Friday, August 1, 2008

Say it ain’t so ...

A bit of news that has crept slowly into the papers over the last couple of days concerns the impending death of the British pub. A tad premature, I hope, although it is interesting to read that the ‘cause of death’ is eerily similar to the dark omens that have been trotted out in Australia over recent years when predicting the demise of the same institution over here.

So as not to be found guilty of the heinous crime of overstating the point, I should note that the stories refer in general to the ‘traditional British pub’ being in peril. I say, as an observer; ‘Is there any other kind?’ The fact that news articles featuring the words ‘pub’ and ‘peril’ in the same sentence suggests our urgent attention is required.

The reasons stated for the dip in sales of beer in pubs are many including smoking bans, rising taxes and competition from supermarket sales which have combined to result in the lowest sales figures since the Great Depression. Restaurants in Victoria banned smoking some six or seven (?) years ago and the pubs and bars were added in 2006. Other states have various laws regarding smoking with New South Wales joining the club last year.

What they all have in common is the wailing and gnashing of teeth from both smokers and operators warning of the imminent end to life as we know it. In most cases a good operator will prevail – because they adapt and overcome, they dig in and they tighten the belt and they get on with the job. Poor operators can happily use a new law to shift the blame for their own business shortcomings.

I guess that ‘pub culture’ in Australia is a little different to that in The Old Dart because I am puzzled by the threat from supermarket sales to the British pub. I see the ‘take away’ option as a distinctly different beast to the pub occasion. I buy plenty of beer – not so much from the supermarket, but certainly from supermarket owned outlets – for the purpose of enjoying at home or at a friends’ house and I go to a pub to primarily share a very different experience. I can’t say that I ‘do’ one at the expense of the other. The checkout chick at the supermarket definitely does not share with me the same filthy jokes and banter that the barman does.

Some figures to ponder. In British pubs staff are pulling around 14 million pints a day (Stonch, I have a new found respect for your talents!) which is 1.6 million down on last year and 7 million down on the peak in 1979. That’s some serious piss! In addition (or should that be subtraction) 1,400 pubs pulled the pin on their business last year. I would love to know if this is a result of the brewery tied houses gaining a price advantage over the smaller independents or whether the general economic condition is the real culprit.

Tax is tax is tax and this is one area that needs to be addressed in every beer drinking country on the globe and the sooner politicians world wide realise that happy drinkers make for a happy nation and should not be treated as happy little cash cows! Lay off, already!

I will have to get our London correspondent, The Bear, to give our readers an update. Hopefully his investigations will prove that reports of the death of the British pub are greatly exaggerated.

Cheers,
Prof. Pilsner.

Here’s the story – British pubs in peril

6 comments:

theculinarybrewer said...

Hi Prof. Pilsner.
The photo at the top of the post which I assume is supposed to be an authentic English pub is actually an American themed burger joint! Its called Lucky Grills and Dollar Bills and is located on the corner of Farringdon Rd and Exmouth Market. The irony is that it is located not far (like maybe 20 meters) from Stonch's favourite after hours local Al's Bar

Beer Blokes said...

Cheers CB,

The caption on the pic said it was 'Clerkenwell Tavern' and being a few thousand miles away and unable to visually confirm the facts I beleived the photos author. How dare the internet lie to me!! About beer!!! Thanks for the tip off - I actually tossed up using a pic of The Jerusalem Tavern, but this one just looked more 'authentic!.

Have been following your Beer Diary for a while now but have not got around to leaving a comment by way of a formal introduction. Great concept and interesting to see the brands that you have encountered that also turn up in Australia and compare notes.

Thanks again for the heads up on the pub pic.
Cheers,
Prof. Pilsner

Stonch said...

Yes, I live just a short walk from "Dollar", fka The Clerkenwell Tavern. An old Watney's pub, I believe it went through a phase as a very rough tittie bar before converting to its present use. The cocktail bar downstairs in the cellar is pretty decent but American food doesn't appeal to me so I've never used the restaurant.

Beer Blokes said...

Well, if I've been 'had', at least I can rest easy knowing that some bespectacled town planner or elbow-patched bureaucrat saw fit to leave a nice British pub-looking facade in place when the changes took place. I'm also fascinated by the thought of a bar featuring rough titties!

Interested to hear if the economic decline affecting Briish pubs is as bad as the papers would have us believe.

Cheers,
Prof. Pilsner

Hungry of Punt Road said...

Prof Pilsner said "I'm also fascinated by the thought of a bar featuring rough titties!"

i take it the good Professor hasn't been into the Royal after a match at the G in recent times?

Aaarrgh! They're melting!

Beer Blokes said...

Hungry of Punt Road
You can take it that the Prof HAS been to the Royal (second mention in a week for the Royal)Unfortunately it was BEFORE the match and I was not suitably anesthetised before exposing myself to that which was being exposed to me by the bar(girl) and had, until you brought it up, erased same from my memory. Urrrrrrghhhhhhhhh!