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07-03-2011, 08:30
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A comment on the Publican forum saw me write a brief response, but I wanted to discuss opinions here on it. The commenter suggested that with the duty escalator, smoking ban (4 years old...) and the other usual suspects for the demise of the pub trade would mean at some point in the near future we'd end up with 1 bland, soul-less chain of pubs.

I disagree. I think we're entering a golden age for pubs. Don't get me wrong, it's not all plain sailing, but that makes it all the more rewarding. Think about it for a minute. A few years ago, with the exception of the Cask Ale Pubs, if I may make such a sweeping generalisation, most pubs would offer the same type of beers, alcopops, soft drinks, bottled ciders etc. Entertainment was either sky sports, darts, sometimes pool, or a karaoke/dj night.

Look at where we are now:

Pubs gaining stars and awards for their food.
More brewers now than at any time in the past 70 years*.
More variety and quality cask ale
'Craft' beer pubs**
Cinemas in pubs
BEER and food matching
Wii games in pubs
More pubs with decent accommodation
Post offices and deli's in pubs

The list goes on - publican's are coming up with more and more diverse ways of keeping the doors open. Hard work, but rewarding. As customers we now have more choice in the style of pub, the contents of the pub, half-decent to restaurant quality food, great drinks when we get there. Talking points, USP***s aplenty.

The other weekend I was in a pub in Essex, for a Wine VS Beer food pairing evening. I arrived about quarter to 6 on the Friday night, and walked in to a busy bar - a few around the bar billiards, a couple at the bar, and 3 groups looking at the menu and specials. Greeting the landlord, he explained that they don't actually open until 6pm. Yet 15 minutes early, the place had a good number of customers and a great atmosphere. Later that evening, the function room full, the bar full, the dining room over half full. All people enjoying themselves.

What makes this a little more remarkable, is the map below. It shows you the location of the pub and the surrounding areas:

View Larger Map (http://maps.google.com/maps?f=d&source=embed&saddr=Bures,+United+Kingdom&daddr=Mt+Bures,+Bures,+Essex,+UK&hl=en&geocode=Fb0KGQMdDdMLACmTyqWdHf7YRzHVCqEDBT_ZBg%3BF X3QGAMdX8YLACmtMewKwQHZRzHxWyQPyF2XTw&mra=ls&sll=51.9595,0.771618&sspn=0.058814,0.154324&ie=UTF8&ll=51.965423,0.775394&spn=0.03173,0.051498&z=13)

1.5 miles is the nearest village, with a population around the 1500 mark. Everyone in that pub had taken the effort to drive, get a cab, get a baby sitter, just to go to the pub. So hardly a failing pub, and hopefully it continues to do well.

The next day I went down to Stoke Newington, to visit a pub blogged and tweeted about. Again, around 6pm and the place was heaving. It was so busy, I decided to go into town, try a couple of other pubs and come back. 11pm and the place was even busier. A hasty 3/4 pint of Jaipur thrown down my neck and I beat a retreat to my hotel - every 30 seconds you had to move. The bar had about 8 ales, 3 ciders and half a dozen keg products with none of the usual suspects present.

The Sunday I came back, to find that we'd had a bumper weekend at Kilverts., with great food sales, drink sales and most of the rooms booked out.

So in 1 weekend 3 very different pubs in very different locations were all doing well. But are some of us forgetting the basics of good pubs?

I'm currently writing an example Code of Practise for members of the Society of Licensees to agree to, and it got me thinking. A pub won't do well on one thing alone. You can have the largest screen to show the football, but if your lines aren't clean and staff not well trained, as soon as the match is over most of the customers will go. Same with food - have an excellent menu, well cooked, but if the decor isn't up to scratch and front of house staff lazy it won't work. As I found out in London, you could have a range of 'craft' beers from around the world, but if the pub is cramped, cold and soulless and staff look a bit brassed off with everything, I'll go elsewhere after one pint.

Earlier this week I was in a pub about 5 miles down the road. Small bar, 3 ales on, all under 4.5% and the 'usual suspects' on keg. I prefer this pub to the Euston Tap by far. The biggest difference wasn't the range of drinks on offer, it's the warm welcome you get from the staff, every time you walk in. Happy to chat at the bar if your own your own and pulled up a pew, or to leave you be should you take a table by the fire with friends and pull out a deck of cards. Its clean, warm, comfortable and the beer is kept well. The food is basic and home-made, and priced accordingly.

So although I'm suggesting we're entering a golden era for pubs, with more choice and quality than before, we have to remember that the basics are just as important as ever. A good pint of Pedigree in one pub can be much better than an average pint of Brewdog's latest offering in a glorified supermarket of beer. We as customers and critics need to remember this. I had written a follow up post about this subject, that as customers and licensees we need to spend more time celebrating the good pubs, the good beer, without degrading the sector as a whole by constantly comparing to what we perceive as bad pubs and beer. But as he beat me to it and a little better worded than my offering I'll link to it here rather than post my own:

Pete Brown on beer snobs (http://petebrown.blogspot.com/2011/03/weve-to-to-acc-en-tu-ate-positive.html) and focusing on the positives.


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