Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Wee Beefy's Beer Bites - pubs die why exactly?

Good evening readers, and now news of demise and why demise...

    Timeline to Dissatisfaction - when did we fall out of love with the pub?

Not a reference to this blog, but a topic that came up earlier tonight. I was enjoying the redoubtable delights of bar Fatha's in furthest Westfield and and along with Wee Keefy we were doing our usual analysis of world events, whilst drinking a small amount of beer (this is not sarcasm by the way).

There was Robinsons Unicorn, which in a bottle loses some of the rather icky branding of the pump clips and may well be stronger at something akin to 4.3% - very nice too by the way.

There was also the "Morrison's Own" beer, erm, brewed by Titanic, which this time was their quirky chocolate vanilla porter, which had strong flavours of both, but the chocolate was a bit too central, i.e. it wasn't an initial burst (that was vanilla) and it didn't linger long (that was also the vanilla) Perhaps a good time for me to give chocolate stout a break for a while methinks. We also had some very palatable White Horse Brewery Rudolph's nobody cares (no beer should have Rudolph in it, thematically, or literally), which was a very nice drop despite its cartoon logo and nobbish name.

Anyhoo the main crux of the matter is an idea Wee Keefy related based on a discussion he'd had at work. Many people have a fairly strong idea about why pubs have been closing so much recently, and the antecedence of these factors means highlighting them then attributes a specific time to the event.

Broadly, I think people agree its down to the smoking ban, cheap supermarket alcohol, reductions in drink driving limits, relaxed beer import laws and a general lack of personal disposable income. In which case, this mounting storm of cataclysmic forces has been generated mainly in the last 6 or 7 years. I don't think you can disagree with any of the above, but I think I might also suggest changing attitudes to drinking and eating (which pubs on the whole have found very difficult to keep up with), real or perceived threats of trouble in many pubs, and the fact that the pub drinking public has become much more diverse, and that in trying to embody the differences therein, changes in pub style and direction have alienated many.

Assuming we have this sewn up then, what abut the idea that the decline actually started in November 1999?

The Millennium, as you may recall, was the epitome of anti climax. It was overpriced, oversubscribed, over long in build up and over in, well a second (although, strictly the millennium is in fact the whole thousand years, so it isn't over yet, but you get the idea). The thing is, in order to maximise their involvement in this frenzy pubs went a little bit stratospheric.

Huge numbers of pubs became venues and nightspots for the night. Pubs that you may have been going in for 20 years or more including every New Years eve, suddenly wanted you to pay to get in. They wanted you to have a ticket, in some absurd cases to adhere to a dress code, or you had to purchase a triple priced meal into the bargain. If you found a bar asking only a small fee and putting on entertainment you needed to be one of a lucky few to get tickets, and anyone washed up in a none paying venue was inevitably left to fish around in the their least favourite haunt for a decent beer and someone they knew who hadn't secured tickets elsewhere.

People rightly got wise to this and gave such places the cold shoulder. They planned in advance and bought booze and snacks from Supermarkets at heavily discounted prices, then stayed in on the big night watching the best fireworks man could buy, albeit on the telly, listening to the music they wanted, and, although this would not have played on their minds at the time, smoking to their hearts content. And they never forgot that night.

Meanwhile, party poppers fell in overpriced drinks, brawls and karaoke broke out (am not quite sure if one is worse than the other), taxis charged 4 times the going rate, many bars shut earlier than advertised and overall even those that got in the good places probably thought it was good for the event, rather than for the money. Below is an illustrative device depicting myself and Christingpher a trifle drunk in not exactly 2000. That's what the Millennium eve looked like to a lot of people though....

So the pubs shot themselves in the foot. They tried to price people out of a decent night out and fleeced the ones who paid over the odds to go in them. People found more enjoyable and affordable alternatives, and then over the next few years when prices started to rise, the smoking ban was introduced, the drink drive limit reduced further, and supermarket booze got even cheaper, they no longer trusted the pubs, and many probably felt they no longer deserved their loyalty. So more and more people started to make alternative arrangements for more and more occasions, and soon for everyday nights.

