Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Revolution coming?

The January issue of the CAMRA newspaper What’s Brewing contains another puff piece about the supposed imminent “micropub revolution”, quoting extensively from Martin Hiller who claims to have invented the concept. He reckons that the clearing out of the dead wood by the major pub operators will open up great opportunities for micropubs to thrive, and that we could eventually see tens of thousands of them.

Now, that would be very nice to see, and it would certainly open up the prospects for pubhunting which seems to have been going round in ever decreasing circles in recent years. However, as I wrote here, given that the biggest decline in pubs over the past couple of decades has been in small, traditional, wet-led, drink-and-chat establishments, it is hard to see how pubs following that kind of model are going to spearhead a revolution in pubgoing. Indeed, their widely-proclaimed ethos of “no lager, no wine, no music, no soft drinks, no food” is likely to severely limit their appeal in terms of both generational profile and gender balance. They give the impression of being specifically designed to appeal to retired middle-class blokes with too much time on their hands.

What we have seen in recent years is a large number of new “box bars” opening up in former shop units, which could be regarded as fulfilling a similar role to micropubs. However, although there are some exceptions such as those in Chorlton, most of these appeal primarily to a youth or young professional clientele and offer nothing of interest to the beer enthusiast. I also get the feeling that, while a pub is by definition a “public house” and should be open to all so long as they behave themselves, you need to be part of a clique or set to feel at home in a box bar.

11 comments:

  1. As there is no high street mainstream market for record or book shops anymore, with those that remaining having the last rights applied to them, you could celebrate that a few boutique specialist interest places survive in niches ill catered for by the mainstream.

    So as pubs die, a few remaining boutique establishments may prosper for a while as a niche is catered for. But as you say, these elderly male customers have about 20 years of beery consumerism left in them and there are no new entrants appearing.

    So it really is a dying gasp more than a great revival. To borrow a phrase, even a dead cat bounces if you drop it from a great enough height.

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  2. Dunno if you still have access to the CAMRA forum, Cookie, but I thought this slap-down of Dickie English by Martyn Cornell was highly amusing.

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  3. Help me out here: you object to old pubs closing. And you object to new pubs opening. And the 'type' and 'class' of person who frequent these new establishments. I guess you'll never be happy 'til all pubs fit your identikit profile of what a real pub should look like, the beer it serves and the strict admission policy they would clearly have to operate. And then, finally, all pubs would be 'perfect'. And all the bloody same. I quite like the fact that all boozers are different. I also like to strike up conversation in pubs with middle class males (with or without too much time on their hands) and youths & young professionals. And anyone else leaning on the bar for that matter.

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  4. If you actually bothered to read the post, John, you would realise that I actually quite like the idea of micropubs (and indeed sort of fit in the target demographic), but don't think it's realistic to expect them to open up across the country in large numbers.

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  5. Actually I disagree that the main victims have been "small, traditional, wet-led, drink-and-chat establishments". On the contrary, because those are the types of pubs that attract middle aged, middle class real ale types; those are the exact establishments that seem to be thriving wherever I go - and I've lived in a fair few villages, towns and cities in this country, and its always the same story.

    The pubs that have been shutting left right and centre are the slightly scary, keg beer only, cards and bingo, sky sports news, working class boozers. The kind of places I went to as a student. They've struggled because their key demographics were a) young and b) working class.

    The young have been put off pubs permanently, and the working class can only afford wetherspoons if they can afford anything at all.


    In many places, they haven't stayed shut for long, but have been reopened as middle class real ale emporiums and are now doing well.

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  6. @pyo - obviously experience will vary in different areas, but in Greater Manchester I would say that a substantial proportion of the pubs that have closed have been the "small, traditional, wet-led, drink-and-chat establishments", which very much tend to be working-class, street-corner pubs, albeit more homely than scary in general. Usually with a mostly mature clientele too.

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  7. Something is definitely changing though with the demographic of beer drinker. The ongoing interest of younger clientele in beer is rippling over into other pubs. I was pleasantly surprised to see a lot of younger drinkers in the Waters Green Tavern in Macclesfield which typically has a much older clientele. So maybe in town centres, the drink & chat bar will survive. Places like the Treacle Tap are almost micro in their size but not constrained by the other rules.

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  8. The Fox in Shipley is a former furniture store that opened a few months back. Six handpumps and a mature clientele. reasons that these new bars may succeed is the low overheads - one room only to heat, light and clean and presumably low rents. Plus most people don't like empty pubs; it doesn't need may customers to appear busy.

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  9. I can't see a micro-pub revolution coming. I wrote about Merseyside’s first micro-pub in October. One in a whole county won't turn the world upside down but I certainly welcome more and different real ale venues.

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  10. Nice to see the contempt for the working class and their venues is still alive and kicking amongst the frothy,lefty leaning lower middle classes.I can see no problem with bars selling high quality craft ale,but,I do see a
    gross problem with the kant hypocracy of the insular cliques
    who defend their eminence.
    As for the mag "Whats Brewing"
    do us all a favour,please.

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  11. @Mudge Yup, the Dickie type is the main demographic for this type of gaff.

    @John Ah, you noticed the oddness of this tosh. Lamenting the closure of pubs whilst wanting them to have a narrow appeal. Odd fella, Mudge, isn't he?

    @Anon Eye, fella, but at least it keeps CAMRA types away from the rest of us. They can worship the ale with due reverence in their soulless bars whilst the rest of us enjoy the atmosphere of all types of folk that is good about the modern spoons

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