I’ve been reading a lot of gloomy reflections on the decline of the pub lately, thanks to bloggers like the Curmudgeon. In that light I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the four pubs where I drink regularly (by which I mean at least once a month). NB I don’t get out a lot in the week (with the exception of visits to local 2 – watch this space) so reports of pubs packed to the gunwales should not be taken as indicative of what goes on 85% of the time.
Local 1 is the Marble Beerhouse. It’s a small pub with a mixture of wood and plush seating; it seats about 50, with standing room for another 20 maximum and a forecourt that’ll accommodate 10-15 more people. Most weeks when I go in there are four or five Marble beers on, plus two guest ales and a real cider or perry (good, but annoyingly kept in the fridge – if I’m drinking something from Biddenden’s or Gwynt y Ddraig I’d prefer to be able to taste it). The beers are well-kept and not overpriced – prices are creeping up here as they are everywhere else, but the £3 price tag is still a relative rarity, reserved for strong ales and specials. They serve bar snacks (Kettle Chips, bombay mix) but no food. There’s a small TV in one corner, which is only on for big matches, and no music. The staff are friendly and efficient, and staff turnover seems pretty low; the other side of the bar seems like a friendly place to be, as far as you can tell, and it’s stayed that way through two changes of licensee.
It gets busy. Years ago some friends and I tried to get a folk music session going around a table at the back, but the general level of conversation was so high that we couldn’t hear what we were playing. (And that was on a weeknight.) If you want to get a seat at the weekend, you’re best advised to arrive early and even then not to be choosy – at 5.30 last Saturday, drinking alone, I shared a table with six other people. It has a very regular core clientele and a very, very regular inner core – there are about a dozen people I expect to see in there most Saturdays, and two or three I’m not surprised to see in there any day of the week. With the Marble connection you might think the pub had potential as an ale boutique, like the new place on Thomas St, but the regulars at the Beerhouse aren’t beer connoisseurs, by and large; there are people who go there week in, week out and drink nothing but bottled cider with ice in. The pub’s more or less resisted the progressive embourgeoisement of the area – the drinks aren’t cheap and neither are the Kettle Chips, but you will hear local accents in there. (In fact you’ll feel a bit of a twit for ever imagining you weren’t going to hear local accents – but compare local 3.) I won’t say I’ve never seen trouble in there, but I can only think of one occasion off the top of my head – and I’ve been drinking there for something in the region of 20 years since it opened in 1999 (it just feels like it’s been there forever).
Small update Just went past there, getting on for closing time on a Wednesday night. About 30 in. I think there’s a bit of tumbleweed during weekday afternoons, but as far as the night-time economy is concerned I think they’ve cracked it.
Overall verdict: they’re doing it right. (Whether ‘they’ refers to the pub or the brewery is another matter!) Supplementary verdict: what they’re doing right is attracting and retaining a core of regulars, year in and year out; get that right and you’ve got a functioning pub, which will pull in the punters on the big nights at the weekend more or less of its own accord.