What I like about this idea, not that I am necessarily saying its the the best explanation out there, is that it demonstrates a plausible and recuontable time line of pub dissatisfaction. And at the very start of that decline is greedy pubs. Now where can we see this menacing spectre starting to appear more and more these days.... ?

Pub Company News

Earlier the W's also noted that, according to once exemplary beer magazine Beer Matters, (that spirited old hairy man no longer seems to be printed in there, not the same since) the Old Heavygate Inn on Matlock Road at Crookes has been granted permission for conversion into residential use. Time methinks to tell you a smidgen about the Heavygate.

When I was at school, a lass I knew lived at the pub. Her Dad Ron kept the pub for 127 years - or similar. She was the first person I remember telling me about a pub, and although I didn't really recall or indeed properly understand most of what she was describing, I can vividly recall the immense kudos that this address afforded her.

When I needed to learn how to go to the pub and handle my carefully chosen real ale, at the age of, erm, you know, 17 and 3 quarters, I went there. It was possible to go in and drink, even if mild concerns existed about your vintage, as long as you were polite and largely quiet and didn't cause a problem, like drinking 6 pints of bitter and a snakebite and then throwing up on your shoes outside. Which I only did once, for the record. Sorry Cath....

There was also a well deserved reputation for a late drink and a lock in from time to time, marshaled expertly by the staff on the basis of etiquette - yes, you could come in at 10pm and reorder after last orders, but no, you couldn't waltz in off the 52 at 25 to midnight and try the same.

There was one long, more modern room on the right as you entered in the centre of the pub, but that would have been the right hand corner of the original very old building. Though this was a recent addition, with fixed seating and a big window at one end where the jukebox was, it was still full of regulars of all ages, and a doughty cabninet behind the bar selling traditional spirits miniatures like Sheepdip Whisky, which I don't think I have ever tried, but which made me think it must be a connoisseurs drop...

There was Kimberley Best and Kimberley Classic on handpump as well as the usual suspects for lager and cider, all served in seemingly ginormous oversize glasses. Up the steps on the left was a much older and more traditional Lounge, where the more venerable characters sat, which also had a jukebox, curiously I seem to think it was different, but I may have imagined this. For untold years, the CAMRA Good Beer Guide listed the pub, with the now legendary unchanging line "the lounge features potted plants", a description so scathingly innocuous as to make youi think you may have walked into a building that was otherwise almost entirely white and bereft of decoration or ephemera.


All good things come to an end of course and Ron packed it in many years ago, a succession of managers followed, and I have to say I probably didn't visit at this time. I did however start taking an interest during my "Walkley Renaissance" period in February and March last year, when it briefly reopened, allowing me two visits and Davefromtshop 1 visit before it creaked to an undignified end again.

Interestingly, I understand that the person running the Dog and Partridge whilst it sinks into certain irretrievable oblivion was offered the dizzying chance to run the Heavygate, as I rather lamely and without detail tried to hint at in one of my least successful rumour mill posts. I wonder then if the pub company responsible for the heinous crime of letting a thriving community pub die on its knees (bearing in mind pubmageddon blandification experts Greedy King will have been involved in shafting the Heavygate at some point) is the same one throwing away the keys to the venerable Dog and Partridge, with its rare multi-roomed interior and fascinating rooms and history?

I bet you a tidy sum it is. Its imaginable that, assuming the permission is not withdrawn, one boardroom of money grabbing execs who have never run a pub in their life will have condemned a 16th century former toll house and an amazingly intatct city centre institution to death, for the sake of a quick profit, because through their meddling and outrageous ureasonable demands, no-one could turn round the venue's fortunes in 30 days (insert arbitrary number as required) and meet their exorbitant targets.

What a disaster for Sheffield's pubs that would be. And what a sad reflection on the moral outlook of pub companies in this case that they lacked the imagination and flexibility to save what were two, albeit different, well run profitable businesses.

So what was I saying about greed in the pub business again?

Wee Beefy

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