Saturday 23 March 2013

Beard-free zone

The Blue Bell pub in York has been excluded from the 2014 Good Beer Guide by the York branch of CAMRA because at times it operates a restrictive admissions policy. Now, this is a pub I am very familiar with and would place it in my Top Ten of British pubs. It’s a tiny, unspoilt place with front public bar, central servery and rear snug, connected by a corridor along one side. Fifty people would fill it. So I can well understand why the licensee chooses to put up “Private Party” signs to keep out the stag and hen parties that infest York on weekend evenings. During the rest of the week I doubt whether there’s a problem. He says:
'We do get nice strangers coming in the pub but on Saturday nights and race days York city centre is a nightmare.

'I have been operating the same way for twelve and a half years and no one has complained but it seems we have a younger committee now with different more politically correct views.

He also complains of “'weirdy beardies' visiting the pub and 'asking to sample seven beers, then buying a half'.” I have to say if I ran a pub I would regard people as taking the piss if they asked for more than a couple of samples before buying.

This decision really says a lot more about York CAMRA than it does about the Blue Bell. Excluding one of York’s classic pubs for such a prissy reason devalues the Good Beer Guide. I doubt whether the pub will lose any trade, and next time I’m in York I’ll certainly make a point of visiting it.


  1. It's a cracking pub and a must on any visit to York. Though not if you're there on a Saturday night it seems.

  2. Ed, I think you or I would be admitted on a Saturday night if we asked nicely.

  3. I'm with York CAMRA with this one. I complained to Bristol branch some years back about a GBG listed pub near to Bristol Rovers' football ground which banned all away supporters on match days. If a pub bans innocent card carrying CAMRA members tthat's their perogotive but they shouldn't feature in the GBG.

  4. Have to agree with you Mudge ... CAMRA are there to promote ale and through the guide premises that serve quality ales etc

    It's not for them to comment on the legitimate decisions made by licensees that, despite CAMRA's objection, remain entirely within their prerogative i.e. a licensee has he absolute right to refuse service to anyone without reason be they hens, stags or beardy weirdies.

    CAMRA, whilst getting so much right, really do get it spectacularly wrong when they get it wrong.

    For many of your readers and those that learn of this decision elsewhere it will simply mean that they will make a point of going to the Blue Bell despite its absence from the guide.

    Just goes to prove, for this pub at least, there's no such thing as bad publicity. If CAMRA were an individual I'd tell then "to get a life!"

  5. Banning away fans is common, and sensible, practice for many pubs. It hardly constitutes grounds for exclusion from the GBG. Indeed, if my local was to be excluded on such grounds, the branch would soon feel my wrath. And if I were the landlord of said pub, I would tell CAMRA to stick the GBG up their arse.

  6. The fact you use the word "infest" to describe regular people out for a drink is frankly disgraceful but your pig ignorance aside there is little point in a guide advising people to visit a place they are unwelcome.

  7. I hardly think rowdy out-of-area stag and hen parties qualify as "regular people out for a drink".

    I'm entirely with Publican Sam on this one - the licensee is fully justified in taking measures to deter sudden invasions of poorly-behaved customers. I'd also like to bet this applies for no more than three or four hours during a typical week.

    Plenty of pubs have doormen - someone you know may have encountered some at the Elizabethan in Heaton Moor last Friday night. Doormen would certainly keep out rowdy, drunken parties. Is that unacceptable too?

  8. Infest is word used to describe vermin. It is disgraceful to use that term for people, rowdy or otherwise.

    A pub can have a discriminatory enterance policy within the law. A consumer pressure group can make a decision as to whether to consider that in terms of eligibility. Publican Sam may decide to have an age 21 enterance policy. I would hope a consumer pressure group would consider there 18 year old members.

    In York I am stranger in every pub. I see little point in guide that includes a pub I would be unwelcome in.

    Camra have gone up in my estimation for declining to recommend a discriminatory boozer run as a private club. Well done to the younger committee.

  9. "'weirdy beardies' visiting the pub and 'asking to sample seven beers, then buying a half'."

