Vague ramblings

Pubs grubbing around for survival

Posted in Business, Musing, St Albans, Urbanism by Ian Cundell on 30 May, 2014
The Black Lion

I assume this was a planning condition!

Neither The Pineapple nor The Blue Anchor were especially on my radar in my regular going-out-with-mates drinking days.

It was, for us, a circulation around the The Goat, The Lower Red Lion, The Rose & Crown and sometimes The Fighting Cocks. There would be occasional detours to The Horn of Plenty for some live music, The Midland Arms for the best jukebox in town, or The Farriers Arms for the full-on real ale experience. Any other random pub might be the beneficiary or our whimsy or desire for change, but the core circuit was there. On any given Saturday, The Goat would be absolutely rammed with pretty well everybody I knew.

These were the parameters for the Pub Stroll, which is like a pub crawl except that if we ended up staying in the same pub all night, that was fine. It was a treasured youth of meeting at the Clock Tower and going from there.

People don’t really drink like that any more.

This week Bar 62 (which was The Pineapple in my youth) and The Blue Anchor announced that they are closing their doors. The future for both locations must be in serious doubt and it will be no shock at all if both are redeveloped for housing.  Although they were not on my crowd’s circuit, a look at Facebook shows that many others spent, or mis-spent, youths in them so it would be nice to be proven wrong.

Bar 62 had worked hard to carve out a niche not just for food, but for being inventive about events like open mic nights.  The abruptness of it closing-down not long after a refurbishment suggests there might still be a story to tell, but The Blue Anchor is easier to grasp.

Blue Anchor closes

Blue Anchor closes

Despite having a generous car park, its location could have been designed to have its footfall intercepted by two excellent nearby pubs, The Six Bells and The Rose & Crown. It tried to move upmarket, but that put it into the most fickle and competitive sector of the leisure trade. The building – although nice enough – was nothing special, particularly when compared to The Six Bells’ 17th Century charm.

But whatever the specifics, the trends that make the market hard for both are clear. Then it was me, Tim, Jez, Loz, Nick, Grant, Rob and a gallery of others heading for the City centre for about 8pm and heading off for beer and chat, eventually to catch up with Sarah behind the bar at The Goat, before grabbing a kebab or hotdog on the way home.

Today it is about the “pre-drinks” (meaning spirits) and barely being on the way to a venue before 10:30pm with a view to being in a club not long after. The clubs aren’t especially new around here, but their relative importance seems to be. And the whole pre-drinks idea must be about the price of booze.

And that leaves the “old-fashioned boozer” out on a limb.

You can get a seat and food in the Goat on a Saturday now, assuming you can find a parking space in the crowded streets. The pubs have bouncers on Fridays and Saturdays – not just for security, I suspect, but because fire safety limits are taken a tad more seriously – whereas, even on New Years Eve, we would simply cram ourselves in. It lasted maybe 5 years – from roughly 1978 to roughly 1983 – before the winds of time and fortune sent us on our separate ways.

Memory Lane is a nice place to visit, but you don’t want to be buying a cottage there.

The price of booze, proper enforcement of fire safety and – for that matter – drink-driving laws, maybe the smoking ban and the rise of club culture have done to the pub what out-of-town retail has done for the high street.  It doesn’t mean that the town centre is dead on a Saturday night, but it is very different and (in my view) a rather meaner place.  I hope I am just being a bit Mr Grumpy, but it seems to be that getting shit-faced is an end in itself now, rather than a by-product of being social creatures.

It is always hard letting the past go, but if I am going to argue for accepting change in the daytime economy I cannot logically reject it in the nighttime economy. Memory Lane is a nice place to visit, but you don’t want to be buying a cottage there.

So what can be done? I suspect I will come back to this.

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One Response

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  1. John Gauthier said, on 30 May, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    Who can remember the lost pubs. Painters Arms, Adalaid,, Wellington, The bat and ball. Just a few to think about. Also the public bars that were good places to drink’ no ceremoney.

    Also there was a good one down London road with music. The mile house which was pulled down very quickly.
    A few more in Chequer street.
    Live music on Friday and Saturday nights.
    Old town hall, pioneer youth club, civic centre st Stephen a balito works, all with up to date groups.

    Giving age away with these events.

Do feel free to chip in...but be courteous when doing so. Ta.

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