2023 – but still feels pricey compared to ’Spoons.

The question we asked ourselves was this:

Is the ’Spoons stealing all the local trade, or picking up customers who would never have visited the other pubs anyway?

It’s hard to imagine that if the ’Spoons closed the clientele would decamp to the two nearest pubs, with their quite different vibe.

But perhaps enough drinkers would do so to bring them back to life.

On a Saturday evening in December, they’d probably rather have, say, eight customers than three.

Counterpoint: the Redfield retreat

What was our nearest Wetherspoon, The St George’s Hall on Church Road, Redfield, closed down in 2021.

Since then, at least one previously quiet local pub, The George & Dragon, has come back to life. And The nearby Old Stillage has been extended with more seating.

Our observation would be that neither pub has particularly gentrified, and both remain drinkers’ pubs, with no food offer.

In fact, the Old Stillage has replaced a former dining area with more boozing space.

Did ’Spoons disappearing release enough regulars into the wild to give Church Road a shot in the arm?

Or were the existing pubs strong and distinctive enough to see off the apex predator?

Pending data

It would be good to move beyond anecdotal evidence and gut feeling.

What we’d love is to crunch some numbers. Jess is quite handy with a spreadsheet and with the right data sources we could easily identify patterns.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has a data set on pub closures between 2017 and 2022

If we can find a similar set of stats for when and where branches of Wetherspoon opened, some correlation might emerge.

Our book 20th Century Pub plus the zine Pierre van Klomp says now for £12 together.

We have a limited number of copies of 20th Century Pub, now out of print, available for £12, including UK postage and packing.

It includes an entire chapter on the history and meaning Wetherspoon and the superpub craze of the 1980s and 90s.

We’re also including a free copy of Pierre van Klomp says “No.” with each copy.

Get your order in (by Friday 15 December if you want it before Christmas) by emailing

20th Century Pub pubs

The Alpine Gasthof: let’s crack this

The Alpine Gasthof in Rochdale is something of a mystery. Why is there a replica of a German building in Lancashire? When was it built? And who designed it?

We wrote the first version of this post in 2017 when we were researching an article about German Bierkellers in English towns – a major trend in the 1970s.

The Gasthof, without doubt one of the UK’s weirdest pubs, became a side quest.

We’ve still never been, and might have missed our window, as it seems to have been closed for several years.

Instead, we had to rely on sources such as Tandleman’s post after a visit in 2017:

Perhaps the oddest of Sam Smith’s pubs is its take-off of a German local pub, uprooted it seems, in looks if nothing else, from Garmisch or some other Alpine resort. Only it is in Rochdale. Not only is it in Rochdale, but it is on a busy main road, which if you follow it for not too long, will take you to Bacup. This is the Land that Time Forgot. Don’t do that… Not only is it incongruously in Rochdale, but it is in a less than salubrious part of town… The pub has the usual German style high sloping roof and inside is, well, a sort of pastiche of a German pub, but done, unusually for Sam’s, sort of on the cheap.

Although there were lots of photos, and though everyone seemed quite fascinated by the place, there didn’t seem to be many concrete facts.

We didn’t hold out great hopes for any information from the brewery which is notoriously tight-lipped but did get this, which is a start:

The Alpine Gasthof was built in the 1970s (don’t have the exact date to hand) because the previous pub we had on that site had to be demolished for road widening. To have a bit of fun we decided to build a pub modelled on the Brauerei Gasthof Hotel in Aying, Germany because at that time we were brewing Ayinger beer under licence.

(OK, this is embarrassing, though – we can’t find our source for that information. The way we worded this in 2017 make sit sound as if we did get some kind of communication from the brewery, which doesn’t seem likely.)

We can well imagine Sam Smith’s execs going to Aying during licence negotiations and being charmed by the original, pictured here in a shot taken from the gallery on the hotel website.

Brauereigasthof-Hotel-Aying exterior: a typical German-style building with green shutters and a high sloping roof.

Although, oddly, the pastiche doesn’t look that much like it. Here it is photographed in 2013, via Ian S on under a Creative Commons Licence:

The Alpine Gasthof, Rochdale, another typical German style buiulding with shutters, balconies and a high sloping roof.

