Friday, 12 October 2018

What goes around, comes around

Going back sixty years, most pubs in the UK apart from the very smallest had a compartmentalised interior layout. Typically, they would have the standard demarcation between public bar and “best room” – the term “lounge” was not yet in general use. Some had a three-level division between public, saloon and lounge, with subtle gradations in clientele and ambiance between the three. Plus, as documented in Basil Oliver’s book The Renaissance of the English Public House, there could be a whole variety of other rooms such as news rooms, tea rooms, games rooms and, at the time, ladies’ rooms.

But, in the intervening period, pretty much all this has been swept away by knocking pubs through into a single-bar layout. The only pubs that still have two “sides” are the few survivors from a past era – the last one I know of that was built in that way was Holt’s Sidings in Levenshulme about thirty years ago. The main reason always advanced for this was that it reflected a more democratic and egalitarian society in which the old class divisions no longer applied, and there’s certainly some truth in that. But it also made pubs easier to manage and supervise, and in the 1960s and early 70s there was also the factor that public bar prices were subject to government price control, which could be circumvented by turning the entire pub into a lounge bar.

However, it didn’t always work out quite as intended. In many cases, rather than everyone happily mixing together in the same pub, the class division moved from one between different bars to one between different pubs. The middle classes used one pub, the working classes another. Near me, there’s a location where a modern craft bar faces a big old sports TV and karaoke boozer on the opposite side of a crossroads. I doubt whether the two share many, if any, customers.

But now, as the Morning Advertiser reports, a growing number of pub operators are realising that there is a need to cater for different audiences within a single venue, and are thus returning to the concept of pub “zoning”. It’s all too easy if you’re not careful for one aspect of a pub to take over the whole place and alienate many potential customers. The comment that “our elderly crowd... wouldn't necessarily want to be sat in a café-style place full of kids” particularly resonated with me.

There are two obvious divisions between different customer groups that often rankle in pubs today. One is showing big-screen TV sport, which brings in a specific crowd who may well put a lot of money across the bar, but which deters those who just want a quiet drink. And allowing children, while key to the concept of family dining, is something that that those who prefer an adults-only environment feel uncomfortable with. Plus, of course, in a more tolerant society there would be a strong argument for a division in pubs between smoking and non-smoking areas.

My suggestion that this meant the wheel turning full circle met with much approval on Twitter – so far gaining no less than 61 likes.

It’s a classic example of the principle of Chesterton’s fence – that you should never get rid of anything in the interest of “improvement” without understanding why it had been put there in the first place.

20 comments:

  1. Have noticed a few London pubs moving (back?) to 'drinking downstairs, dining upstairs' e.g. the refurbished Fitzroy Tavern on Charlotte Street, The George on the Strand. Hard to get a buggy or wheelchair upstairs though.

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    1. Yeah, that's a good thing maybe, William. It's also hard to get a mangy St. Bernard up onto a high stool, what? Stuff starts to make sense perhaps.

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    2. The Stafford Mudgie12 October 2018 at 17:41

      William,
      But isn't that, with there being so much disposable income in London, just doubling the size of the pub by bringing into public use an upstairs that had always been private quarters ?
      It certainly is in Soho's famous Coach and Horses because it wouldn't have been designed with the intention of the public going behind the bar to get to and from a public room.

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  2. Richard Boston made the same point in his book Beer and Skittles.

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  3. My country village local has two sides. One is pool, TV, blokes and younger females, banter and jukebox with the odd light meal. The other side is mainly families eating, couples chatting and the less 'rowdy' types. I, like many, frequent either side depending on my mood / whom I'm with / what I'm doing. On a Saturday night, the 'non rowdy' side is where the act / band will be.

    This, for me, is what all country pubs used to be like or a variation of. It seems totally natural.

    We get lots of urban visitors to the area, both in summer and in late autumn for various reasons. Urban 'Working class' visitors, for want of a better, less patronising description, appear to instantly get what's going on and choose their side according to what they are looking for, sometimes choosing a different side on different days.

    Middle class urban tw*ts turn up in Autumn to see the local wildlife, and sit in the rowdy side all Poe faced because little Tristan and Gemima are being subjected to ripe language eminating from the four seventy old retired loval grafters playing pool - think last of the summer wine but with more swearing. It never occurs to them to get up and peek at the other side to see what that's like, or perhaps it does but they feel some kind of moral entitlement to sit there with their copy of the guardian looking down their noses at everything.

