Oh where, oh where has my little pub gone?
Gosh, cor and indeed blimey. Has it really been nearly two months since I wrote a post on this blog? Just goes to show that writing really gets in the way of your writing. Let’s just pretend it never happened and move on.
It is New Year’s Day and I am painfully aware that while The Boy and I were ensconced on the sofa last night, watching Back to the Future and hoping the fireworks didn’t wake Bam Bam up, one of my favourite pubs was having its last hoorah. The West End Brewery in Leicester shut its doors for the final time last night after six or so happy years.
Farewell to the WEB
It was Leicester’s first brewpub and I have many wonderful memories of time spent there. Indeed I have vague recollections of the Looking Glass, the cocktail bar that predated it, being rather splendid as well. Run by plucky young upstart Josh Gray, with the steadying hand of Brewery Dad behind him, the pub was an absolute hit with locals and soon pulled a dedicated band of local punters within its warm embrace.
Real ale lovers in the city were overjoyed to see Russ Hunt soon back behind the bar after the devastating decline and fall of the also fondly-remembered Criterion. This may seem like a Who’s Who of… wait, who? if you’re not local. And that’s sort of the point. I imagine a few beer tourists managed to make it down to the WEB on the basis of word of mouth recommendations, but even the most ardent townie was unlikely to make it across the river to Braunstone Gate and visit the pub unless they were in the know. It was a brilliant community pub.
It was my favourite pub to sit at the bar, alone, chatting with the bar staff and whoever else happened to come in as I sipped my pint. Although usually they were new faces to me on my relatively infrequent visits, it was noticeable that there were very few strangers arriving as far as the team were concerned. Everyone was met with a smile and a knowing exchange about how they’d been keeping.
Precious memories and pandemic memes
I took a group of non-beer drinking female bloggers there for a tasting in 2017 as part of an outing to introduce great local businesses. They all came away as converts, if not to the beer, but to the venue itself. When lockdown restrictions started to ease, I remember us taking Bam Bam there to introduce her to our friends behind the bar, then putting a message out on Facebook to let our other local friends know that we would be there for an hour and legally we had space for 4 more people at our table if anyone else wanted to meet our new daughter. She was already just over a year old at the time. It was such a relief to finally chat with old friends in familiar spaces. And so strange that she was only experiencing them for the first time.
A political choice
I feel like a stuck record at the moment, telling anyone who will listen that their pubs need support at the moment.
“The good ones don’t have anything to worry about” is a common response from sceptics. And it’s just not true. Breweries and pubs have been absolutely floored over recent years. Any reserves they might have had swallowed up during lockdown, only to be sucker punched by rising costs at insane levels practically across the board over the last 12 months.
I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really know anything about macro-economics. But looking at how the energy crisis and cost of living increases are playing out in other countries suggests to me that the hardships that pubs, breweries and indeed all of us as private individuals are suffering is a political choice.
At this point someone normally tells me Don’t Vote Tory is the solution, but I never have and yet, here we are still in this mess, so I’ll park that. I am not an instrument of social or political change, as much as I might like to be. It doesn’t feel like I can change The System. I certainly don’t think I can rely on the current motley assemblage of elected representatives to do anything useful to help anyone but themselves. But I do clearly see the impact that a groundswell of local support can have to bolster small businesses while we hopefully, ultimately, clear this incredibly rough patch.
Vote with your feet – get out there
And that’s why I continue to tell anyone that will listen (and shout at the turned heads of those who don’t) to keep using your pubs. Whenever you can. I don’t care if you drink pints of well conditioned cask bitter, a fizzy lemonade or just bob in for a bag of Scampi Fries and a chat. They need your custom, and I strongly believe that those hostelries are the keepers of a significant piece of national heritage and culture.
I definitely don’t visit pubs as often as I used to. That’s just part of life as a toddler wrangler. It’s OK, we sneak in the odd afternoon pint where we can. But we do go as much as we can. I don’t want to find myself in a publess world when we finally come out blinking in the light of more childfree leisure time (sometime in the 2040s by my reckoning).
As one door closes
While my old friends were raising a glass together in Leicester to commemorate good times, new friends over in Manchester were holding theirs aloft to toast a new start. As Steve of Beer Nouveau has sadly left the premises, 75 North Western Street began a new chapter in its life as a brewpub. Katie Sutton has taken the reins of the Temperance Street Brewery & Tap and started strongly last night, from what I can gather via my Twitter sources.
It’s heartening to see new businesses take the plunge right now. I think they share my faith in the difference that the pub makes to so many people’s lives. Whether you drink or not, let’s make sure 2023 isn’t the year that we hear the final Last Orders on our fine institutions.