Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Small but Perfectly Formed


Micropubs are a growing thing I believe.  We are about to get the first in my area, but some say it all started in Kent where I went on Sunday last.   Although the owner of the micropub on Hartlepool Station is a mate, I haven't been there, so my only previous visit to one was in Newark, in the very delightful Just Beer, which I wrote about here. On Sunday last though, I had the experience of three in one day, in Broadstairs, just a short (albeit expensive) 81 minute journey from St Pancras. My guide on this visit was my friend Nick (@erlangernick)) who was holidaying there on a sabbatical from Bavaria.

After a walk on the sandy beach on what was a lovely spring day, we had a few beers around the town including the first micropub, the Thirty Nine Steps, quite a large one room affair, with the beer served at one end from a large refrigerated display cabinet kind of thing.   It was jammed with customers.  Further away, up a very large hill and through a lovely piece of suburbia beyond the railway station, Nick led us through the back-streets to two quite lovely little "micropubs". The irony of being guided through Broadstairs by a Germanicised Yankee was not lost on me, but Nick had been there before and give him his due, despite the twists and turns, we went straight to both. Both different too. The Yard of Ale has a definite farmhouse feel and a nice yard to sit in - with very attractive wrought iron gates - we chatted to the guy that made them - it's that sort of place - and the more pubby, on a street corner, Four Candles, where we received an absolutely tremendous welcome from both landlord and customers. Indeed the welcome in all three was splendid and noticeably warm.  They were all busy too and not at all cliquey, which you might imagine to be a danger.

Personally I loved the micropubs.  They seemed to me to take us back to a more intimate and personal pub experience. The basic theme is a one roomed pub with beer drawn directly from the barrels and no lager etc. Real cider was a feature too in all of them and all beer and cider seemed to be about £3 a pint. Food was of the pork pies and pickled eggs variety, but who really needs more while supping ale or cider?  I think they've a good chance of spreading and being successful. Potential owners will have to do their homework and pick locations carefully, and while they'll never replace "proper" pubs, they would certainly seem to me to have a deserved place in the drinking spectrum.

I am told set up costs can be around £10,000, so possibly it's a relatively cheap way to enter the free trade? So are micropubs a viable new craze?  You know, in the right circumstances,  I think they might be. 

What of the beer I hear you ask? Not so bad, though personally I'd go like Just Beer in Newark with handpumps.  I drank cider though mainly. It just seemed the right thing to do. 

26 comments:

geordiemanc said...

Micropub seems to be the new favourite buzzword after craft beer.

There are some genuine micropubs being opened, but the term is already being mis-used for new openings that are just normal modern bars. The cover of recent Swiggin In Wigan announced "Four new Micropubs" - one of them was Wigan Central which is definitely a proper pub.

Even by your definition, the two genuine ones in my area aren't micro-pubs anymore - one because it now has two rooms and both because they've installed an Outstanding Beers font alongside the casks on the bar.

py said...

What's the difference between all these micropubs that are opening and all the small, one room, traditional, real ale focussed pubs that are shutting?

Tandleman said...

Py. I'd guess the financial structure, the risk and the lack of debt and tie.

For a start. What's your take?

Tandleman said...

GeordieManc.

Any term can be hijacked I suppose.

Tandleman said...
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Curmudgeon said...

I blogged about this recently here, and have to say that, while in principle the idea is great, there must be a question-mark as to whether it is possible to stand the received wisdom of the past thirty years of pub retailing on its head.

Py asks a very valid question, although I suspect the answer is "middle-class customers".

DaveS said...

I'd always assumed that the pubs that were shutting were a lot bigger than most micropubs? Around here it mostly seems to be bigger suburban and rural places that are really against the wall, largely because you can fit a lot more executive apartments or Tesco Metros into the space.

In any case, yeah, at its most basic level it seems like simple business sense: don't try to overcater for the size of the market and don't incur big overheads trying to do stuff that doesn't add much to your basic offer. Presumably the same principle can and will apply to places that don't follow the "official" definition - in fact arguably places like The Rake or The Euston Tap are already playing the same game with a different offer.

The "no lager" and "no electronic entertainment" things do sound suspiciously like code for "no riff-raff", though...

Tandleman said...

I did ask one owner about riff raff. That's indeed how he makes the place unattractive to them.

Martin, Cambridge said...

Middle-aged rather than middle-class I'd say. 2 observations; they're very samey - the one on Crosby looks like the one in Warrington etc etc, and ale quality isn't as great as you'd expect. They've pushed some really great beer pubs out of the Guide e.g. the Great Tree in Ramsgate.

All the customers in micros in Thanet would, of course, fit in one Wetherspoons.

Arthur Scargill said...

I imagine current local authority planning practice will be a hurdle for micropubs in a lot of places. Councils on the whole aren’t that keen on A1 or A2 spaces being converted into licensed premises, which appears to be the basic model for these things. For example, I used to live in Camden and applications like this were almost always turned down.

