Beer Blog

Lowestoft, The Stanford Arms and do we need to revisit the criteria for getting in the CAMRA Good Beer Guide?

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?

Stanford Arms-3

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.

Stanford Arms-4

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.

Stanford Arms-2

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?

23 replies »

  1. A point worth making is that opening fairly short hours like that, and closing for a day, allows a pub to be run two-handed by a couple. If it is going to open for longer hours, additional staff will have to be engaged, with a major impact on the cost base for possibly very little benefit.

    I’m no fan of curtailed hours, but there’s no point in opening if there’s no trade on offer, and nowadays in residential areas that’s often the case on weekday lunchtimes.

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  2. I accept and understand that Mudgie, but closing all day Thursday is just not on. What if someone from abroad, USA or Canada, saw the pub was ‘last four finalist’ in National POTY and came over to find it shut all day Thursday. Granted they will probably have done their home work and won’t get caught out like I did, personally I find it unacceptable, as did the many clients in the other pub I visited.

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  3. Interesting point about how long or how often a pub should be open. On the one hand, it’s their business, their decision; but on the other hand, it’s a bloody pub!

    Even if, as Mudge pointed out, it’s run by only two people, if it was me, I’d open up and then be on my laptop or phone posting snarky comments on pub blogs (heh) whilst waiting for customers. I would guess they live upstairs so why not go down and open? But then again, maybe they tried that and it is a sort of estate pub in the sense that no one drops in during the week till after work so why compete with The Triangle and just rob Peter to pay Paul? None the less, not the way I’d run a pub to be sure (easy enough to say, since I don’t). 😉

    “The pedants will now be pointing out…”
    … that:
    “subject of it’s own post”
    and
    “judge a book by it’s cover”

    No apostrophe for either of those ‘its’. (apologies if that comes across as snarky).

    Cheers

    PS – the photo of The Welcome looks a darned sight better on the screen of a phone as opposed to a large monitor!

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  4. First things first. When did Canadians get the right to lecture us about our butchery of the English language ? He should pick on Shakespeare, atrocious English 😉

    The opening hours issue rumbles on. My problem is mostly about pubs (well, micro pubs) not publicising hours. Often, the more ways they have to tell you (web, Facebook etc), the less they say about their hours.

    I’m sympathetic to licensees having days off, and I’ve seen plenty of complaints from bloggers in the past about the landlord on the wrong side of the bar or punters getting staff rather than the convivial landlord they expected.

    When margins are so tight, and taking on staff is such a risk, closing the pub early week when trade is slow is understandable. Thursday does seem odd, and more likely to catch out visitors.

    But in answer to your reasonable question, I don’t think Beer Guide status should depend on hours, or friendliness of welcome, or music volume, or (political views on) beer mats, or food. Just on beer quality.

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    • I’ve no problem with places shutting and many pubs are closed on Monday and sometimes Tuesday. I’ve no real problem with the truncated hours, I get the economics. Both these come with a caveat; dependant on the location. I don’t expect town and city centre pubs to be shut on any day or have limited hours, similarly with busy tourist locations in season. I fully accept it in rural locations, small villages and quiet towns where there would be very little trade. What I can’t seem to fathom is closing all day on a single Thursday in a busy town in a pub with a USP of being recently and repeatedly high accoladed.

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      • Plenty of pubs in the centres of even pretty big towns are now closed at lunchtimes, especially early in the week. Several in Stockport, including the very good and widely-praised Petersgate Tap. I’m currently involved in planning a pub crawl of Crewe on a Thursday, and several of the town-centre pubs won’t be open until 3 pm or even later. I don’t like it any more than you do, but it’s a sad fact of pub life nowadays – there just isn’t the trade.

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    • I agree with Martin – publish your hours and stick to them (at least – opening more is fine). Have something better to do on a Thursday when trade is at its quietest in your town? Fine, have a well-deserved day off to recuperate!

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      • Thinking more about it … closing for any length of time, particularly 24 hrs, and then maybe not open until the afternoon the next day, say 4pm thats 24 + 16 = 30hrs that a half, maybe a quarter full cask that’s already been tapped a couple of days ago just sitting there. Okay, you bung a hard spile in, but there’s still oxygen and bacteria and stuff all working away to reduce the beer quality. Just makes you think little further about opening hours and beer quality. I guess people will cite individual pubs that do this where the beer quality is excellent – but would it be better if they didn’t shut and the beer was getting turned over, or wouldn’t it because the pub was too quiet?

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      • Perhaps we should only allow cask beer to be served in establishments open 24hrs, and everyone else has to sell KeyKeg? 😉

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  5. Their business, their choice. I’d agree it’s potentially not a wise one, but then they might find it works for them. The Snug at Carnforth has quite limited hours (totally limited at the moment due to building work), and in the pub an explanation of why: Life. My main problem with limited opening hours is when they’re not publicised properly or not adhered to, but The Spotted Dog in Birmingham not opening at lunchtimes is a regular annoyance…

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  6. Blimey I wouldn’t wan to go in there on a Friday when those 12 half finished casks have been sitting there not being drunk for 39 hours. Or do they chuck all the beer away and start again for the weekend?

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  7. This is what I wrote last year on the subject of the growing trend towards limited and unpredictable pub opening hours: Closed for You.

    “I fully understand the economic reasons behind it. But the loss of predictable opening hours is, overall, a significant detriment to the pub trade.” But I’d say the rot set in when we abandoned the compulsory period of afternoon closing, which gave licensees the opportunity to take a break.

    Liked by 1 person

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