    I've come across such people at beer festivals. They try one, sniff it, hand it their mates, who all try it and express a view. Then they'll repeat the process a couple more times. All this while people who know what they want are queueing to be served. That's why I don't regard 'try before you buy' as essential.

    As for this pub, I don't feel I know enough facts to comment, but one fact is certain: every licensee has a right to refuse to serve anyone, and CAMRA needs to be careful before making decisions that go against that right.

  10. The excellent GBG listed Black Horse in Whitby has a clear policy on large groups. Its fairly obvious from the sign on the door (and size of the pub) that its a practical space consideration. I am certain the Circus in Manchester has the same issue (but maybe not a sign...)

    I always visit the Blue Bell when I'm in York but the private party sign was a bit disingenuous last time, since there were a few people in the room, but not obviously part of a group. Clarity on whether it denotes keeping the space for trusted regulars or is simply to maintain safe numbers of customers would have helped.

    I think overall it's omission didles guide buyers who may not know about it, but as most people have said, won't affect the pub. It would be interesting to see what the CAMRA folks in York have to say.

  11. Beer quality has been average on my recent visits; no reason for it to be in GBG just because it's a classic pub.

  12. sorry but York CAMRA are right in this instance,the GBG guidelines do state a pub that has a restrictive admissions policies no longer qualifies for GBG entry, I think as football/sporting restrictions are usually down to license conditions or police enforcement, they can be excused, this wouldnt qualify as its a persistent rule enforced by the landlord.

    and I do know pubs that have been in the GBG that started enforcing such similar admissions policies are usually kicked out.

    And Id fully support that stance, any pub that bars certain types of people entry has no place in the GBG or should expect support from CAMRA.

    It doesnt mean they cant be a pub, they cant serve real ale, cant serve real ale thats up there with GBG admission and that CAMRA members might freely choose to visit or associate with, but thats the free market, thats the landlords choice to run a pub like that, the point is they shouldnt automatically expect free publicity or support from CAMRA as an organisation and entry to the GBG because of it.

    and I would suggest a pub that allows people to have 7 samples before buying, needs to brush up their how to market the beer they are selling skills

  13. viz the comments on GBG's stance on "restrictive entry" policies ... wouldn't a simple solution be to include a new icon indicating that such a policy may, from time to time, be in place at a specific premises?

    That way the drinker can check in advance if the policy is in force prior to visiting. (If for no other reason that to exclude all such premises can only be reducing revenues from potential subscribers to the guide?)

    As for Stono's somewhat crass comments on the selling skills of licensees and their staff ... come off it we must all have experienced the scenario envisaged in the original post ... and no matter what the skill-set of those serving and selling beer it will never match the arcane knowledge of some of these self-appointed "experts".

    Whilst certain beer enthusiasts treat pubs as their personal fiefdom where they can behave as unreasonably as they like (sic) then the perception of "beardy weirdies" will remain (as will the perception of all hen/stag dos as being an "infestation" until the behaviour of those customers is moderated).

    I, for one, feel that when enjoying a pint of ale for its flavour and quality becomes an existential adventure in zymurgy then the whole point of ale, pubs and the "drinking experience" is lost.

  14. Can anyone explain the absolutely retarded 21yo cut-off at some UK pubs? I had a pub visit on last year's family trip cut short because my little bro was 19, while me and sis were 27 and 24 respectively, and once the landlord worked it out, we were shown the door - apart from that it was a great place, and we are far from rowdy patrons. What's the deal there?

  15. @Sam CAMRA is a consumer organisation not pub fan club. You are free to place any restriction within the law you like. A consumer group is free to not like that and decide to not recommend your pub in their guide. You are free to tell customers to stick it. Customers are free to tell you to stick it.

    @Gus Some pubs have decided they do not want the custom of younger drinkers that legally can drink. I gather because of an expectation of trouble. You see similar bans on baseball caps, sportswear & soccer shirts. The publican is within his right to decline to serve customers within the law. The law prevents discrimination on sex, race & sexuality. CAMRA branches can decide for themselves whether they like that or don't in compiling their guides.

