Friday, 13 July 2012

Busy pubs and bars

I was in one of my favourite pubs last night. They had a beer festival last weekend. We went on Friday night, which was nice, it was busy enough, a bit of live, acoustic music and a selection of beers. They had some Hardknott beer on the temporary bar in the marquee. A lot of work had been put in by the manager and his staff and I was a little worried, with the weather and everything, that the event might not have been a success. Friday night, after all, was quiet enough for me, and really not the roaringly busy thing that was needed to shift beer and make all the effort worthwhile.

Last night I returned, being Thursday, it was quiet. I was enjoying a couple of quiet pints and a nice chat with the guys in the pub. One chap I was chatting to, who was helping out at the beer festival at the weekend, was asked if it was busy on Saturday. "Rammed" he assured me "Needed shoehorns to get more people in" he continued, with obvious glee "Great" I was also really pleased, if for no other reason than I want the pub to do well so that they buy more beer off me.

"I prefer mid-week nights in here, to be honest" I confessed "It gets too busy in here on a Saturday, even when there isn't a beer festival" This particular pub has just had a makeover which has made it a little more contemporary. Most of the carpet has been removed and the walls re-plastered and re-painted making the whole place a little more sterile and echoey. Quite a few folk don't really like it as much, and complain there should be more pictures to break it up. It can easily get noisy and difficult to be understood by other people, or hear what they are saying to you. When there is live music it gets to be impossible to hold a conversation.

But the pub is doing very well. Often busy and getting busier. It is most often full of younger people and has a real buzz about it. I wish they would have some craft keg. I wish they would buy more Hardknott. I suspect that will come with time.

Port Street Beer House
a cool contemporary velvet-less paradise
Pete Brown is now complaining that the new age, contemporary craft beer bar scene is full of boxy, echoey and sterile establishments. No soft furnishings, and nothing to break up the noisiness of the place. I understand Pete, I do, I'm getting old as well. It's crap, having to say "eh" all the time, but it's what happens. Though really, do we think that velvet drapes would be cool, or hip, or funky?

Craft beer bars are successful because of what they are; modern and trendy. I'm also not convinced that sound proofing is what would help. Generally, busy bars are noisy because they are busy. Indeed, I'd even argue that people are in themselves sound absorbers. If you have ever tried to set up a sound system in an empty room and then noticed how much it needs to be turned up when the room is full, you'd know.

Pete does have a point. Some places could be less sterile, they could break up the lines a little and perhaps just a little bit of softness. Just don't make it velvet, for goodness sake, that isn't cool at all.

There are pubs that span the gap and provide a little of both. The White Horse at Parson Green for instance is, in my view, providing a balance. My way of thinking is that the craft beer bar growth will be followed by less trendy places moving in a copy-cat fashion. I think it's happening, a fusion of ideas where some of Pete's wishes are being implemented. The surviving businesses will be the ones that are popular, whatever they do.

Still, I do worry that Pete is coming across a little like the old man who has his peace and quiet ruined by the youngsters in the pub. I've so many times heard people complain about a place being OK, but it does seem to get a little too busy sometimes. All that noise and people, you can't hear what people say.

I think the future of pubs, beer and nearly everything else is in the youngsters. Success is in being busy and thriving and having a little bit of a buzz. Yes, some of us old fogeys might not like it, but that's fact.


Sorry, I had to Google Keira Knightley, but then did go "phoar"


Barm said...

I'm not convinced. I didn't like crowded, noisy bars when I was younger any more than I do now. I’m not sure anyone does really. We put up with them when young because of the potential for pulling.

Phil said...

Success is in being busy and thriving and having a little bit of a buzz.

Yes, but what's that got to do with any of the points Pete was making? Pete says busy pubs don't have to be oppressively noisy. You say busy pubs are oppressively noisy, because they're busy. Pete says busy pubs don't have to be oppressively noisy...

All a bit of a waste of effort, really.

Brewers Union Local 180 said...

I've been there, and while the beer selection was great I found the ambience and decor too typical of what I would expect to find in Portland, Bend, Eugene, etc. - a big, boring room. No warmth.

Dave Bailey said...

Barm, "I didn't like crowded, noisy bars when I was younger any more than I do now. I’m not sure anyone does really." the people who like busy bars are the people who make them busy.

Phil, busy bars are noisy. Ends.

Pete is objecting to success.

StringersBeer said...

There's often not enough attention paid to the acoustics in the design of these bars. Often (like the PA guy always says) it'll sound better when there's some people in. The trick is to provide enough soft furnishing and dispersing surfaces so that the room sounds good however full the place is.

It's been said that young people are more tolerant of "difficult" acoustics than us middle-aged and old folks with our dodgy hearing and declining cognitive powers. So, if you want to keep us out - keep it noisy.

Dave Bailey said...


The thing is, a bit of reverb can add to the ambiance, as the PA guy would say. A velvet drape strewn place may make it feel too dead to the youngsters. Dead boring, in fact.

So I think your slant is slightly wrong there. It's not that youngsters are more tolerant, they actually love the vibe.

Of course compromises can be achieved, and it's all about playing to the audience you desire. But it's a clever man who can appeal to a very large cross-section.

An important thing is, I do actually agree with Pete to an extent, in as much as I really do dislike places when they get too busy and noisy. But I really don't think that the places Pete refers to are too noisy when empty, half full, or just gently buzzing.

Unknown said...

There's busy and there's too busy.

Normally I drink in Port Street, and pretty much every evening it's busy. There's a general background buzz and a good atmosphere. Although it's a very rare night when you can't hear yourselves talk as people are able to spread out a little.
I did recently go in to the BrewDog bar in Manchester and whilst I do like it, the beer and the staff, I don't think it's designed too well. Same amount of customers, same type of vibe, but the background noise level was a lot louder.

It could well be the different type of customers (lots of suits) or it could well be the brutal lack of furnishings (everything concrete) but it was definitely a lot louder.

While they're both great pubs of the bare and echoey variety, Port Street's managed it with less intrusive background noise.

Dave Bailey said...

Unknown, I think you summarise those two places well. I know for a fact the BrewDog are aiming at a young demographic, Port Street probably a little older.

I suspect design of these places is very carefully thought through to aim at just the audience that is desired.

Unknown said...

I think you're right. Two quite different target audiences, but both enjoying good beer in good pubs.
I think we're very lucky to have so much choice these days of where we can get good beer.

John Clarke said...

Port Street has managed everything better than the Brewdog bar.

StringersBeer said...

But velvet drapes are so cool. viz. Twin Peaks

OllyC said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
OllyC said...

I've got no problem with the funky modern look of certain pubs, just as long as it's not generic. I've been to far too many new places where you see the same identikit Ikea furniture; an arbitrary choice of pictures on the wall; and no sense of location.

It's nice to get an idea of where you are in a pub, otherwise, we might as well all be drinking in All Bar One.