    They just don't seem to understand pubs, which is a great shame.

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    1. But do they drink cask, John?

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    2. What the pre faced mob? Usually coffee.

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    3. The Stafford Mudgie12 October 2018 at 19:46

      Who, little Tristan and Gemima or the four seventy old retired loval grafters playing pool ?

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    4. Edgar Allan would be flattered, I'm sure, John.

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  4. One other good thing about the multi small room pub was that it allowed for clubs and societies to meet, in private, in a public house (if that isn't Irish). In my youth in Yorkshire our potholing club would always meet in the back room of the Hembrigg on Friday night to plot our Sunday outing. The landlord kept the room for us and even allowed us to put our own photos on the wall.
    And in the early years of this century the Buxton Mountaineering Club used to have similar use of a Thursday night room in the Prince of Wales (now, sadly a funeral parlour of all things)

    Finding a nice quite room to be noisy in is very difficult these days. :-)

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  5. Also. Beer was often a penny or two cheaper in the public bar than in the lounge. One of the great solecisms was to take your pint from the public bar to the lounge because you had spotted a chum in there.

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  6. A pub near me has a special old codgers room with boring brown bitter, daily mails, bench seats and a chute for quickly transporting cadavers to the local morgue

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    1. Where is this wonderful establishment? Does it have a cat?

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    2. We have a pub like that (though owing to geography the bodies are collected by a van). However on contributor to the village page on Facebook says "I never go in that pub because it is full of scary old men". And, indeed, watching old men drinking beer can be a terrifying experience. :-)

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    3. There's nowt wrong wi' White Swan in Stokesley, so get off on it.

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  7. The Stafford Mudgie12 October 2018 at 17:36

    C,
    The last one you know of that was built in that way was Holt’s Sidings in Levenshulme about thirty years ago.
    The last one I know of that was built in that way is the Morris Man a three minute walk and opened by Bass Charrington thirty-five years ago. It is now run by three Nepalese couples and the lounge is effectively a marvellous Indian and Nepalese restaurant while the bar is still a proper bar with darts, pool, etc. That could NOT have happened in a single room pub. Two cask beers are on, currently Banks's Bitter and Sharps Doom Bar.

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    1. The Stafford Mudgie13 October 2018 at 18:57

      In that Morris Man I've just had the best venison curry and naan bread this side of Asia and I wasn't surprised that the lounge was full. It couldn't work like that in a one room pub and had such an estate pub offered the freezer to microwave 'extensive menu' to be found in high street barns I doubt if a couple of tables would have been occupied.
      I was also reminded of the pleasures of a proper session beer. Three pints of Banks's Amber Bitter on fine form with my curry and I was hardly out of the house an hour.

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  8. the last one I know of that was built in that way was Holt’s Sidings in Levenshulme about thirty years ago

    Back in the 80s I remember hearing that GMP were pushing for all pubs to have clear sight-lines throughout - so that you could stand at the bar and be sure that nothing nefarious was going on in a corner, booth or alcove - to the point that proposed new pubs were having their licensing applications refused if they didn't measure up. I suspect that this police venture into architecture had quite a lasting impact on the pub/bar landscape, in Greater Manchester at least - I don't know if this was GMP's own initiative or more widespread.

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    1. The Stafford Mudgie12 October 2018 at 19:43

      Phil,
      Yes, but at the same time there was also the suggestion that smaller spaces reduced trouble as if something kicked off in one corner of a large venue it very soon spread to the whole of it.
      Proper multi-roomed pubs don't suffer trouble like the hundred Wetherspoons customers brawling in the Albany Palace, Trowbridge in February last year or the mass brawl at Wetherspoon's Cabot Court Hotel pub in Weston-super-Mare five months ago.
      https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/shocking-100-man-wetherspoons-brawl-9809205
      https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/mass-brawl-wetherspoons-beer-garden-12506128

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  9. Luckily my local has always retained its two room set up and status as a wet led pub, Its always been successful and popular, the most controversial thing that's ever happened there, (smoking ban excluded) was a change of wall colour in the interior from Red to Green, It was back to red within six months.

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