Categories
pubs

Nobody wants a backstreet corner pub on their backstreet corner

People sometimes talk as if the appeal of the neighbourhood pub is self-evident and universal… but is it?

We ran the above poll on Twitter after reading this admittedly rather thin PR piece via a property news website. It suggests that the presence of pubs can bring property prices down:

The homebuying platform [YesHomeBuyers] analysed property market data based on the number of pubs in each local authority and found that having too many options for a swift pint on your doorstep could be detrimental to the value of your home… In local authorities with an estimated 1 to 150 pubs, property prices averaged £289,479. This then fell by -9% to £263,041 in areas with 151 to 300 pubs and further again to £253,808 in areas with 301 to 450 pubs – a drop of -4%… The research shows in local authorities with 451 or more pubs, the average house price fell by a further -6% to £238,163, an -18% gap between those local authorities with the most and least pubs.

Unfortunately, we can well imagine this is true. Look at most suburban streets after about 8pm – they tend to be silent. Dormant.

In this context, even quiet, well-behaved pubs might seem disruptive.

We forced ourselves to have a really honest conversation about this between ourselves. Would we want to live next door to a pub?

We concluded that we wouldn’t be too bothered. We don’t have kids, don’t tend to go to bed before 11pm and, well, love pubs of all shapes and sizes.

Even so, we can understand why some people might not fancy it. You only have to look at some neighbourhood pubs to see the ghostly traces of low-level conflict:

  • Don’t stand here on your mobile phone.
  • Don’t smoke here.
  • Don’t sit on this wall.
  • Please leave quietly and respect our neighbours.

It’s no wonder, then, that when asked by a developer if they’d object to the pub next door being turned into flats, those disrespected neighbours might say, quietly, “Go for it, mate – knock yourself out.”

In the context of the battle for The Rhubarb, we’ve been thinking about why industrial estate taprooms might be thriving when pubs aren’t – and maybe it’s this.

Perhaps the neighbourhood corner pub is doomed, not because people don’t want to drink or go out, but because they don’t want to do it where they live.

As we put it in a Patreon post on Saturday, people want licenced premises, but “Not here, where we live, but over there, beyond the railway line, behind the jam factory, out of sight and out of mind.”

It makes sense, really. People are already used to going to retail parks and high streets to buy everything else. Why shouldn’t boozing zone itself, too?

Rezoning happens from time to time, remember. In the interwar years, pubs moved from city centre slums to suburbs and outer-rim estates. Now, that process might be reversing.

As far as we’re concerned, this is bloody miserable. Backstreet pubs on quiet residential streets are often the best of the lot.

And, yes, if you move next to a pub that’s been there for 200 years, it’s mad if you then moan about it.

Still, there’s some morning coffee to be smelled here. You can’t save pubs if you’re not realistic about how they’re viewed by people who don’t necessarily love them.

Once again, we find ourselves looking at micropubs as another pragmatic solution. They often close early – at nine or nine-thirty – and they’re usually too small to draw noisy crowds.

Categories
pubs

Saving The Rhubarb just got real

On Friday, we got an email from Garvan, landlord of The Drapers Arms, letting us know that the owners of The Rhubarb have applied for permission to turn it into flats.

You might recall that we wrote anxiously about the future of The Rhubarb a few weeks ago. Since then, we’ve corresponded with somebody who was trying to get some kind of community ownership project of the ground and had been in negotiation with the owners.

What we didn’t know was that, by that time, they’d already put in their application for change of use.

We’re gutted about this, frankly. Not only is The Rhubarb the closest pub to our house, it’s also the only pub left in the neighbourhood. (The Swan is already lost.) If The Rhubarb goes, there’s going to be an enormous gap in the map.

At present, you can walk the length of Avonvale road, the spine of Barton Hill, without passing a single pub. (Although there are two social clubs.) Lawrence Hill, the next bit over, has one pub, The Packhorse; St Anne’s, in the other direction, has The Langton Court; and The Barley Mow is in St Phillips. There are also a few pubs along Church Road in St George’s.

Things change, pubs close, but a residential area as populous as Barton Hill without a single pub? Something has broken.

The Rhubarb isn’t only the last pub – it’s one of the few buildings in Barton Hill with any history at all. Most of the factories and terraces that once defined the area are long gone; The Rhubarb, strange, compromised thing that it is, is a link to the past.

