THE RETURN OF PUBS

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I’m not given to reflection; the blog is first and foremost definitely a pictorial diary of a life well spent travelling.

But I need to reflect on the first month since pubs returned, if only to look back and marvel in five years time.

Back on Friday the 3rd, the internet was a mix of pessimists predictingcarnage and “feeding frenzies” and swearing that pubs would be too restrictive to enjoy and they’d leave it till there was a vaccine.

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Carnage ?

As always, the optimists win.

Ten observations, from 55 pub visits around the country, from micropubs to Craft Unions. Unusually for me, more visits were made in the evening than the morning !

1) No standing or drinking at the bar. Bye bye bar flies. How great is that ?

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There’s always one

2) Pubgoers were very polite, keen to avoid breaking the rules amid a sense of collective responsibility to make it work and avoid a second lockdown (or death). At least that’s what Mrs RM said, and she’d be the first to point out the opposite.

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Friendly folk, County Durham

3) Covid compliance rules are generally clearly set out and almost universally followed. If anything, the smaller wet-led pubs have enforced the rules harder, with temperature checks in Selby and Portsmouth.

Completion of the Track and Trace paperwork seemed rather optional in Spoons, but since I’ve learnt how to use QR codes it’s been easy to record my details on-line.

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Specifically, I’ve seen none of the crowding on tables and moving of furniture that some commentators have highlighted.

4) Due to 2) and 3), and my own risk assessment, I’ve always felt safe in pubs. And if I didn’t feel safe, I’d have left.

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Safe urinals, The Sun, Waterbeach

5) Pubs in general looked spruced up, and the Spoons in particular have sparkled.

In quite basic pubs I’ve seen landlords scrubbing tables as if their lives depend on it between customers.

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Gleaming surfaces in the Brewery Tap, Waterbeach

6) Pubs opened with tight beer ranges, seemingly either entirely national brands,

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Spoons, Wellington

or entirely microbreweries.

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White Hart, Ellesmere

It took a while to get some of our favourites back, but I can confirm the Bass tastes as good as ever.

I had great beer quality in the first week, better than I can ever remember, due to casks freshly delivered for the 4th, those tighter ranges and a decent turnover.

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The Vault, Ellesmere

The freshness dropped off a bit, but I’ve only tipped one pint out of fifty in the plant pot.

7) There’s no such thing as popping in for a quick half, the forte of the pub ticker.

On one gastropub visit, which I had to book on-line, it took longer to explain the system for accessing the loo than to sink my half.

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Very complicated system

In fairness, I’ve only had to book to visit a pub thrice.

8) Most pubs outside large cities re-opened on or close to 4 July, but my lad tells me Manchester remained a ghost town as office workers stayed home.

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Open pub, Cheadle

9) Opening times have been a bit hit or miss, and many pubs still struggle to use their social media to tell people they’re open, with “pinned” hours being wrong.

Some pubs openings have been a bit “tentative“…

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Mystery pub, York city centre

10) Which brings us to the elephant in the room. Viability.

Trade opened down a fair bit, particularly in the dining pubs that would have attracted the gentlefolk lunch crowd a year ago. Spoons were noticeably quieter too.

The current 50% off your food bill deal had our local Chef & Brewer car park full at lunchtime for the first time since Christmas, but that Treasury largesse won’t help your wet-led boozer.

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Pub Life. Almost

As someone once said “Use it or lose it”.

Pub Curmudgeon’s piece is essential reading, though hopefully trade has seen an uptick since his assessment a fortnight in.

49 thoughts on “THE RETURN OF PUBS

  1. Number “9” around opening hours is so key to me.

    I can’t comprehend how someone could put their savings, their livelihood, all their hopes and dreams into a business, and just leave their social media in an out of date, ambiguous mess! It’s a 10 minute job guys, and might make or break some businesses in really tough times.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Optimists win is a great comment. Your experiences tally with mine over a similar number of pubs during the last month, quite a few pubs closing at 10 or even earlier.
    Things seem to be picking up, there was a queue outside Selby spoons tonight! Something about a discount, and I don’t think they can all have had Camra vouchers?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great observations Martin, as always. Our place is definitely quieter, partly due to the lack of university and commuter trade, but partly regulars staying away when they expect it to be busy. Consequently Friday and Saturday evenings have been dead so far!

