What do I know?

I’m out of touch with what the pub-going public wants. There, I’ve admitted it.

A few days in Shropshire explained that the road to success is probably not my idea of pub perfection.

First stop, Sunday lunchtime in Holden’s Golden Lion in Bridgnorth. A spotless pub with wonderful cask beers and friendly locals. Masses of free cheese and crisps on the bar to feed the punters. The mild went down very quickly, as would the other Holden’s beers if we didn’t have to leave after a pint and a beef and onion cob. Sad to report that on a Sunday lunchtime in a perfect pub there was only half a dozen customers.

We exit perfection and walk past the nearby Wetherspoons. Packed outside and signs of more inside. That’s what many pub-goers want. Tim Martin knows the market and tightening purse strings will help him further.

On to Ludlow for a few days. Monday lunchtime, we wander down the hill to a riverside cafe. Not a pub shocker. Excellent food, a glass of wine. All tables full inside and out and serious money being spent by all.

At 4pm the thirst kicks in and we wander down to the Ludlow Brewery Tap. Old railway building on the edge of town. Comfortable for a brewery tap and decent beers. Not quite a Kirkby Lonsdale Barn but not far off. Closing at 5pm, but packed to the gunnels.

After a pint we head off back into the town centre to the historic Rose and Crown that’s had a bit of a Joule’s makeover. A tasty pint of Slumbering Monk, but we got the feeling it wasn’t doing so well. With just a few locals perched at the bar it didn’t suggest the usual Joule’s pub.

Tuesday lunchtime found us in the Three Tuns in Bishop’s Castle. A wonderful pub with a fine pub brewery history beloved by many. We were the only customers for most of our time there.

These are strange times and I get the feeling that some folk are still wary of the pub. And maybe they’ll never come back. For other people they’ll stick to their regular haunts and people they know.

Increasingly, I’m convinced that what I want from a pub isn’t what most of the market wants. It’s going to be tough going for my version of the perfect pub. Let’s hope enough people love them and more importantly spend money in them.

7 Comments

  1. Great read.

    I’d say that, as you find, the return of trade is uneven. In Bridgnorth recently the Shakespeare (Joules) was about a third full mid afternoon, perhaps 15 in.

    Spoons seem to have bounced back more strongly than the trad pubs.

    In Northern Ireland last weekend practically all the pubs were doing good business, perhaps with patrons getting ****** before Boris’s arrival. No cask drunk though.

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  2. Over a decade ago I went to pick up some bottles of beer from a small brewery in Cardiff and got talking to the owner about where I like to drink. When I mentioned a few pub names and
    one or two bars that had just opened, he replied ‘pubs are dead’. I started to walked backwards slowly clutching my beer, thinking he was insane, or maybe didn’t appreciate pubs as he’s not from the UK. But he probably was seeing how the winds were blowing.

    My circumstances have changed in that I’ve now got kids and friends have moved away, so I go out much less. But it dawned on me that when I did go, I’d be drawn to the bars who had more appealing ranges of beer. Since COVID I’ve vowed to go out more, even if it’s by myself, and to prioritise pubs (those that are left, and that have decent beer, which is a bit of struggle in Cardiff city centre.)

    I think pubs are just sadly coming to the end of their lifecycle, with change in demographics and drinking habits, added to the cost of living crisis. Some will survive and thrive, but these will be small in number and exception to the rule.

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  3. You can never really judge pubs from what are normally slack times anyway. Always best to see them on Friday night before reaching conclusions. Having said that, I have made the point before that the traditional pastime of just going to the pub for a drink and chat does seem to be dying out.

    Last week in and around West Berkshire I went to a number of pubs and didn’t think in any of them “God, this is dead.”

    There always seems to be something that doesn’t quite add up about Joules. They carry out what to my mind are very congenial refurbishments (although some people regard them as a bit too arch and knowing) but, outside their very food-focused pubs, it isn’t clear who the pubs are actually aimed at.

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    • Part of my tale was that the slack times are widening in some traditional pubs but not in other licensed premises. A wet-led pub like the Golden Lion is, I suspect, always going to find Sunday lunchtime slack in the modern era. The Joule’s pub didn’t seem to have changed much compared some of their other places. I don’t quite get them either.

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