Thanks to Michael (@BringOnTheBeer) we also know that it has significance in the history of Britain’s railways, too: the bit of track that runs over a bridge next to the pub is known as ‘Rhubarb Loop’.

Now isn’t the time to decide

The planning application is built around the suggestion that the pub is fundamentally not viable.

First, it seems to us that a pandemic is not the right time to judge this. We’ve had messages from a couple of experienced operators who were interested but the timing wasn’t right for them, which must be common across the entire industry right now.

There needs to be a delay so this decision, if it must be taken, can be done so calmly, with due process.

We do acknowledge, though, that there is a correlation between social deprivation and pub closures – and Lawrence Hill is deprived. So, yes, it might be a challenge to make money from a pub like The Rhubarb while also serving the community, rather than simply existing in it.

But we think it could be done with the right team and investment.

There are certainly a lot of unserved chimney pots nearby.

What is to be done?

You can object to the planning application here, as several people have already done.

We’re not experts on this kind of thing at all but, as we understand it:

  • Your objection is more likely to carry weight if you live in Bristol, of course, and doubly so if you live in or have a connection to Barton Hill or Lawrence Hill.
  • It’s best to make your objection specific and personal rather than copy and paste a general complaint that can be easily dismissed as part of a campaign.
  • State specifically what you want to happen instead.

When we file our objection, it will be on the grounds that:

  • It’s an important pub, both in terms of community function and history.
  • It’s not appropriate to judge viability during a pandemic – the decision should be delayed.
  • Though the developers claim a community consultation has occurred, we’ve seen and heard no sign of it.
  • We believe the pub could be viable given the lack of local competition and high population density.
  • A community ownership model might allow it to operate profitably.

There is also a campaign page on Facebook set up by Annie McGann of the organisation Save Bristol Nightlife. You can join the group for updates and information on how to get involved.

Categories
marketing pubs

FAQ: Which brands would have been on sale in a 1960s pub?

“Which brands would have been available in an ordinary English pub of the 1950s or 1960s, including spirits and wines?” – paraphrased from correspondence

To answer this, let’s pick a year; and let’s make that year 1965 because we’ve got a good reference to hand: James H. Coombs’ Bar Service: careers behind the bar – volume one.

We’ve written about this little volume before. First, there was a post about its advice on beer. Then there was a companion piece with some nuggets on pub life.

The bit we’re going to look at today, though, is arguably the most boring section in which Mr Coombs provides a long list of the types and variety of booze a good pub ought to carry.

Here’s the raw information from those, oof, twelve chapters. We’ve only included items where a brand name was mentioned, plus a couple of example of beers where ‘brewery’s own’ would be the brand.

