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Phil Mellows is a freelance journalist living in Brighton  


         Phil's Diary July 27, 2009



What’s happening to our pubs?

Fifty-two pubs a week, the new closure rate announced by the British Beer & Pub Association, sounds an awful lot and is, I suppose, an awful lot. It’s a number that has certainly attracted media attention and while it’s good people are made aware of the crisis I can’t see that headlines pronouncing ‘the death of the pub’ over some fairly superficial analysis take us very far forward.

I’m not, to be honest, shocked at the figure myself. You can see the state of things clearly enough on a visit to any of Britain’s towns and cities (even Brighton). It’s much more visible than the closures that decimated the rural pub population a decade ago.

In fact I’ve only got to step outside the front door to see the ex-pub on the corner, the Victoria, gutted and being converted into flats. The Vic is an interesting case study in what’s happening. When I got here it was a Punch lease that was ticking over on a very local trade, once a week erupting into what must have been the country’s loudest quiz night. But a succession of tenants failed to extend the pub’s narrow customer base. It’s a common problem – you become so reliant on your regulars that you become scared to do things to attract new business that might alienate them.

Eventually Punch gave up trying to find a tenant who could pay the rent and sold the freehold to Admiral Taverns, a company that specialises in what are sometimes called the ‘lower quintiles’ of the industry. But not even Admiral could save this ship and about 18 months ago it was up for sale again, this time as a closed pub. After a flurry of rumours that a freetrader had bought it, the Vic went to a property developer.

I was neither surprised nor bothered, especially. A part of me feels sad that any pub should close, but the Vic was not a very good pub. Crumbs, I never went there and it’s 50 yards away!

This is, I suspect, typical. Bad pubs which were able to survive as a marginal business are having the dreary life squeezed out of them. You’re going to have to be good to get through this, but there are plenty of good pubs around. And good pubs, these days, are even better than good pubs used to be. Give me a nudge when those start closing and I’ll be on the barricades.

The point of a beer festival

Popped along to a ‘Beer, Cider & Literature Festival’ at the Duke of Wellington in Shoreham on Saturday. The beer and cider were good, and we had fun, although ‘literature’, it turned out, meant the beers had a literary connection. Mostly a pretty thin one.

What worried me more was that there should have been more ordinary punters there. What we got was a load of CAMRA types, borderline tickers, nursing a couple of halves over an hour or so, and then disappearing.

Beer festivals in pubs are becoming increasingly popular but they’re only really any use to a business - or, for that matter, to the cask ale market - if they can introduce new people to the rich tapestry of experience offered by proper beer. This is a marketing problem. 
Sort it.

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