    Still enough trade to keep 3 beers on (usually 4 or 5), all local micros so far I’m afraid. Had a few moans though that it’s not enough choice, at which point the urge to get out a bottle of Sarson’s for them is very strong…

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It was all going well till you mentioned the local beers, Chris !

      My niece’s boyfriend was at the Uni and I suspect a visitor to the Station House before he had to go back to the States.

      One of the most common reasons I saw for staying away was “it’ll be too busy”, which never seemed likely.

      Things WILL pick up.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Great blog….hopeful as ever. I’m definitely part of the problem at the moment, visited a few local pubs recently and mostly all good, however my company has decided that in this day and age – and as working from home has proved so successful – they don’t need an office in expensive central London anymore, they did ask and as I’ve enjoyed WFH I’ve elected to be part of the permanent WFH contingent- with an occasional monthly trip out for team catch ups etc. So goodbye lunches and pints and contemplative hours in London pubs – and you could always find a quiet spot if you knew where to look…… It’ll be much cheaper – but then they didn’t furlough us – they just said sorry chaps cant afford to pay you for 5 months – how about working for nothing!!!! Can’t afford pints !!!! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, undoubtedly job uncertainty is also a factor in confidence to spend on luxuries like beer.

      Mrs RM has moved from travelling to central London/Kent to homeworking overnight and making it work.

      That’s what I call a productivity gain, even if it means a reduction in GDP as she doesn’t waste £10k+ a year on trains, tubes, taxis, coffees and junk food at station.

      She’ll spend some of £10k on buying me beer, so win/win.

      Our fixation on “doing the same inefficient things as we’ve always done” to protect the GDP is misguided.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Couldn’t agree more….. Lots of nay sayers about WFH – but honestly even without the pandemic, technology and outsourcing and the fact that you can never really be off line anymore – was going to push WFH more and more. I do appreciate there are many many jobs where its not possible though.

        I don’t much care about the social isolation I am meant to be feeling. I’m not. Zoom – Teams – Skype – FaceTime etc with colleagues is fine and you just adjust to a different way of collaborating….lol although banter has to be controlled in its new always logged form 🙂 Sitting in the garden with the laptop on is a bloody joy!

        If the gvmt are really fixated on people flooding back to city centres to keep GDP going – they are missing the point about change and technology….but whether one is left, right or centre at the moment all I see is muppets.

        Indeed – like Mrs RM I can now drop my outrageously priced season ticket, drink my own coffee and stop eating sarnies with bloody mayo in them. Most excellent news that you now have an additional “Mrs RM 10k” fund to draw on for your essential beer and travel work…..

        Liked by 1 person

      2. “luxuries like beer” – I’ve always thought of beer as a food.

        “homeworking overnight” – so that leaves the daytime for pubs and housework !!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Pubs who have paid for a decent website in the last 2-3 years, but only do updates via Facebook is my top bugbear at the moment. If you are not going to use, what was the point?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Is it possible that they paid for a fancy website that doesn’t allow them to make alterations themselves? (A rookie mistake made by many people!)

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Very common mistake. Also new licensees failing to take over existing social media accounts. I’ve even seen pub websites that were still up well after the pubs had closed.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. Your observations are similar to mine, except we did find a couple of pubs where there were people standing at the bar (old codgers who’ve probably stood there for the last 40 years, in the main!) and one with minimal social distancing – the pub was set out fine, but there were people hugging and shaking hands!

    As to viability, some of the more food oriented pubs that have put in extra capacity by using terraces and outside areas will probably do fine, but those places that need the very busy sessions at the weekends are going to struggle.

    As for beer quality…the Carling has been good. Although, I must admit that my first pint of Carling after lockdown didn’t quite taste right…but by the time of the fifth it was nectar as always!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Only visited the Soloman Cutler Wetherspoons close to the Hyatt on Broad Street. It was a Wednesday evening and it was very quiet. The Shakespeare and the Prince of Wales were both closed. I suspect that you’re right, but even the Country Girl was relatively quiet on a Friday evening…enough room for people to just walk up and get in.

        Like

      2. I was in Central Brum yesterday. Pubs were quieter than you’d expect. I compare that to Spoons in Sutton Coldfield and Tamworth that both had significant queues outside them at roughly the same time (early evening).

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Maybe it’s that people somehow feel safer closer to home and the eeriness of quiet normally-bustling city centres is unsettling.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. My experience is that pubs haven’t been noticeably busier in the second two weeks than the first two. But, given the times I go to pubs, it’s probably not representative. For example, I met up with someone (probably illegally) for a few drinks in Stockport on Monday afternoon, which is never going to be a busy session. No bad beer, though.