Bottled beersBrand
Pale ale (light ale)Brewery’s own
Brown aleBrewery’s own
Double DiamondInd Coope
John Courage (JC)Courage
Red BarrelWatney Mann
Ben Truman (Ben)Truman
Barley WineBrewery’s own
IPAWorthington
Colne Spring AleBenskins (Ind Coope)
White Shield (natural beer’)Worthington
Bass (Red Shield – ‘natural beer’)Bass
Green Shield (pasteurised)Worthington
Bass (Blue Triangle – pasteurised)Bass
LagerCarlsberg
LagerTuborg
LagerHolston
LagerLöwenbräu
LagerOranjeboom
LagerHeineken
SKOLInd Coope
Black LabelCarling
GuinnessHarp
Mackeson (milk stout)Mackeson (Whitbread)
Guinness Extra StoutGuinness
Russian StoutBarclay’s (Courage)
Draught beers (cask)Brand
Mild ale (XX)Brewery’s own
BitterBrewery’s own
BassBass
EWorthington
Draught beers (keg)Brand
Red BarrelWatney Mann
Red HandInd Coope
TobyCharrington
FlowersFlowers (Whitbread)
TankardWhitbread
TavernCourage
BassBass
EWorthington
CiderBrand
Apple Vintage WineMerrydown
Babycham (sweet)Showerings
Babycham (dry)Showerings
Baby BubblyGoldwell
Pink LadyGoldwell
Soft drinks and mixersBrand
Coca-ColaCoca-Cola
Pepsi-ColaPepsi
7-Up7-Up
Perrier WaterPerrier
Vichy WaterVarious
Apollinaris (water)Apollinaris
Hunyadi-Janos (water)n/a
Contrexeville (water)Perrier
Evian (water)Evian
Malvern (water)Schweppes
Buxton (water)Buxton Mineral Water Co.
Springwell (water)n/a
WinesBrand
Tio Pepe (sherry)González Byass
Dry Fly (sherry)Imported by Findlater Mackie Todd
Double Century (sherry)Pedro Domecq
Celebration Cream (sherry)Pedro Domecq
Bristol Cream (sherry)Harvey’s
Bristol Milk (sherry)Harvey’s
Bristol Dry (sherry)Harvey’s
Various sherriesWiliams and Humbert
Carlito (sherry)Wiliams and Humbert
Dry Sack (sherry)Wiliams and Humbert
Canasta Cream (sherry)Wiliams and Humbert
Walnut Brown (sherry)Wiliams and Humbert
Various sherriesVarela
PortCroft, Dow, Fonseca, Cockburn, Sandeman, Warre, Rebello Valente, Taylor, etc.
Porto BrancoSandeman’s
ChampagneAyala, Bollinger, Clicquot, Goulet, Heidsieck, Pol Roger, Moet, etc.
Ginger WineStone’s
VermouthMartini
VermouthNoilly Prat
VermouthCinzano
SpiritsBrand
“Straw-tinted” ginBooth’s
Gin (Geneva)Holland’s
GinPlymouth
London Dry GinSquires
London Dry GinCornhill
Fruit cupPimm’s
Caroni RumTate & Lyle
Lemon Hart RumUnited Rum Merchants
Lamb’s Navy RumUnited Rum Merchants
Daiquiri RumUnited Rum Merchants
Ron BacardiBacardi
Various brandiesMartell, Hennessy, Otard, Courvoisier, Remy Martin, etc.
Bitters and aperitifsBrand
BittersAngostura
BittersUnderberg
Fernet-BrancaFratelli Branca
DubonnetDubonnet
Pernod 45Pernod
AmerPicon

Now, clearly, you wouldn’t find all of these in every pub but, per the original query, if you included these brands as dressing for a film set in 1965, they’d probably look appropriate.

So, that’s the boring list. What about other, sexier sources? Advertising from the period, for example…

Stone's Green Ginger Wine
SOURCE: Brewery Manual 1966.
Hi! Heineken.
SOURCE: Brewery Manual 1966.
Varela sherry
SOURCE: Brewery Manual 1966.

…or beer mats…

A selection of beer mats from around the 1960s.
Some beer mats from our collection from the 1960s and 70s.

… or old photos.

The bar of a pub.
The Crown Hotel, Hadleigh, 1965. SOURCE: Hadleigh and Thundersleigh Community Archive.

In the above pic, also from 1965, we can’t make out many brands but we’ve definitely got Watney’s Red Barrel, Double Diamond and something not on Mr Coombs’s list, Tia Maria.

Categories
20th Century Pub bristol pubs

20th Century pubs in 21st Century Bristol

We recently gave a talk to the 20th Century Society about 20th century pubs in Bristol. This blog post is taken from the material that we used.

We hardly mention any Bristol pubs in 20th Century Pub, although this wasn’t for lack of trying. In many ways, what happened in Bristol is typical of the general story of pubs in the 20th Century, including the fact that not many survive and those that do have lost most of their period features.

Not many pubs were built at all at the start of the century, full stop. After a large increase in the number of beer houses in the mid-nineteenth century there was something of a backlash against pubs. Magistrates, encouraged by the temperance movement, began to make it harder to get licences, and if you wanted to build a pub in a newly expanded area of the city there was often an expectation that you should give up a licence or three in the city centre.

The excellent Historic England publication The Nineteenth and Twentieth Century Public House in Bristol by Rebecca Preston and Fiona Fisher, from 2015, provides a helpful summary of how things played out here:

Bristol magistrates received 42 applications to create new licences in the period 1886 to 1896 but none was granted… The pattern of licence reduction continued in Bristol after 1900. At the beginning of the twentieth century the city had 471 alehouses, 567 ‘on’ beerhouses and 240 ‘off’ beerhouses. Two refreshment houses held wine licences and 87 grocers were licensed, a total net decrease of 18 licences on the previous year.74 In 1911, the city had 421 alehouses, 443 ‘on’ beerhouses, 231 ‘off’ beerhouses and one refreshment house with a wine licence. Seventy-four grocers were licensed and 26 chemists. There was a net decrease of 21 licences in that year.75 In the ten years from 1904 to 1914 there was a total reduction of 184 licences of all types across the city.