Curmudgeon said...

@DaveS - Very many of the small wet-led pubs that used to exist have either closed some time ago, or, if they're lucky, been extended out of all recognition.

@Arthur Scargill - as ever, London is a law unto itself, but micropubs don't seem to find it a problem getting planning permission elsewhere. Near me we have three combined bar and bottle shops either already open, or about to open, plus a "proper" micropub ready to go.

Erlangernick said...

Sat here in a right proper old Sandwich pub, I'd just written a lovely, thoughtful reply, only to have it LOST when the Android internet browser crashed. Will attempt to recreate it later, but Mrs awaits. (That's her & doggie in the photo, for those keeping score at home.)

WestBromEL said...

What comes around goes around, time was when most pubs were a room in someones home with the beer brewed out the back in the brewhouse, the differences now being that the beer is bought in and they neatly sidestep environmental health & any convenants banning the cooking of food by simply not have the space to do it.
That said, if I'd had a pint for every mate I've taken to a micropub who's turned around & said "So where do they brew the beer then......."

py said...

I've been in several self-styled "micropubs" around the country. I've also been in lots of normal pubs that just happened to be quite small.

I can't honestly say I could tell the difference.

Tandleman said...

Obviously not aimed at you then!

Cooking Lager said...

Because micropubs fit the CAMRA mindset of real ale and no lager (both equally important to the more strident CAMRAman) they seem to enjoy a narrative of being the future or at least some sort of pub resurgence.

If you take away the fact that CAMRA types like them and are inclined towards a positive view, what is left?

You have pubs no longer being for everyone but only for middle aged ale drinking types and pubs becoming a cottage industry rather than an important part of the local and national economy. Really?

More a last dying gasp of a pub industry than a resurgence.

A micropub is little more than one of mudgies "smokey drinky" garden shed pubs on a firmer legal footing and with RATS rather than emphysemic old codgers.

Tandleman said...

So you agree in a long winded way that they have a niche market in some cases. Excellent.

Erlangernick said...

Sat here in a right proper old Sandwich pub, I'd just written a lovely, thoughtful reply, only to have it LOST when the Android internet browser crashed. Will attempt to recreate it later, but Mrs awaits. (That's her & doggie in the photo, for those keeping score at home.)

Cooking Lager said...

Well, a micro sized niche, Tand, that will last as long as current punters breathe & considers young people to be unwanted yobs and sadly magnifies the twattery elements to a pint of brown pong.

Tandleman said...
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Tandleman said...

Young people are indeed relatively unwanted to this niche. That's the nature of your niche Cookie. Pick a niche, get those that are the target demographic of the niche in, put others off.

Bit like Louis Vuitton or the Savoy Grill. Wouldn't prefer a ragarse like you showing up would they?

Cooking Lager said...

And there is a consumer campaign extrolling the virtues of the Savoy Grill Tand?

It's sad that whilst CAMRA has always been inclusive on the basis of race & sexuality (long before many other drinking clubs and for reasons of sincerity rather than simply trying to be modern and relevant) and is taking positive steps to be more inclusive to women by knocking on the head sexist crap it accepts unquestionably pubs for the middle aged and middle class (most of it's membership) and sees nothing wrong with a lack of welcome for young working class men in a soccer shirt.

Don't be complaining when you read how the kids prefer Starbucks to pubs.

Tandleman said...

I won't be. At least the bastards aren't bothering me. I'm too old to worry about the future of pubs really. There will still be plenty of the sort I like around - and that is actually pretty broad - by the time I turn up my toes.

There is only now for us oldies when you think about it.

Paul Bailey said...

Back in October I wrote two posts about micro-pubs. The first described a tour of some of Thanet’s finest micro-pubs, which included visits to the Yard of Ale and the Four Candles. Our party of 15 found pretty much the same as you and your friend did, Tandleman; namely good, mainly locally-brewed ale, pleasant surroundings and a friendly welcome.

The second post, which was about micropubs in general, attracted a lot of negative comments, in particular about micro’s being the haunt of white, middle-class and middle-aged men, whilst serving terrible beer to boot!

Talk about prejudice, but I see from some of the comments here that age has now been thrown into the mix, due to a lack of youngsters amongst the typical micro-pub clientele.

“Yoof” prefers its own company, and I for one don’t blame young people for wanting to be where the action is. However, don’t criticise micro-pubs for not appealing to the younger generation, as they were never supposed to in the first place. Horses for courses, anyone?

http://baileysbeerblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/down-to-margate.html

http://baileysbeerblog.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/micro-pubs.html


Birkonian said...

What's the difference between a micro-pub and old fashioned small boozer? A lack of a proper cellar usually.

One has opened in Liscard, Wirral. I can promise you that it isn't middle class. In fact nothing in Liscard is middle class.

Martin, Cambridge said...

The Magazine on the seafront was pretty middle-class by my reckoning Birkonian - isn't that Liscard ?

I agree that the micros attract a wide spectrum of middle-aged society.