Curmudgeon's "Opening Times" Column - May 2014
London is more and more following a different path from the rest of the country, both in general and in beer
ITíS OFTEN SAID that London is becoming increasingly detached in economic and social terms from the rest of the UK. Its economy seems to be more a part of an international world of finance than the realities of workaday provincial life, and it experiences a house price boom while the rest of the country is stagnant. Unlike pretty much any other major city, apart perhaps from Edinburgh, it has a large population of prosperous middle-class people living in inner-urban areas which gives them a distinctly different feel. With so many politicians and journalists being based in London, it is all too easy for them to form the opinion that the capital is typical of the rest of the country when in reality it isnít.
London is also home to the social phenomenon of the ďhipsterĒ which only appears to have spread outwards in a rather half-hearted fashion. This seems to be bound up with the direction that the London beer scene has taken. I get the impression that craft keg ales and lagers have become much more widely available there than anywhere else. The craft beer bar, or the minimalist makeover of an old pub, has become an essential centrepiece for the up-and-coming trendy neighbourhood.
Many of the London microbreweries seem to intent on developing a cutting-edge image rather than brewing a range of conventional, accessible beers. This has given rise to the phenomenon of deliberately cloudy ďLondon murkyĒ, which really is very specific to the capital. And the sky-high property prices make it attractive to convert even thriving pubs for residential use, which is something you donít see around here, where pubs that have been converted into something else have in general either been obviously struggling or already closed.
Itís sometimes said that, where London leads, the rest of the country eventually follows, but, in wider terms spreading well beyond the world of beer, I get the feeling that the two are increasingly heading in different directions.
Pubs too often get it wrong in responding to changes in the weather
THE BRITISH weather is notoriously fickle, and Spring often brings a dramatic alternation between different conditions, with some days seeing bright, warm sunshine while others are cold, wet and blustery, often with little advance warning. It seems to be a characteristic of pubs nowadays to over-react to changes in the weather, flinging all the doors open at the first sign of sunshine, yet turning the heating on as soon as we get a dull day.
Iíve been in pubs where all the doors have been wedged open because the sun was shining, but it actually wasnít all that warm, and on the side of the pub away from the sun there was a chilly draught. Iím sure pubs never used to do that thirty years ago, or at least not until the sun was actually cracking the flags. On the other hand, on days which are overcast in comparison to the previous one, but still quite close and muggy, some pubs decide to turn their heating on, making the atmosphere pretty stifling.
In one branch of Wetherspoonís, again on an overcast but warm and muggy day, the under-seat heating was on full blast in one corner. I went to the bar to complain and was told the system was controlled by Head Office and there was nothing the bar staff could do about it. It turned out that other areas of the pub were unaffected and I was able to move to somewhere more comfortable, but even so the entire situation seemed bonkers.
Surely it would result in a more equable climate inside, and save money on energy bills at the same time, if pubs were less eager both to open all the doors, and to turn up the thermostat.