A Victorian-Edwardian pub.
The Cambridge Arms, Redland, by Edward Gabriel, 1900.

However, Bristol does have a couple of what we call ‘smart’ proto-improved pubs – that is, built in the Edwardian period to serve new areas and new clienteles. The Cambridge Arms (Redland) and The Langton Court (St Annes/Brislington) are both examples of something which is neither a Victorian gin palace nor a back street boozer. They’re solid, respectable and modern. Both evoke images of ‘the old inn’ while also fitting in with the Victorian and Edwardian suburban homes that surround them.

Categories
pubs

Pubs and beer all spick and span

With a week off work we finally managed to make it to a few pubs the week before last – and, more importantly, get our hands on some cask ale served as it should be. The experience has given us reason to feel optimistic.

First, the beer has been outstandingly good even in pubs where there’s no particular reason to expect that to be the case.

Perhaps it’s absence making the heart grow fonder, or the heart overruling the palate, but we don’t think so.

It might be a phenomenon observed by Martin Taylor and others last summer, though: cleaner than usual lines and everyone putting their best foot forward.

Boltmaker

The Butcombe Bitter at The Colston Arms was always reliably decent but, a couple of Saturdays ago, tasted like the showroom display pint with all the optional extras. Leafy hop character, cracker-crust malt, a hint of rustic mystery from the yeast… A great way to break the cask fast.

At the same pub, Timothy Taylor Boltmaker tasted as good as we’ve ever had it and Wye Valley WPA was polished, peach-perfumed, golden perfection.

It was on the Monday when we schlepped out to South Gloucestershire to meet Ray’s brother and partner, however, that we really started to notice some promising signs. Literally, that is.

We walked past pubs that had previously struck us as tatty, or on their last legs, but which had clearly received fresh coats of paint and smart refurbs – the one upside to being closed for several months, we suppose. And perhaps, in some cases, they’d also benefited from investing government support grants.

Tribute

Our destination was The White Harte in Warmley, an already-smart almost-country pub which has gained a large, sturdy teepee-type covering over its beer garden – a feature that helps it comply with COVID-19 regulations, of course, but which will also no doubt be helpful in English summers to come.

Though, as with Timothy Taylor, we’ve still got St Austell on the naughty step for last year’s beer duty reform shenanigans we were glad to be offered Tribute as the only cask ale. Again, it tasted like the Tributest Tribute that ever Tributed – flowery, fresh, full of electric energy.

Finally, towards the end of our week off, we walked across country from Pensford to Keynsham, hoping we might be able to find a pub with space for us on spec. The Lock Keeper, just outside town, is a Young’s pub. It has a large beer garden with grass, trees and the sound of a fast-flowing river – almost up to German standards. 

Masks, sanitiser and check-ins notwithstanding, there was a sense of business as usual. We’ve all got used to this and, at least in more sedate pubs, the processes have been nailed.

The pints of Young’s Ordinary we ordered arrived within about 30 seconds of hitting ‘Submit’ on the app. (Will table service disappear after all this?) And, what do you know, they were extraordinarily good – summery hops, a long train of fresh-bread malt and a pleasing terminal dryness.

Proper Job

St Austell Proper Job? Also outstanding. Clean is the word we keep coming back to. You know how you don’t think the windows need cleaning but then you get them done and suddenly there’s twice as much light? Something like that.

On our final Friday off work we took a train to Bath and walked for a few hours over the hills that look down on the city, re-entering via Lansdown and The Hare & Hounds. There, with a view of what felt like most of England, we came back to Butcombe Bitter. And, again, it was to exhibition standard – and certainly the right beer for that place, at that time.

Next up, we suppose, pints inside a Bristol pub. We haven’t braved it yet – we’re both first-dosers and quite happy sitting outside, even when the weather is rough – but we can’t deny we’re excited at the prospect.