    It’s reported today that 37% of pubs that have reopened are still not breaking even. The general tone of official messaging is still very much one of promoting fear and alarm.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This week seems busier but the 3 pubs I’ve used have all been busy with 50% diners who might have done their dining for the week.

      Will your book on illegal drinking in Stockport be self-published in time for Christmas ?

      Like

      1. T’other Mudgie,
        I’m surprised that 63% of pubs that have reopened are breaking even but that’s good news.
        Next time you’re organising an illegal drinking session in Stockport can you make it for before 11am ?

        Liked by 1 person

  8. Good assessment RM which I wholly agree with…

    …not that I would want to give any impression that I kbow anything about it…

    “blog is first and foremost definitely a pictorial diary of a life well spent travelling”

    Your writings will indeed be as well respected as Pepys Diary in future years😊

    Like

    1. Pepys recorded the Plague of 1665, the Fire of 1666 and the Scot’s 3-2 win at Wembley in ’67, 3 of the most terrible events in English history.

      I’ve seen a plague and the invasion of murky craft, which is possibly worse. (you’re safe in Hythe).

      Liked by 1 person

  9. The Sun, Waterbeach – just a bit of bleach around the floor and sink area while strapping off their urinals wouldn’t have gone amiss.

    The “best” thing to come out of all this will hopefully be a marked improvement in people’s personal hygiene.

    As for viability, I think near me the attendance started OK and has been consistent when looking at comparable times/days of visiting. Obviously with the “Greater Manchester” lockdown my local Holt’s finally took my details rather than relying on me (and anyone else) (not)scanning the QR code.

    Either that or they actually were wanting karaoke participants given that was the only scraps of paper they had for taking details.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “The “best” thing to come out of all this will hopefully be a marked improvement in people’s personal hygiene.”
      Spitting was acceptable before but not after the Spanish Flu pandemic this time last century.
      What will change this time ?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I hope the increase in cleaning of public areas will continue. Whilst I think at times people are using them to excess, I would hope these sanitiser bottles will continue to be provided. What is noticable is the lack of other minor ailments at the moments.

        I’ve not yet been in a Spoons, not for any ideological reason but simply because I have not had the desire, but to me most measures seem to reflect the character of the pubs in question. Arty farty places have the apps and such, normal boozers operate normally with a simple track and trace system and a couple less tables. I admit I was wrong, nothing much has changed, pubs are still ace.

        Don’t really feel comfortable visiting for a 10 minute flyer as yet. It leaves a local regular pub as yet unvisited – I shall try to rectifiy this at some stage.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I concur with Tom Irvin, with the addition that hopefully people (men) will continue to wash their hands after visiting the loo in the increased numbers I’ve witnessed.

        I’ll also say the pubs haven’t changed much near me at all but I’ve yet to venture into the bigger cities with the twattier bars but then again I wasn’t much for busy, crowded places in the first place.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Spot on.

        Unless you’re really irritated by good hygiene and saying “M. Taylor 0898 111333 (49p a minute) ), or you’re a local who likes standing at the bar (ugh) you won’t find the average pubs any different.

        Like

  10. Sounds like your post-lockdown experiences are far more positive than mine! The only decent pub around here hasn’t reopened for in-drinking yet, so I’m looking at a minimum of 45 minutes travel time each way to get a pint. With beer ranges generally very disappointing indeed (from a ticking point of view), I just haven’t bothered much, maybe venturing out once a week.

    That Spoons photo rings painfully true though!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I guess I’m lucky I’ve no interest in beer, Ben (ask Duncan), so a pint of Doom Bar in a Craft Union pub in a dumpy market town surrounded by old codgers appeals more than a sour in a Teku (though I’ll drink anything). It’s the small specialist bars in big cities that have suffered most.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I’ve been out a bit more this week (4 pubs)
    A Greene king with its one way systems and use of the elbow to let people know your in the toilet (odd)
    A riverside bar where we had to order and pay online (weird)
    A marstons food bag on Thursday where the lady who welcomed us said she was really happy it was a lot quieter as the previous day was rammed (strange offer from our lovely government I feel)

    And another visit to my local with the best outside area. Where last orders was 10pm. A warm summers night where after 9pm our group of 6 (from 6 different households, I’ve no clue if that’s even allowed) were the only customers.
    That can’t continue for long , surely?

    Liked by 1 person

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