Lowestoft is two places in one, there’s a seaside town on the south side of the harbour and a town by the sea on the north side. I can’t tell you much about the seaside part, I only glimpsed little bits from the bus on the way home.
There’s not much to say about the other bit, apart from it’s all a bit grim. There’s a shopping centre which looked to cater for local people, rather than trying to attract visitors from farther a field, unless they’re into commercial docks and industrial estates.
There are however three CAMRA Good Beer Guide listed pubs in the second largest town in Suffolk, which otherwise is a very green and rather pleasant county. I wasn’t going to visit the Norman Warrior. The GBG says it’s an estate pub and that’s not really my sort of thing. I’ll leave estate pubs firmly in the hands of those who live on the estate.
I was keen to visit the Triangle Tavern and The Stanford Arms, both are within a short walk from the dreariest bus station I have ever visited. Mindful of criticism from a variety of sources regarding visiting pubs on a Monday or a quiet Tuesday and finding them closed or bereft of clientele, I’d chosen a sunny Thursday for my visit. It’s not the busiest day of the week, but things are starting to look towards the weekend, and in many places it’s traditionally market day.
First port of call was The Triangle, which is subject of it’s own post. I then took the short, less than a mile, walk across the town to The Stanford Arms, noting that the type and age of cars you see driving about can tell you a great deal about local economics.
I’d got quite excited about The Stanford Arms, as the well produced Suffolk & NE Essex CAMRA Last Orders magazine I picked up told me it was the local branch POTY for 2017. Sadly my excitement turned to dismay when the pub appeared dead. Shut in fact! On a Thursday afternoon? You’re joking surely?
When, to the surprise of the barmaid, I returned to The Triangle, it seemed that although everyone knew The Stanford Arms was shut all day Thursday, no one in there could understand it neither. Monday or Tuesday maybe, but Thursday? The Triangle’s drinkers bemoaned the fact that it never opened until late afternoon, 4pm most days. Another interesting point made was the beers were always changing, as soon as they had one on that you liked it had gone, never to be seen again. Personally, I like to try different beers, but it just shows that not everyone shares the same view; different isn’t wrong though.
The pedants will now be pointing out that I should have looked in the GBG, it clearly shows the correct opening times. But hold on, should I have to look to see if a pub is closed on a Thursday in a busy town in twenty first century Britain?
Well it seems I must. Fellow blogger and GBG pub chaser Martin Taylor is repeatedly finding the same. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the owners right to open and close when they want, but closed on a Thursday? Sounds like financial suicide to me, but that’s their problem.
What about visitors to the town, unsuspecting folk like me bringing a few quid into the local economy who would, quite rightly I think, expect all the pubs in a medium sized town to be open on a Thursday afternoon. It’s not a small rural village in the back of beyond, there’s close on 60,000 folk live here. Even the highly unwelcoming Welcome was open; they say you should never judge a book by it’s cover, but discretion became the better part of valour here.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, should a pub that’s got unsatisfactory opening hours qualify to be one of the best pubs in the UK? I read now, that it’s got to the final four in the CAMRA National POTY.
I remember it being sacrilege for a pub not to be open bang on the permitted hours for the area; the permitted hours, not the pubs own version mind. Woe betide the licensee who didn’t open, I remember many the time punters would be banging on the doors of my Dad’s pub at seconds after 6pm. Running a pub was like entering into an unwritten contract as a public servant, providing a community facility that could be relied upon to always be there. Not so any more.
I mean, there’s pubs(?) in the GBG that aren’t even pubs. The Rock & Roll Brewhouse in Birmingham is simply a brewery tap house that opens twice a week for a couple of hours. That’s not a pub, it’s not even a shop, many brewery’s have little bars like these.
Some may point out that it is ‘The Good Beer Guide’! I’d come back with their strap line Your Independent guide to Pubs and Beer. So maybe these infrequently open tap rooms should be in the brewery section; Breweries that occasionally sell beer.
The Stanford Arms isn’t a brewery though, it is a proper back street boozer that is closed all day on what many people in the trade will tell you is one of the busier days of the week, and generally it has truncated opening hours.
I wish no ill will to The Stanford Arms and it’s twelve changing beers, but as I think more and more, that opening times should be a criteria in judging a Pub of The Year, I keep hearing Paul Mudge ,a couple of weeks ago, telling me, it’s becoming more like the Guest Beer Guide.
Maybe the entire Good Beer Guide thing needs a full review. It certainly needs standardising across the UK, every CAMRA branch seems to have it’s own methods of selecting pubs (and some which aren’t pubs). I think it’s about time we had a national system with set criteria, and that close adherence with the local licensing authorities permitted hours is one of these; if it’s 11am till 11pm (extended hours may be in existence) then you don’t fully meet the criteria if you don’t open till tea time or are closed on any day other than Monday?