  16. The Admiral Benbow in Shrewsbury - page 398 of the 2013 Good Beer Guide - says "under 30s are admitted at the management's discretion". Another cracking pub too.

    Surely the situation at the Blue Bell could have been dealt with by a simple statement that "large groups may not be admitted on weekend evenings".

  17. 'We do get nice strangers coming in the pub' << but most of them are...

    And as for decrying "political correctness" - come again? What's "politically correct" about a consumer organisation deciding not to recommend a pub that out-of-towners might not be able to visit?

    More than a hint of the Edward and Tubbs about this place.

  18. Re the Admiral Benbow. A fuckwitted entry and an insult to every member they have under 30. No wonder the 18-30's prefer a tesco takeout and private party to a crappy pub that treats them as 2nd class punters.

    If CAMRA accept that sort of bullshit as acceptable who on gods earth under the age of 40 would ever join such a rabble?

  19. @Cookie, the Admiral Benbow isn't a crappy pub, far from it, but I agree the under 30 rule is a bit heavy-handed. Having said that, admission to any pub is at the management's discretion as you pointed out earlier.

  20. @Bill When I see discrimination I think it crappy and the pub could have the finest beer in the finest establishment served to me by a naked Heidi Klum. I’d think the place a crappy shit hole and think the landlord and people that drank there the type of people I use my vote to keep out. It's legal but you wouldn't find me recommending the place nor wishing to buy a guide that did.

  21. You may be interested in this post from last year about restrictive admissions policies.

  22. Professor Pie-Tin25 March 2013 at 20:50

    Any pub that Cookie refuses to drink in on principle automatically gets my vote.
    Life is too short to mingle with Philistines.

  23. @Publican Sam, nope I think you misunderstand my point.

    Its no good a landlord moaning about people abusing his generosity if he is allowing them to try 7 beers before buying, as he could just put a stop to it instantly simply by limiting the number of tasters provided, just as we do at beer festivals to cope with the serial tasters problem.

    1 in 7 is not a good enough conversation rate IMO and I can see why he moans about it as it probably costs his business alot if it happens all the time, but who is running the pub, him or the people getting the free samples

    I dont think Ive ever been in a pub that allowed more than 2 at a time and actually decent knowledgeable enthusiastic about beer pub staff would be more than disappointed not to get you a beer you liked within 3, if anything its not least to prevent annoying customers patiently waiting who maybe know exactly what they want to order.

  24. Samples: at the Southport Beer festival a couple of years ago, there was a couple sitting in the hall obtaining samples and then sitting down and drinking them slowly. They went to a different staff member each time until it was brought to my attention what they were up to. I then made it my business to ensure that only I served them and that they paid for all their drinks from then on. With the over-generous samples that CAMRA members often give, they'd probably had a quarter of a pint each time. 'Try before you buy' is a licence for scroungers and ditherers.

  25. just put up a sign saying "pints £3.20, halfs £1.60, taking the piss 50p."

    Give them their 7 samples then say "That'll be £2.10 then please sir".

  26. martin, Cambridge26 March 2013 at 23:00

    I'm much more fussed about pubs in the beer guide which don't seem to bother opening at all; see for example several South London pubs opening at 4pm and nearly all so called micro pubs

  27. So I guess my 'No Idiot Pub Crawls' sign disqualifies me from the GBG. Oh well. No big loss there.

  28. I called in over last weekend and it was as good as ever. There's a fairly blunt sign on the door saying "No groups allowed as we are too small to accommodate them". I had a pint of Bradfield Farmers' Bitter - a proper traditional brown beer ;-)

  29. Martin, Cambridge9 May 2013 at 12:34

    I made a return visit last Wednesday and thought the beer quality (Landlord) was exceptional, so my earlier comment needs correcting. I'd forgotten how small the pub is, and can see why they'd need to moderate numbers. Fantastic pub, as is the Waggon and Horses a few minutes east.


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