With a bit more to go on we reckon we can guess that the date of its construction was around 1972, at the tail-end of the theme pub craze (Further reading: Chapter 5 in 20th Century Pub) and just as the German Bierkeller trend was kicking in.

That’s also when Sam Smith’s started brewing Ayinger-branded beers.

But we were awful short on actual evidence. We thought this might be something…

A Google Books snippet view extract from International  Brewing & Distilling from 1972 which mentions an Ayingerbrau Gasthof opening at Wetherby in Yorkshire.

…but there are two problems.

First, though Google Books has the date of publication as 1972 the particular issue referencing the Alpine Gasthof might be from, say, 1978.

We’ve come across this problem in the past. It’s hard to know until you have the journal in front of you, fully readable. Secondly… It says Wetherby, Yorkshire.

Surely some mistake? But, no, apparently not — there is at least one other (slightly odd) reference to an Alpine Gasthaus in Wetherby, giving the address as Boroughbridge Road, LS22 5HH.

That led us to this local news story about the burning down in 2005 of the Alpine Lodge, a two-storey chalet-style building in Kirk Deighton (Wetherby).

There are various other bits out there including this interview with the couple who ran it for several decades and a teasingly indistinct photo taken from a moving car in bright sunlight on this Facebook nostalgia website.

We’ve taken the liberty of reproducing it here, with some tweaks — hopefully no-one will mind.

The Alpine Inn AKA the Alpine Lodge, at the side of a main road, in a grainy old photograph.

What a bizarre building to find there on the side of the A1.

And that leaves us with two Alpine-style Sam Smith’s pubs to be puzzled about.

So, do drop us a line if you know anything concrete about the origins of either pub (that is, not reckonings or guesses); have friends or family members who might have drunk in them; or live near either Rochdale or Wetherby and fancy popping to your local library to look at newspapers for 1972.

An update for 2023

Six years later, we’ve come back to this post with a little fresh information.

Neil Whittaker got in touch earlier this year with this nugget of information on the Alpine Gasthof, with some minor edits for clarity:

My dad was the architect. He was Donald Whittaker of Whittaker Design in Oldham.

He passed sadly in 1999 but the business is alive and has just celebrated 50 years.

He visited Garmisch in Bavaria to do his research.

He was away for weeks, obviously needing to accurately sample the beer Kellers unique atmosphere.

I missed him as I was only 10 but he brought me some lovely model cars back so it was worth it.

He did a lot of work for Sam Smith’s, including the unique Pullman carriage attached to the Yew Tree in Thornham, Rochdale, which was the restaraunt in the 1970s and 80s. It is sadly long gone, although the pub remains.

He was also responsible for a J.W. Lees pub in the ski resort of Flaine in France, bringing their terrible tulip lager to the alps in around 1978!

Thanks to new additions to the British Newspaper Archive we’ve also been able to get closer to pinning down the date of Gasthof’s opening.

A promotional article in The Rochdale Observer for 7 March 1979 refers to the pub as having been open for “a little over four years”, allowing us to pin it down to late 1974 or early 1975.

The article also gives us a glimpse of its operation at the time:

Since last September it has been under the management of Stephen and Lesley Fagan, who have put it on the map for more than just its excellent food… When the Gasthof was opened the owners, Samuel Smith’s Brewery, went to great pains to bring an authentic atmosphere. They imported antique furnishings and modern pineware from Bavaria… It has a strong flavour of Bavaria in its menu, with Austrian dishes alongside English favourites… For example, among the appetisers is Kartoffelpuffer, which are potato pancakes… Fish with sauerkraut is another delicacy… Among the sweets, the Bavarian style hot cherries are delicious.

One observation we’ve often made about theme pubs, however, is that they usually strayed from the original concept after only a few years.

The Gasthof was built with food as its primary offer, and lager as the focus. By 1979, the Fagans were downplaying food, eager to get more drinkers in. The menu had gained more traditional English dishes. And, in keeping with the trends of the time, had started serving real ale “from the wood”.