And so to the local Wetherspoon’s. The Sedge Lynn is about 100 yards from the Marble Beer House, and has been since 1999 (i.e. shortly after the Marble itself opened). Until recently I hadn’t been in very often, partly for the usual anti-Wetherspoons (i.e. anti-corporate and anti-chain) reasons and partly because I didn’t find the Sedge Lynn itself particularly comfortable. This changed when the Marble hit a particularly busy streak; I often drink alone & like to read while I’m doing it, and the combination of reading, drinking and standing up is not particularly relaxing (although it can be done, I can assure you).
So I started treating the Sedge Lynn as my ‘overflow’ pub, and after a couple of weeks found it was growing on me. It’s not my dream pub by any means. It’s large and barn-like – a single room with a high vaulted ceiling. Bar staff are young, friendly and dressed in uniform T-shirts; the seating consists almost entirely of dining tables in a variety of shapes, sizes and heights(!); and, of course, every table has a brass number-plate and a menu from which you can learn the date of the next Curry Night or the price of a pitcher of Cheeky Vimto. As pubs go, it’s a lot like a Butlin’s dining-room (albeit with nicer architecture and furnishings). Maximum capacity must be well over 100; the last time I was there I counted 50, and the room felt half-empty. It’s not a “workingmen’s pub”, but the clientele does seem to be noticeably older, maler and less middle-class – and more heavy-drinking – than in any of the other pubs I visit regularly. Possibly for this reason, it’s not a hugely relaxing environment for the solitary drinker, although it doesn’t actually feel threatening in the way that some city-centre and estate boozers can do; I’ve never seen trouble in there, although I’ve heard a fair bit of strong and bad-tempered language. (There was a stabbing outside the pub several years ago – but just the one, and it was several years ago.) On the other hand, I did once see a sing-song break out. In general you’re more likely to be irritated or disturbed by another drinker in the Sedge Lynn than in any other pub I know, but also more likely to get a genuine apology if you want one. Case in point: the woman, fairly well gone for 6.30 on Saturday, who tried to make conversation by asking what I was reading in the London Review of Books (“it’s about poetry? ooh, I love poetry!”). She then asked for a taste of my beer, told me it tasted like shit and dropped the glass, spilling most of it. Case in point, part 2: her partner, who came over from another table where he’d been looking after their toddler, apologised profusely and bought me another drink – top man.
I’m probably making it sound pretty hellish – certainly the features of the pub that I’ve mentioned so far wouldn’t be enough to make me warm to the place. What the Sedge Lynn really has going for it is the beer. There are CAMRA members behind the bar, and the range of beers is terrific; they even serve the nut-brown malty ales I still love, as well as the pale hoppy stuff which most of Manchester seems to prefer. The beer’s well-kept and well served; on the rare occasions I’ve had a beer that was off it’s been replaced without a murmur. (Pet hate (not seen at the Sedge Lynn): bar staff who insist on tasting a sour pint themselves and telling you they think it tastes fine, before getting you your replacement. I mean, why? What does it gain them?) And it’s all the same price, from a 3.2% mild up to Wobbly Bob (a regular presence on the bar) – a price which is currently set at £1.70.
What’s this pub doing right? The main thing it’s doing right, in terms of commercial viability, is being part of a big national chain with a complex and detailed strategy for maximising revenue: I’m sure that that £1.70 pint has been costed out as the most profitable price-point for this particular pub. Beyond that, the Sedge Lynn has clearly attracted a good proportion of the clientele who find other pubs in the area a bit middle-class – and this without music, TVs or any regular events, unless you count the Curry Nights. I guess cheap beer, well kept, has got to be a winner.