But I digress from my original purpose. A couple of weeks ago, when in London checking that Tandleman Towers South still exists, we ventured into Soho with the intention of having a look at how some of the London Sam’s pubs operate. While it has never been officially confirmed, it is known that Humphrey's son Sam is the supremo of all the Southern operations. Things are done differently there, and while recently in the North, innovations such as paying by phone and card have been accepted, it is true to say that no such restrictions have operated in London for quite some time.The reasons for this are pretty obvious when you look at the clientele. I think it's fair to say that in the absence of paying by card or phone Mr. Smith would find insufficient customers willing to pay by cash, as payment by such is, in London, the exception rather than the rule.
Also missing from most of the London pubs is the plethora of notices forbidding this, that or the other, though it is fair to say that the one prohibiting electronic devices is generally clear and present, but, particularly in the case of phones, is blatantly and wholly disregarded.It is as well at this point to mention that Sam Smiths pubs in London are pretty expensive. Banish any thoughts of the cheap pint they used to be, and given the somewhat basic nature of some of the pubs visited, could be regarded as less than value for money. The pub wasn't busy, but a steady stream of people wandered in, vaguely looked round and then blatantly zoomed downstairs to use the loos before re-emerging, pretending to consider drinks at the bar, before darting out the door. At the bar more than one person sipped their pint while surfing their phone. The landlord, an Al Murray lookalike was clearly used to such behaviour and simply ignored all this while occasionally tilting his eyes in our direction.
Now, Sam's pubs are usually pretty good for people watching, but not in this case. The only real entertainment was a young couple, the male of which would occasionally lean in for a kiss, while the female would carefully move away. Fair dos, it didn't discourage him, and she happily allowed him to hold her waist. Likely she wasn’t keen on public affection, which is just fine. In fact, we bumped into them in a later pub and they seemed quite cosy. So, all was well.This was a step-up in class. Multi partitioned, with each area jammed with customers, the lone bar person zoomed up and down at breakneck speed trying to keep up with demand. It took us quite some time to get served, and my pint of stout looked more like Coca-Cola. Clearly the nitrogen gas had gone, and subsequently the beer was poured as flat as could be. There was no opportunity to earhole the frantic barman, and frankly the poor bugger was doing the best he could. At last, when he had a second, I explained the problem with the pint and he offered an exchange. He took the opportunity in the meantime to call someone on his phone, who a few moments later emerged from upstairs to lend a hand. I suppose that was technically a breach of the rules too.
We struck up conversation with a guy who'd come up from Kent for the day. He turned out to be an ex-RAF type and we passed an agreeable half hour with him telling tales of avoiding customs duties from various tours of overseas duty - a subject E knew a bit about somewhat oddly - while we dodged around, juggling our pints, to let people in at the bar. Frankly, it wasn’t a comfortable experience, though I’d like to go back when it was less busy.
Our final stop, nearby, was the Glasshouse Stores. We have been there before and remembered it just as it was. Long, thin, narrow and very busy. It was there that we bumped into the young lovers again, though I doubt very much if they noticed us at all. The pub was full of all types, but nothing of any great interest to the nosey parker. It was simply a Sam's pub with a typical London mix of people and tourists. The beer list was straightforward Sam's – I think the OBB was keg - but this time my pint of stout was thick with a creamy head, though well north of £6 a pint. From our vantage point in the centre of the pub (fortunately we were able to nab a seat) we observed none of the usual Sam's forbidding notices. We left after one drink.
So, to sum up, in Sam’s pubs in Rochdale and areas you are likely to find the pubs are locals with a loyalty to the pub. In London Sam's pubs are just another convenient location to drink beer, have a glass of wine or whatever, while visiting a popular area. Of course, this is just a snapshot of three pubs, but having visited many, while some are more interesting than others, none have the idiosyncrasies and character you will find further away from the city. It is clear that's in business terms Sam Smiths offer a similar experience to other pubs. There is no price advantage, the pubs themselves vary from quirky and old-fashioned, to just played old-fashioned and a bit dowdy.
When compared to Humphrey’s ridiculous strictures in the North, it seems somewhat bizarre that in the same company, two different schools of thought apply to the way the pubs are run, with sometimes devastating results for pub regulars and managers alike. But that Sam’s for you.
On a previous, but recent London visit we went to the rather good Crown by the British Museum (no cask). There were some more obvious notices there about electronic devices, but again, completely ignored by the punters.
I wonder if Sam's have got themselves ahead of the game pricewise and will refrain for quite a while? E who has scant regard to prices is switching to Taddy lager when in Sam's pubs for the foreseeable. Well, in London anyway.
£5.70 your OBB. Blimey. I'll buy you a pint in Sheffield at the Brown Bear at the AGM !
beer's too cheap.
need to be premiumised, imv.
get it up to a tenner.
On geographical location, find self far more often in Sarf Sam Smith's pubs than oop North ones, but certainly right: beers the same, two entirely different worlds as far as almost everything else about the pubs is concerned. Whereas that's usually less the case in other national branded pubs.
The point was made back in 2020, possibly by Cookie, that Sam's had perhaps gone for a "big bath" approach of getting all the pain of price rises out of the way at once and then allowing the others to catch up and overtake them.
There haven't been any more increases since then, and now locally, with the demise of the Railway, there's not much cheaper apart from Spoons, and Robbies' pubs are a good pound a pint dearer.
Mind you, even now £5.70 is surely a bit steep for ordinary bitter in London.
Nice review on the courting habits of young cockernees. What were their thoughts on the beer range?
"One beer is plenty, often more than enough" thought Terry. Not sure of Julie.
Not these days sadly. But I sometimes get the impression that they must be nearing the limit and then I see how busy the pubs are and most are drinking more expensive lagers.
Every Friday night!
Jellied Feels. I think th'ale wasn't the main priority.
I'm surprised to see a pint of cask is so expensive. I've not been to a Sam Smith's in London for donkeys, but was regularly in them in the late noughties, and a pint of OBB was almost 2 quid cheaper than a "normal" pub. Unless cask in normal pubs is now £7.70...
If you are going to pay those prices you want quality guarenteed. Not a cask gamble.
Funny how some things stay the same. I know all the Sam's you went to, and the White Horse has always been the scruffier of those three, the Duke of Argyll always the busiest, the Glass House the nicer. And all within a minute's walk of each other.
The prices are a big change though: 15-20 years ago OBB and Taddy were considered the cheapest pints in central London, not in a Spoons. A lot of people started using them simply for this reason. I even remember meeting tourists from Yorkshire who had a map of all the Sam's in central London, in order to have a cheap night out.
I do think more of them have an association with particular groups than you think: opera signers in the Chandos, UCL students in the Fitzroy Tavern, The Yorkshire Grey with the BBC. The Blue Posts (Newman Street) was a favourite of Royal Mail workers before the depot across the road was sold a few years ago.
William - not even that long ago. When I was a skint twenty something just starting in the career ladder, you were grateful for Sam’s in the centre. Still some attractive pubs but very variable experience as others attest to.
I was paying £3.50 for OBB in Humphrey's London pubs during November 2019 so that's a 63% increase in forty months.
I noticed that on SS's Facebook page no comments are allowed. That's very Sam Smiths.
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