Tuesday, 12 November 2013

No fun any more

Discussion of changing pub names reminded me of a category of pub that seems to have largely vanished from the face of the earth – the “Fun Pub”, or “Young People’s Pub”, or, as often dismissively referred to by CAMRA members, the “Kiddy Pub”.

At one time during the 80s, this was all the rage. Take one struggling pub, preferably one on a prominent site, give it a makeover including pool tables, wall-to-wall TV screens, bright lights, loud music and garish decor majoring on white and bright pink, strip out bench seating in favour of high-level stools, give it a new name with an S on the end such as Chaplins or Bogarts, and there you go. The picture shows one in Brownhills near Walsall which was changed from the George and Dragon to “Georgies” – and, of course, is now long since closed.

Around here the Pennine Hosts managed pub arm of Grand Metropolitan seemed to be the worst offenders, but they weren’t alone. We even had the former Golden Hind in Offerton renamed as “Drakes”. Very often, any cask beer was removed, but sometimes an apologetic handpull remained dispensing ill-kept Webster’s Yorkshire Bitter so it could be criticised on CAMRA pub crawls.

The whole thing was very typical of the 80s boom, redolent of Loadsamoney, Stock, Aitken and Waterman and the Escort XR3i, and gave the impression that the designers had been watching too many Brat Pack movies and re-runs of Tom Cruise in Cocktail. I’m not sure that these pubs ever did the hoped-for business, as for every customer who was attracted at least one other would be deterred. Added to this, the redecoration schemes were very much done on the cheap and it wasn’t too long before they started to look decidedly frayed at the edges.

So, as we moved into the 90s, the concept withered on the vine. The pubs began to be converted back into something rather more mainstream, with a bit more food and a bit more seating, or, increasingly, they ended up being declared unviable and closed altogether. While you do get youth-oriented bars in the nightlife sections of major towns and cities, outside of those areas pubs specifically targeted at that market seem to have largely disappeared.

It’s not something I personally miss, but it’s an interesting example of how the pub scene has changed over the years. I also get the impression that the drinking and socialising patterns amongst the younger age group that once sustained these pubs, to a greater or lesser degree, twenty-five years ago have largely vanished.

13 comments:

  1. God, yes, I remember these. Truly dire. Unfortunately for the breweries/pubcos they came in pretty much at the same time as big city centre banks etc were getting converted into pubs.
    Dunno about drinking patterns in the younger age group though. Was in a Bristol city centre pub this lunchtime for a quick one and there were six young lads on their lunch break drinking pints. My local suburban pub has quite a large younger clientele who mix quite merrily with the old farts like me who use the place.

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  2. Oh, they still do it, but not in the same way. And I get the impression that for many under-30s pub drinking now revolves around TV football.

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  3. Well when you've learnt everything you know about alcohol from prohibitionist propaganda, what do you expect?

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  4. Is "fun pub" an oxymoron? Fun and pub together? Proper pubs ought to be grim inhospitable places of desperation, desolation and violence where decent people fear to tread. Anything else is a gentrified palace of tosspots.

    Having said that, there are still a few plastic paddy fake oirish pubs knocking about with all the genuine craic of a friday night 4 hour wait in A&E amongst the bloodied drunks. Were these a 90's trend? The last ones are still not dead. Give it six months.

    I have a new marketing concept in pubs. It's a pub for miserable child hating old codgers that like cheese salad without pork pies and dirt cheap pongy bitter. Whilst everyone sane has long since abandoned boozers for a nice glass of Shiraz at home I reckon there is still that small demographic that still uses them. I call the concept a "misery shrine". It's like an "ale shrine" but without the scatter cushions.

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  5. Sam Smith's have already nailed that one, Cookie.

    On the general subject of the decline of fun pubs, I reckon a major factor was the deliberate policy pursued after 1990 by many councils to revive their town centres' moribund "night-time economies" and move the business out of the suburbs.

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  6. They also probably suffered worse than most by being undercut by suburban Wetherspoons opening.

    Another factor might be the increased number of young people going to university in the 90s, meaning that previously viable pubs found all their clientele had moved elsewhere. They have never really been replaced by student pubs, because todays wet youth are increasingly terrified of the locals.

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  7. You're right that TV football (and rugby, at least round here) does pull the punters in. Most of the pubs in this area have canned Sky due to the ludicrous expense so the few that still have it can get rammed when there's a big match on. The funny thing is that when the match finishes most people leave these pubs and move on to their regular haunt.

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  8. Ah, was there anything more ill-conceived than the so-called "fun pub"? When I was a student we had the "It's A Scream" chain which often had a lonely Bass pump that we were told "was just for show."

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  9. Can I pre-order a copy of the guide to pubs for miserable child-hating old codgers, please?

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  10. Here's a surviving fun pub - Chevys in Warrington.

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  11. Was any "fun pub" any fun?

    It's a bit like "fun size" Mars Bars which are less fun than normal ones.

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  12. Yeah, I never got my head around "fun size". Is a "fun size" pint a half for which you pay more per fluid ounce than a pint? Not my idea of fun.

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