Sunday, 10 October 2010

A London Eye

The last time I ventured within the M25, my car was broken into in a hotel car park, doing over £300 worth of damage, and stealing a valuable classic Pentax SLR camera. So I’m not really inclined to repeat the experience any day soon.

Tandleman makes regular visits to London, and has remarked in the past how the pub scene there, at least in the inner areas, seems to be much more vibrant than in the country as a whole. But London is very different from the rest of the country, and really is not representative.

The much more intensive provision of public transport, and the much higher proportion of middle-class residents of inner-urban areas are both likely to result in a much healthier pub trade than in the rest of the country. Only in London is it not considered unusual for a middle-class family to eschew a car.

It seems to me that Pete Brown’s Cask Report is very London-centric in its outlook, with its claims that cask beer attracts an upmarket clientele, and that some licensees are put off serving cask because of the lower margins it commands. That last point just does not resonate here at all – almost without exception, the reasons pubs don’t serve cask are (a) they see it as too much bother, and (b) they believe, rightly or wrongly, that there is insufficient demand for it.

This also leads to a more general problem in politics as so many “opinion formers” live in London, yet in numerous ways it is not representative of the rest of the country, transport of course being a prime example. We have seen this with the congestion charge that seems to work in London, but has been decisively rejected by electors in both Manchester and Edinburgh.


  1. It is a factor, yet London isn't immune to the same issues that are closing pubs elsewhere. I read recently that Southwark has lost a third of its pubs. Yet, Borough Market and all the lovely drinking attractions around it are in Southwark, and perhaps dazzle the eye and distract it from the wider view.

    If 'opinion-formers' didn't visit the lost pubs in the first place, then who will miss them? In my current piece(s), I'll note that there still isn't a decent real ale venue in Kennington (partly in Southwark) even though pretty much all pubs offer it, but it's pricey and badly-kept. There's a bunch of issues all wrapped up in this - my feeling is that London condenses the best and worst of all the problems facing pubs.

  2. Thirty years or so ago, I lived in London for a few years, and became well acquainted with many of its finest pubs. Nowadays, although the capital is only a 40 minute train journey from where I live, I don't tend to visit it as much as I once did. When I do visit, it is noramlly for a specific purpose, such as shopping for an item not easily obtained locally (like my new hiking boots), or to attend an event such as GBBF or a Trade Show. (I am due to do attend one later this week).

    On such visits I normally make time for a drink or two. London still has some superb pubs, and deciding which ones to give my custom to is a hard choice. On this forthcoming trip I intend to try a few new ones, rather than my usual habit of sticking to old favourites. Any suggestions will therefore be most welcome.

  3. Victoria's unlikely looking Cask & Kitchen well worth a trip.

  4. There are a number of reasons why central London still has vibrant pubs. Firstly the commuters tend to be relatively affluent and £3.30 for a pint is not a big deal.

    Secondly probably only 15% of these, possibly less smoke.

    Thirdly you may for example work in Holborn and someone might commute in from Reading in the east or Colchester in the east, both 1.5 hours commute but 100 miles apart, so you would never dream of popping round someone's house. The pub near the office is your place of social interaction.

    Fourthly because commuters tend to be more stuffy middle class people you would only get an invite to their home if you were a personal friend. The pub again is your "home" and neutral meeting point.

  5. I agree with much said, here in Nottingham, we have a very active CAMRA branch, an award winning brewery or 6 ...

    CAMRA are great champions of public transport and produce several guides to pubs accessible to bus, train and tram users in the area ... added benefit ... no drink driving!

  6. You are correct of course to say that London is a different beast and in many ways unrepresentative of the rest of the country. Probably for the reasons you state. Although I’m not sure the congestion charge is a good example; wasn’t that introduced without a referendum anyway?

    The Cask Report is undoubtedly London centric. I have never heard that about profit margins from any Landlord I’ve spoken to. The traditional reasons are as you quote them. A classic example: I was talking to a publican last week who puts Mild on only on a Thursday night. Why? Because that’s when the darts teams play. If he could sell it, or thought he could, at other times, he said he would.

  7. DaveA

    Your comedic value never wanes. I wondered how you would bring smoking into it-I hope FOREST are paying you well.

    Do you ever actually drink in London? If anything, MORE of the drinkers smoke in the City pubs than the national average these days. Just have a look at a pub like the Gunmakers, probably one of the most successful around.

    On arrival you think the place is full because there are that many people stood outside. Turns out there is plenty of room inside-they are just smokers catching a crafty puff outside. The same smokers who have apparently deserted Britain's pubs. Funny that.

  8. I speak to a number of licensees in this area; no licensee has ever mentioned margins to me, but I have been told many times that there is insufficient demand for real ale (or mild where some real ale is sold).

    I think beer snobs want higher prices for the mere status of drinking a 'classy' crafted drink that isn't enjoyed by the hoi polloi, which explains the wittering about upmarket clientele. Of course, if real ale drinking becomes confined to well-heeled people, then there'd be far fewer breweries and much less choice. At least the Cask Report would be quicker to compile, although it'd be more of a funeral oration.

  9. A little point, but maybe important - you say that the Congestion Charge "works" in London but it only does so insofar as both main parties are committed to it and will not hear of scrapping it, but it has had little impact on congestion, none at all on air quality and has raised tiny sums (if any) for transport while handing hundreds of millions to private contractors. It has had a very bad impact on retail generally and the likely scrapping of the Western extension is popular. It was the experiences of London, as made clear to the voters of Edinburgh and Manchester, that put an end to the idea of charging in those cities.

  10. Yes, fair point Damian. All I was trying to do was to make the point that extrapolating from the London experience to determine transport policy for the rest of the country was unlikely to be a good idea, without turning it into a debate about transport rather than pubs and beer.


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